Magazine article Russian Life

Tabletop Agitprop

Magazine article Russian Life

Tabletop Agitprop

Article excerpt

IN SOVIET RUSSIA in the 1920s, even products not generally associated with social causes were politicized. If you bought "Our Industry" candies with labels designed by the famous Constructivist artist Aleksandr Rodchenko, you could ponder feats of Soviet engineering while enjoying something sweet.

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In 1924, Mikhail Mikhailovich Adamovich decorated a porcelain plate similarly designed to inspire the masses with revolutionary fervor. "He Who Does Not Work Does Not Eat" represents an eclectic mix of styles. The letters of the slogan are playfully abstract, recalling the floating geometric forms of the Suprematist movement. Yet, at the same time, the plate retains distinctive elements of traditional Russian folk style, no doubt meant to make it more appealing to peasants and workers alike. The abbreviation for the Russian Federation-R.S.F.S.R.-is rendered by means of curlicues and floral patterns often seen in peasant handicrafts, though they are presented here in the red, white, and black colors so closely associated with the Revolution. And although the rousing slogan speaks perfectly to socialist ideals, it actually originates from the Bible, in Saint Paul's teaching in Thessalonians 2, 3:10. These words were sure to resonate with a stilldevout populace.

During the heady post-Revolutionary years, no forum was too small to serve as a way to engage the masses both politically and socially. The bold theoretical experiments of the early Constructivists found new expression in Utilitarian Constructivism as art was put into the service of the state. Eve such everyday products as cocoa were put to political use by Rodchenko and the great poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, in their collaborative poster advertising it as a source of strength. Being strong was, of course, the duty of ever loyal Soviet citizen as he or she strove to improve society.

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Thus did the prosaic objects of daily life become invested with deeper meaning. Plates, in particular, were handy agitational tools for urging the consumer (in both senses of the word) to action. Of these, Adamovich's plate design became the most iconic, with its striking depiction of Lenin; a Red Army star featuring hammer and sickle; the cheerful RSFSR folk design; an allusion to literacy in the heading "Red Gazette"; and two different examples of workers' ration cards.

Just a few years ago, in St. Petersburg's Russian Museum, I bought a reproduction of Adamovich's plate. …

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