The Aesthetics of Censorship and the Russian Avant-Garde: Abstraction Beyond Art
Blakesley, Rosalind Polly
University of Cambridge
History of Art
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Kociałkowska, K. (2020). The Aesthetics of Censorship and the Russian Avant-Garde: Abstraction Beyond Art (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.52045
Volume I contains the text of the thesis. Volume II contains the illustrations relating to the thesis, but it is not publicly available for copyright reasons.
This thesis reconsiders the art of the Russian avant-garde by exploring its engagement with, influence from and contribution towards an unconventional area of culture: censorship. Although extensive research has already considered the way artists such as Malevich, Rodchenko and Stepanova blurred the binaries between art and vandalism, construction and deconstruction in their work, this analysis has not yet extended to consider their engagement with institutions of censorship to its full extent. This disinclination is informed by a long-standing and resilient assumption that censorship and creativity are antithetical, mutually oppositional forces. My thesis uses extensive new archival findings to problematise this position. By questioning these binary distinctions, and searching for commonalties between art and expurgation, this project offers a new understanding of how at different points in their careers, across different media, artists borrowed, adapted or referenced the censor’s strike in complex ways. Whilst extensive research has been devoted to the ideology and institutional mechanisms of Russian censorship, its aesthetic dimensions have been largely disregarded. As a corrective to this, this project will consider case studies of visibly altered and amended works in three different media: typography, photography and painting. Case studies range from redacted texts, censored manuscripts, excised details in print journals and defaced photographs. In each case, it will be argued that the very surface and texture of censorship itself warrants a formal reading, as placeholders of enforced negations which contain a rich semantic complexity. This project adds to a growing field of research which reconsiders the interactions between avant-garde artist and institutional apparatus. Covering a chronological period from the First to the Second World War, it charts the artists’ transition from anti-establishment cultural agitators to employees of the Soviet state’s expanding art administration network. It explores the tense entente that ensued as their art was adapted and appropriated to accommodate these changing institutional allegiances. Ultimately, it illuminates a new facet of the relationship between art and its destruction during this period, and provides a new understanding of the role of the artist as a willing or willed iconoclast.
Censorship, Soviet art, Russian avant-garde, Rodchenko, Stepanova, Malevich, Kruchenykh, Glavlit, USSR in Construction, Avant-garde books, 10 years of Uzbekistan, Photographic defacement, Stalinist art, Journal design, Photobook, Abstraction, Bespredmetnost', Constructivism, Suprematism, Group of Painterly Plastic Realism, Defacement, Eduard Krimmer, Leningrad school, Iconoclasm, Anna Leporskaia, Vera Ermolaeva, Nikolai Suetin, Konstantin Rozhdestvenskii
Full scholarship from CEELBAS (Centre for East European Language-Based Area Studies), funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.52045
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