From Technocracy to Techno-Utopia: Futurology and the Soviet Home 1964-1974
The subject of my research has been the revival of the industrial design profession in the Soviet Union during the 1960s. After a gap of over thirty years since the dissolution of the Constructivist school of design VKHUTEMAS, it fell to the newly established All-Union Scientific Research Institute for Technical Aesthetics [VNIITE] to set about reconfiguring design for an era of rapid modernisation. VNIITE led the way in almost all areas of design in the USSR – graphics, ergonomics and anthropometrics, machine building, electronics and product design. Inspired by scientific-rationalist design theories, VNIITE tried to create an industrial design methodology appropriate to socialism. It was hoped that technical aesthetics would be free from the uncoordinated ‘chaos’ of the free market.
Based on archival work in Moscow as well as interviews with designers, I have written about how VNIITE’s ‘Department for Cultural and Household Goods’ intended to regulate the relationship between the designer, industry and society in order to create ‘harmony of the material environment.’ The programme quickly descended into a technocratic attempt to control the function and quantities of goods down to the smallest detail, before they had even been designed.
Not everybody agreed with these principles. The section of the department given over to futurological work created an alternative vision of the socialist material environment inspired by Western avant-garde designers such as Archigram and Haus-Rucker-Co. VNIITE’s futurologists imagined a flexible and fun environment structured by clip-on and plug-in components alongside uniquely Soviet commentaries. They challenged the revival of controlling modernist practices within VNIITE and the architectural mainstream. By researching computer systems and mass communications, they called for the elimination of the physical collectivity of the collective and envisaged a networked communism fit for the approaching post-industrial society.
The archival research undertaken in Moscow has been funded by the Montjoie Prize. This year I have published in the magazine ‘Estonian Art’ and have contributed to an exhibition catalogue entitled ‘Our Metamorphic Futures’ (forthcoming). In October I will begin research for my PhD at the University of Sheffield where I will continue to address issues relating to the ‘subjective ’ in Soviet design.