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AGENDA | Star City, The Future Under Communism

February 18, 2010

How was the future imagined under Communism – and why is that vision so important to us today? These are the questions that Star City, named after the USSR’s secret cosmonaut training base, sets out to explore. The exhibition, presented at Nottingham Contemporary gallery tries to answer this question.

The 60s Space Race was a fierce propaganda battle between communism and capitalism, as much as a technological competition. Space in all its manifestations -technological, political, imaginary – is an important part of Star City. The exhibition contains real objects and propaganda of the period, including USSR Space Race posters, a life-size replica of a Sputnik, space food and a collection of Polish space toys. The science fiction of the Eastern Bloc in the Cold War period was viewed as a serious art form that encompassed philosophy, as in the work of Stanislaw Lem. Some was sanctioned, but some was banned for decades. Often representing a means of escape from the state, and of the grey realities of everyday life, its influence can be strongly felt in Star City.

Alex Farquharson quotes in his introduction:

“Star City considers how the future was experienced and imagined under communism during the Cold War. It does so mainly through the works of a generation of leading artists who grew up within the Soviet sphere of influence, but who became artists after its demise. They are shown alongside important figures of the Central and East European avant-gardes of the 1960s and 1970s (Filko, Kabakov and Koller). That era dominates much of the contemporary work as well – references to now obsolete technology of that era, its science fiction and its space programme abound – because, arguably, this was the last time people living in Warsaw Pact countries believed in the future. That belief was tied to an abiding conviction that Soviet-style communism would one day deliver on its promise of a utopian society, and that present day struggles and privations were necessary steps towards a prosperous, egalitarian society.”

And Lukasz Ronduda adds:

“After the Prague Spring of 1968, and as the Brezhnev era developed (1964-82), the belief that communism would win the future became impossible; instead of inventing new ways of thinking about the future, the USSR began stealing futures from the West, using the secret service (IBM technology, for example). Cybernetics, which became influential in the Soviet bloc, was only deployed in the administrative interests of the authoritarian state.”

Star City revisits a future where progress led the forward march of history – an idea that has fallen into rusty disrepute, alongside the fallen Iron Curtain. In the West – preoccupied with ecological disaster and with our own economies faltering – we no longer look forward – or upward. The ideals of collective action have been largely superceded by individual consumerism. Perhaps, Star City suggests, we need a new planetary perspective. Revisiting the past may help us take one small step towards a shared future.


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Where: Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham [UK]

When: Fri 12 Feb – Sat 17 Apr 2010

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