(Post) Socialist Postmodernism / Sots Art / Soviet Pop!
Kosolapov, Venus (1984)
With the help of our presenter, Jonathan, we’re going to approach this class on sots-art and the late-Soviet avant-garde as we did our meeting on the Russian avant-garde of the revolutionary period–by reading a few explanatory/theoretical texts together (Epstein, Tupitsyn and Komar & Melamid), and then focusing on a few artists in the following pairs or trios:
Maddie and Katherine – Kosolapov (see Groys article), The Blue Noses Group, and Yuri Albert (check out his early and recent explorations of art and disability).
Ok, so we’ve named-dropped Hegel a few times in class, and with good reason. His dialectic (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) was totally drilled into my head in high school, and it for a while, it seemed to do a good job describing the bouncing around of ideas we’ve talked about, their tendency to reject and define themselves by what they are not. Postmodernism tries its best to stop the dialectic, finally, once and for all. Postmodernism supposedly encompasses everything in the name of pluralism. It values diversity and tries its best to prevent a “dominant” culture from blanketing those who feel and think otherwise. Dominant culture is meant to be deconstructed and thought about skeptically.
It turns out stopping the dialectic is a lot harder than it looks, and so postmodernism failed, and therefore can be placed in the dialectic along a “pluralistic landscape” as Epstein calls it, of other movements. Postmodernism is the antithesis to modernism’s thesis, and therefore rejects a lot of the ideals associated with modernism including individuality. Although the first half of the term itself would suggest otherwise, postmodernism seems to look backwards, and return to something that in a way, is premodern. “The modernist myth of originality was replaced by the myth of returning origins” Tupitsyn 148
There are parallels to be drawn between post-modernism and the preceding period of socialist realism and communism. Epstein uses the phrase “militant eclecticism” to describe the transition to post modernism, and while this sounds sort of funny, socialist realism, with its vow to be socialist in content nationalist in form, also seems to utilize this eclecticism.
But what about Sots art? The supposed antithesis of socialist realism that emerged during the USSR’s twilight?
The Sots artists concerned themselves with what Tupitsyn describes as the “metaphysics of presence” of socialist realism. They aimed to deconstruct a dominant culture, without destroying it completely. The postmodernists employed a lot of the same techniques as socialist realism, perhaps without even knowing it. Sots Art seemed to work within the framework of Socialist Realism and thus ended up mirroring socialism more than it perhaps wanted to.
“While socialist realism is communism at the moment of its break with its modernist past, sots art is communism at the moment of its recognition of its postmodern future” Epstein 27
Was the “failure” of Sots art really a failure? Can American pop art be seen to fail in the same way?
Does postmodernism feel like “an end” to anything? A resurgence of something?