Clever Puntastic Titles (this isn’t one)

1 Oct

I was basically hand delivered this book the other week by a woman who works at Unity who’s in to Russian literature. The cover image is of a giant concrete spaceship-prison looking building, tipping over a mini cliff above a beach covered in 1970’s looking people in bathing suits, apparently holidaying. Upon seeing it I had to fight hard to get over my initial apathy towards coffee table books, as this had all the hallmarks of just such a thing. My mother caused me to disregard coffee table books due to their unusual lack of content; like a pretty woman with no mind to speak of, these books, my mother insists, hold no allure beyond the few glossy photos they impart – therefore they defeat the purpose of books.
Sometimes our parents are purveyors of great sense, other times they just share their prejudices. I’m not going to rule her out completely, some photographic books do get tired quickly, and to be honest we don’t have a coffee table, just a normal table, so there’s that. But this book is different. Although it’s filled with images there’s something giant and haunting, something perfectly conveyed about them, that gives them depth, not just visually but a depth of content too; they stare back at you, challenging you to wonder just what happened to magic these buildings into existence. I guess I need to explain what the hell I’m talking about – how annoying, sorry. Here goes- the book is CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed which is Cyrillic for USSR which is where (and when, prior to their dissolution) all the photos are taken. The author of the essay & the images, Frédéric Chaubin, undertakes a study of Russian architecture during one of the most philosophically emphatic and fascinating periods in human history. The result is not just a collection of images of extraordinary buildings (you can buy individual prints for lots and lots of euros on Taschen’s website) but an extremely pleasing aesthetic look at the physical indicators of a mental state.

credit to superfuture website

What is so profound for me about this book is that it reminded me of something that the constant attack of capitalism had eroded; namely that there are alternatives to capitalism. Sure,  communism hasn’t worked wonders neither – even the best political concepts still have to be implemented by humans, the Achilles heel in any well laid plan -but what Communism did was try. Try to live in a way that opposed everything capitalism stood for. Did the Russians foresee the current financial crises and it’s perverted self interested instigators? I guess in a way they did. Staring into image after image of a land hewed out of serious philosophical discourse and actual struggle it’s hard not to forget all the crazy that went with the wonderful. But just like all good books the true purpose of CCCP, or at least one of its finer off shoots, is that it encourages just these kinds of thoughts. That it, in fact, encourages free thinking at all is a delight and one I should probably remember I couldn’t indulge in if I’d lived during the time these photos were taken…

Influenced majorly by their obsession with America and its counter concept of capitalism the USSR became completely immersed in the one field of human endeavor they felt they might have a chance at bettering the States in: space tech. Look to the stars. Consequently the landscape of the USSR became dotted with what appeared to be spaceships. As above, so below. For every action their was a ministry, for every ministry there was a building and every building was in some way a surprisingly un-utilitarian splash of fantasy that beckoned to the universe to come a little closer.

Some of the photos are almost beyond belief, they’re onomateopic in a French architectural sense that sees the intention of a building poetically infused with the design of the building itself.
Below is the  institute of robotics + cybernetics by savin and artiushin in st. petersburg [1985] © taschen / frédéric chaubin.

Though it is, in a technical sense, a ‘coffee table’ book – CCCP is so much more than that. A visual history of a social movement that tried, in a way, to combat this raving obsession we currently find ourselves living in – the boundless spawn of such novel and lazy technological advancements as washing machines and vacuum cleaners – it’s a stunning reminder that when people aren’t solely motivated by money they can achieve some crazily wondrous things.

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