Tony Wood on The Diaries of Nikolai Punin and N. N. Punin, Dnevniki. Pis’ma. The life and times of Russia’s leading theorist of the visual avant-garde, in times of war and revolution.
A GUEST FROM THE PAST
In November 1918, Petrograd’s Palace Square was invaded by an army of jagged, abstract forms, giant assemblies of colour-planes designed by Natan Altman to form the backdrop to the celebrations of the first anniversary of the October Revolution—prompting Mayakovsky to announce a month later, in his ‘Order to the Army of Art’, that ‘the streets are our brushes, the squares are our palettes’. Indeed, the early years of Bolshevik rule were rife with extravagant gestures and pronouncements, as avant-garde art sought to weave itself into the fabric of revolutionary life: in 1917 Malevich declared himself ‘the chairman of space’; in 1921 Aleksandr Rodchenko announced the ‘death of painting’, and in 1920 Tatlin designed his Monument to the Third International, twin spirals of steel around a core of colossal glass structures, intended—of course, it was never built—to rise to twice the height of the Empire State Building.
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Fine-grained reading of the films of Andrei Zvyagintsev, from the abstract allegories of his earlier work to the unsparing portrayals of contemporary Russia in Elena and Leviathan, exemplary of a new social turn in post-Soviet cinema. Reflections of class polarization and fables of power, with Orthodoxy as its prop.
Lives of Jughashvili
Tony Wood on Stephen Kotkin, Stalin, Volume I and Oleg Khlevniuk, Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator. Contrasting portrayals of the ‘man of steel’.
Reserve Armies of the Imagination
Tony Wood on Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen. Dilemmas of representation—aesthetic and political—in the age of the super-abundant image.
Collapse as Crucible
While Russia’s anti-Putin demonstrations have prompted talk of a civic awakening—led by a flat-pack middle class—the country’s overall social landscape remains largely unmapped. Tony Wood surveys its shifting structures since the Soviet collapse, and the consequences of marketization’s advance through the USSR’s ruins.
Silver and Lead
Tony Wood on Anabel Hernández, Los señores del narco. The structures of political complicity and corruption that have fuelled Mexico’s drug wars.
Good Riddance to New Labour
As the British general election approaches, a balance-sheet of New Labour’s thirteen years in office. The record of Blair and Brown—imperial wars abroad, subservience to the City at home—as so many reasons to cheer their downfall.
Latin America Tamed?
Tony Wood on Michael Reid, Forgotten Continent: The Battle for Latin America’s Soul. A revised neoliberal gospel for the region, courtesy of the Economist.
Contours of the Putin Era
Responding to Vladimir Popov, Tony Wood examines the geographical and social distribution of Russia’s recent economic growth. What are the priorities and outlook of the emerging business-state elite—and whom will Putin’s ‘stabilization’ benefit?
Celluloid and Plasma
Tony Wood on Laura Mulvey, Death 24x a Second. How has the digital era changed the cinematic viewing experience—and the spectator? Freeze-frame fetishism and narrative disruption from Lumière to Kiarostami, via Hitchcock and Rossellini.
Annals of Utopia
Tony Wood on Andrey Platonov, Happy Moscow and Soul. Recently discovered works by the neglected giant of twentieth-century Russian letters. The singular language and multiple ambiguities of Platonov’s style, and heroic impasses of his life and times.