Events Calendar

IIya Kukulin Lecture: "Official and Underground Culture(s) in the Soviet Union"

October 12, 2015

6:00 PM - 7:00 PM

In recent years, Russia has been featured in the news abroad, particularly in the U.S., mostly in connection to its adventurist foreign policy. First the aggression against Ukraine with the annexation of Crimea, and recently the start of military operations in Syria have reframed the scandalous reputation of Russia formed in the early 2010s as the country severely censoring the freedom of artistic expression. Meanwhile, little has changed in this respect within the country: the criminal prosecution of the punk group “Pussy Riot Affair” in 2012 was followed by the assault on the theater Teatr.doc, the police harassment of challenging and explicitly political performances of Piotr Pavlensky, and encouragement of violent vandalism by Eastern Orthodox religious fundamentalists against contemporary art exhibitions – to list just the most resonant cases. In Russia, artistic resistance remains an important venue for public civic and aesthetic self-expression. Nonconformist art persists despite increasing ideological censorship by the authorities and rising popular nationalism and conservatism. Contemporary “Russian culture” – once, a key component of Russia’s image in the world – is understood differently by artists and a significant part of their audience. Is this cultural differentiation driven mostly by political considerations (depending on one’s pro-government or oppositional stance), or there is a deeper and more complex divide? In my presentation, I consider a number of nonconformist / unofficial / critically oriented artistic movements and authors, in a hope to answer this and several other questions, such as: Are these phenomena of modern nonconformist art connected to the tradition of unofficial art and literature of the Soviet period? (Think of the most recent act of vandalism, when religious fundamentalists destroyed sculptures by famous Soviet underground artists). What is the difference between “old” and “new” types of cultural resistance to authoritarianism in Russia?
Ilya Kukulin is an Associate Professor at the Department of Cultural Studies of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics (HSE, Moscow), Senior Researcher at the School for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (Moscow), and currently -- visiting professor at the Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia. His most recent book, Machines of the Noisy Time: How the Soviet Montage Became an Aesthetic Method of the Unofficial Culture (in Russian), came out in Moscow in 2015. He broadly publishes in the fields ranging from the history of schooling in the 20th Century Eastern Europe to cultural practices of Russia’s internal colonization; from contemporary Russian literature, especially poetry, to the history of nonconformist social thinking in 20th century Russia and political discourses in contemporary Russian social media. The geography of his publications includes Russia, Germany, Norway, China, Lithuania, Armenia, and the U.S. In his capacity of a literary critic and public intellectual, Ilya Kukulin is actively present in non-academic venues, including digital media.


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