OSA | Visions after the Fall: Program

Visions after the Fall: Museums, Archives and Cinema in Reshaping Popular Perceptions of the Socialist Past

Galina Orlova: Making Motherland Ugly: The poetics of the negative in (non)Soviet photography during Perestroika (the case of the magazine Rodina)

It seems rather symptomatic that Perestroika was rich in visual projects and metaphors, such as Projector Perestroiki and Vsgljad. Without any doubt, in the second part of the 1980s these visual practices, which flourished in the USSR, created an important media foundation for the demolition of the Soviet symbolic order, the objectivisation of the new experience and the deconstruction of a common matrix of identity. Thus, I would like to explore political works of the visual media (above all photography) during the last years of the USSR. The project Making Our Motherland Ugly focuses on the performative effects of visualisation, discursive strategies and media tools used for the démontage of Soviet space. It emphasizes both the mechanisms by which Soviet reality was destroyed and the means of its visual perception. The transition from the rigid propagandistic formulae of Brezhnev's time to a strong and aggressive genre noir (the so-called "chernukha") is in focus.
Empirically the project is based on the analysis of an emblematic but unexplored episode from the cultural history of Perestroika – the visual politics and poetics of the magazine Rodina ("Motherland"). From the very beginning, in January 1989, this tendentially conservative illustrated magazine was an edition of the main communist newspaper Pravda. In contrast with the famous Ogonek and "thick magazines", photographs dominated the pages of Rodina, taking up as much as one third of each issue. Photos framed the texts and displayed the unknown face of (Soviet) Russia, which emerged as a negative of the official photographic vision. The visualisation of the invisible interplayed with the new non-Soviet gaze. It could be labelled as nostalgic when the magazine published old photos depicting the extinct, pre-revolutionary Russia. The gaze became guilty and mournful when the present state of the country was represented through photographic images as the apotheosis of darkness, stagnation and nightmares. In this way of seeing, Sovietness was excluded from the visible world and hence from reality itself. The structure of visual experience changed too. In order to explore its transformation, I combine the analysis of visual data with narrative interviews with people who were readers and TV viewers during Perestroika.
At that time photography was used to deconstruct the Soviet Utopia. Half a century ago, by means of this visual technology, Utopia not only "moved closer to reality", it replaced reality as far as it became visible. In the 1980s, as in the 1930s, mass media photography pretended to reproduce "objective realities" and to mediate the visual experience of Modernity. In both situations photographic forms were exploited for a "naturalisation" of the main ideological concepts of the epoch and for the objectivisation of the totality of the positive or the negative. The political work of photography was based on eroding the borders between medial transformation and transformed reality. During the presentation the photographic strategies of Perestroika will be compared with the Soviet canon.

Galina Orlova holds doctoral degree in Psychology from the Rostov State University (Russia). She is currently an assistant professor at the Faculty of Psychology in her alma mater, specializing in History of Psychology, Personality Psychology and General Psychology. Galina Orlova was involved in a number of research projects that explored the history of Russia's political and public discourse to focus on the mentality of the country's bureaucracy. More recently, she authored and supervised the collective project "Flash and Soul: Russian discourse of Plastic Surgery"( 2004-2005) and carried out an archival research on the Soviet photography of the 1930s-1960s "Happiness and the Method" (2004-2005 with the support from the University of Bielefeld, Germany.) Galina Orlova is an author of numerous publications in the fields of historical psychology, political anthropology, cultural history of Russia, and visual studies.

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Date: June 9, Friday

Time: 4-4.30 pm



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