A surreal insight into a time when the Soviet empire’s characteristic architecture was a symbol of optimism for the years ahead
Travellers of Eastern Europe and lovers of architecture alike are familiar with the overgrown Brutalist ruins of post-Communist landscapes. Hollow concrete hotels, dilapidated social housing blocks and decrepit monuments exist as a reminder of the downfall of the socialist states formerly known as the Eastern Bloc. While these lifeless effigies now only reflect an unfamiliar past, in the 1960s, 70s and 80s these Brutalist erections were flaunted as symbols of an optimistic Soviet empire.
As presented in Brutal Bloc Postcards, a new book from publisher FUEL, government-sanctioned propaganda from this politically fragile era was disguised as light-hearted memorabilia boasting a sense of societal contentment. In rather stark contrast to the documentation of Soviet architecture commonly showcased today, this surreal collection of images consists of scenes depicting what was considered the bright future of Communism.
Simultaneously sinister, profound and comical, this new book sees staged shots of families lounging in sun-drenched public parks and groups of tourists visiting scenic monuments interrupted by chilling quotes from influential figures of that political period. Adjacent to a pastel-hued image of the Kuznechikha district of Archangelsk, USSR (shot in 1975) sits a biting soundbite from the one and only Vladimir Putin, “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants if back has no brain.” Meanwhile, sitting confrontationally across from shots of USSR and Ukranian military monuments is a quote from Russian military general and AK-47 inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov, “I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work – for example a lawnmower.”
Aside from highlighting the fascinating way in which Eastern Bloc states attempted to portray themselves as a vision of utopian civilisation, this new publication – which opens with a foreword by renowned author and architecture critic Jonathan Meades – offers a nostalgic yet revealing insight into social and architectural values of the time, complete with prominent insights from vocal public figures, which both reinforce and confound the ideologies presented. Commenting on the impact of political imperfections, Russian filmmaker and writer Andrei Tarkovsky is quoted as saying, “Some sort of pressure must exist; the artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.”
Brutal Bloc Postcards is out now, published by FUEL.