Design without Frontiers: Interdisciplinarity and Collaboration in Soviet Art, Architecture and Design

20 September 2012 - 21 September 2012

CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, and University Library, Cambridge


Dr Rosalind P Blakesley (History of Art/Pembroke College)
Dr Emma Widdis
(Slavonic Studies/Trinity College)



Registration for this conference is now closed.


Conference Summary

Creative practice in Soviet Russia was marked by unprecedented emphasis on collaborative endeavour, reaching across disciplinary boundaries. Architects, poets, painters and designers were united in formal and informal collaborative networks, leading to innovative design collectives, and to a unique erosion of any lasting divisions between architectural, graphic, textile, theatre, and urban design. This conference - a collaboration between Cambridge University Library and the departments of History of Art and Slavonic Studies - will investigate the roots and legacies of these collaborative networks in order to shed light on the circulations, interconnections, and dialogue between different designers and modes of design. This is a vital part of the history of the Soviet avant-garde, and of its legacy; it has the potential to offer new perspectives on the history of 20th-century design.

The conference complements a major exhibition at Cambridge University Library of items from the Catherine Cooke Collection, a world-class assemblage of books, periodicals, posters, plans, photographs, and ephemera relating to Russian and Soviet art, architecture, urban planning, and design. With presentations on individual items in the Cooke collection, as well as papers from an international and interdisciplinary line-up of speakers, it will explore the actual conditions that created and supported collaboration by looking back to the Silver Age and forward to the late Soviet and post-Soviet period, as well as re-examining the Soviet avant-garde. 

Please note:  Speakers for the conference will be invited, so there is no call for papers.




The conveners are grateful for the support of the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre (CCRAC), Pembroke College, Trinity College, Cambridge University Library and the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge.


Accommodation for non-paper giving participants

Conference participants can find information about accommodation in Cambridge at the following URLs:
NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation. 


Administrative assistance: Helga Brandt (Conference Programme Manager, CRASSH)


Thurs, 20 September

10.15 - 10.45


10.45 - 11.00

Rosalind Blakesley: Introductory Remarks

11.00 - 12.45

Chair: Christina Lodder

  • Maria Gough: Architectonic Supersagas: Tatlin stages “Zangezi”
  • Susanne Strätling: Play with Words. Hands-on Aesthetics in Constructivist Book Design

12.45 - 14.15

Visit to the Catherine Cooke Exhibition, University Library

14.15  - 16.00 

Chair: John Milner

  • Robert Bird: Dialectics and Design in the 1930s
  • John Mackay:Tense Collaborations: Vertov’s Kino-Eye among the -isms and within the State
  • Molly Brunson: Design in Painting: Architecture, the Graphic Arts, and the Society of Easel Painters

16.00  - 16.30 


16.30  - 17.30


Plenary Lecture I
Chair: Rosalind P. Blakesley

John E. Bowlt:  Higher, Ever Higher! Astronautics and the Russian Avant-Garde

17.30- 19.00

Exhibition and Drinks Reception in the University Library 


Fri, 21 September

9.30 - 10.30

Plenary Lecture II
Chair: Emma Widdis

Christina Kiaer: “Work, build and don’t whine!”: Laterality and Transmediality in the 1930s

10.30 - 11.00


11.00 - 12.45

SESSION 3: Post-graduate Show and Tell Material Encounters with the Cooke Collection
Chair: Mel Bach

  • Louise Hardiman: Moi deviz: Shekhtel’s designs for the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition
  • Rosie Bainbridge: Constructing Visual Perception: Rodchenko’s Word on Page and Screen
  • Galina Mardilovich:  Packaging the Belomor Canal
  • Jennifer Brewin: The End of An Era: Picturing the Sudeikins’ Departure For the West

12.45 - 13.45


13.45 - 15.15

Chair: Katya Rogatchevskaya

  • Susie Reid:  Designing the Soviet Sixties
  • Jane Sharp: Design as Decoy?

15.15 - 15.45


15.45 - 17.00

Chair: tbc

  • Ellen Rutten: Post-Soviet Creative Practices: Professions, Compartments, (Non-)Frontiers
  • Susan Larsen: Reality Shows: Documentary and Collaboration in Film, Theatre, Television and Politics

17.00 - 17.15

Emma Widdis: Closing remarks


Open air film screening of Aelita at the University Library