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Review of ‘Imagine Moscow’: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution

The basement of the new (and still gobsmacking) Design Museum is host to the exciting ‘Imagine Moscow’ exhibition. It brings together a remarkable Soviet-era archive of architecture design and models that originally imagined the Soviet state as a blissful utopia where people, work, economy and political practice would co-exist in harmony. Of course it didn’t happen quite like that which makes this exhibition all the more fascinating to the modern viewer. SEEN particularly liked the architectural drawings, exquisite in their accuracy and precision, that don’t look dated at all: they could be buildings that exist today. The restrained color palette of many of the designs gave the pieces a distinctly Soviet ambience; perhaps the one element that Western design appreciation has truly embraced.

The posters extolling the virtues of happy workers in a proletarian Eden now have a retro kitsch appeal, which is rather a shame, thinking of the poor workers now consigned to a side-note in design history. Interesting to note that the desire to raise children communally (thus releasing mothers into the workforce) never quite took off. The Ladovsky Communal House design is quite beautiful; using a spiral, the design merges individual living units into a united space. There are many sci-fi-style models of factories, communal buildings, silos etc., that have a resolutely modernist appeal, yet belong squarely in the 1920s and 30s. They are certainly bold and visionary.

Film, ever the tool of the propagandist, includes the famous film by Dziga Vertov: Man with a Movie Camera. Rejecting the usual bourgeois story structures, Vertov’s film tries to do something daring and unique in its use of image and cutting to create a narrative. fascinating exhibition, when viewed in light of the Soviet Union’s dissolution. What would Putin make of it I wonder? The spirit of reinvention lives on, perhaps.