In my capacity as Curator and Public Programmes Coordinator at
GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, London, I worked on the following projects.
6 December 2014 – 28 February 2015. Co-curator.
Rarely seen original designs, photographs and costumes from Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1931 ballet The Bolt were on display together for the first time in this colourful exhibition organised in collaboration with the St Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music. The Bolt was probably the last Constructivist ballet, closing an era of unparalleled innovation in Soviet dance and performance. Bold designs by Tatiana Bruni and Georgii Korshikov, experimental choreography by Fedor Lopukhov, a gripping story of industrial sabotage written by Victor Smirnov and a vivid musical score by Dmitri Shostakovich made this extraordinary production a threat to the Soviet authorities. Its first ever performance at the Leningrad Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet in April 1931 met with a violent backlash from critics and The Bolt was promptly pulled off the programme. It was 74 years before it saw the stage again, reconstructed by the Bolshoi Ballet. The exhibition brought the neglected story of this tumultuous production to life through Bruni's witty and grotesque costume designs, period photographs showing Lopukhov's daring choreography on stage and in rehearsal and original costumes created for the ballet's premiere.
A Game in Hell: The Great War in Russia
26 September – 26 November 2014. Assistant curator.
This exhibition examined the artistic and historical significance of the First World War in Russia. So rapidly was the First World War succeeded by the 1917 Revolution and the Russian Civil War that there was little time to process its impact during the changing regimes that followed. Through a collaboration with the Russian State Library and an important private collection, the exhibition brought together a rich variety of contemporaneous materials, many of which were on display for the first time in a public context, to examine public, personal and artistic responses to the war. Exhibits included Natalia Goncharova’s woodcut portfolio Mystical Images of War and handmade Futurist books, as well as propaganda lubki by Vladimir Mayakovsky and Kazimir Malevich and photographs of the conflict.
Work and Play behind the Iron Curtain
20 June – 31 August 2014. Co-curator.
This exhibition examined the changing face of Soviet design from the 1917 Revolution to Perestroika. Objects were on loan from the Moscow Design Museum, highlighting the quirky and colourful design style that emerged from the 1950s in the Soviet Union, while the preceding period, bound by more severe, functional principles, was examined through items from the famous AMO-ZIL factory, which produced both armoured trucks and domestic appliances. Through motor vehicle prototypes and period photographs, the display revealed the history of the factory, the changing lives of its workers, and why being a ZIL employee was seen as an enviable position. The exhibition also brought together domestic appliances, food and cosmetics packaging, electronic devices, toys and sporting equipment, revealing a lesser known side of Soviet society: consumerism and popular culture. Underground culture was hinted at through bootleg copies of vinyl records featuring banned Russian and Western music. Ingeniously made using illegally obtained medical X-ray sheets, they featured fragmented images of human skeletons and were circulated secretly up to the mid 1960s.
Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen
7 January – 29 March 2014. Assistant curator.
New and radical graphic design created to advertise silent films across the Soviet Union in the 1920s was showcased in this exhibition, alongside excerpts from innovative films of the period. Works by the brothers Georgii and Vladimir Stenberg, Iakov Ruklevskii, Aleksandr Naumov, Mikhail Dlugach and Nikolai Prusakov were on display. They created a whole new visual vocabulary for film posters, both foreign and domestic, incorporating the practices they saw on-screen. As the films were black and white, the designers employed their artistic licence to great effect, using vivid colour blocking and dynamic typographical experiments to capture the essence of each production, sometimes without having even seen it. Projected alongside the posters were excerpts of influential films, including October, The End of St Petersburg and Storm Over Asia, highlighting the symbiotic relationship between the pioneering vision of directors such as Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin and the output of poster artists. Techniques such as cinematic montage, repetition, asymmetric viewpoints and dramatic foreshortenings were used in the creation of both the films and the posters, leading to the appearance of a distinctive and highly influential body of design.
21 September – 20 December 2013. Assistant curator.
This exhibition took the blueprints for change laid down by the radical Constructivist group and reimagined them in three dimensions for contemporary audiences. Model maker Henry Milner created striking sculptures inspired by the geometric experiments of Soviet artists El Lissitzky and Aleksandr Rodchenko, and brought to life designs by Vladimir Tatlin and the pioneering graphic artist from Latvia, Gustavs Klucis. The display combined Milner’s ‘retro-engineered’ sculptures with his source materials, prints, and documentary film and photography from the period. By showing these works constructed in three dimensions the exhibition advanced the Constructivists’ objective to reassess the visual culture we engage with daily, bringing a contemporary perspective to their original body of work.
7 June – 31 August 2013. Research consultant.
This exhibition was devoted to 'external' Soviet propaganda in the 1920s–1930s, namely Intourist posters, magazines and ephemera, alongside ‘internal’ agitprop textiles. Intourist posters, brought together for the first time in the exhibition at GRAD, depict the USSR not as a country of workmen and peasants, but as a touristic paradise, in full accordance with Western marketing tools and modern advertising methods. Soviet graphic designers working for Intourist were closely studying European examples, trying to adopt a style and visual language familiar to Western audiences, and Art Deco gradually become one of their chief artistic influences. Alongside these materials, the display also showcased Soviet agitprop textiles produced by Trekhgornaya Manufaсtura in Moscow in the 1930s. These printed fabrics meant for domestic consumption display typical socialist imagery featuring workers, party leaders, aircrafts and red flag patterns, and provide a striking contrast with the glamorous Intourist adverts exported abroad.