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Picturing the Cosmos
A Visual History of Early Soviet Space Endeavor
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Price £27.50, $36.50
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ISBN 9781783207428
Paperback 132 pages
170x230
Published September 2017
Imprint: Intellect
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Books by Iina Kohonen
Books in Visual Arts
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With a foreword by Slava Gerovitch.

Space is the ultimate canvas for the imagination, and in the 1950s and ’60s, as part of the space race with the United States, the solar system was the blank page upon which the Soviet Union etched a narrative of exploration and conquest. In Picturing the Cosmos, drawing on a comprehensive corpus of rarely seen photographs and other visual phenomena, Iina Kohonen maps the complex relationship between visual propaganda and censorship during the Cold War.
Kohonen ably examines each image, elucidating how visual media helped to anchor otherwise abstract political and intellectual concepts of the future and modernization within the Soviet Union. The USSR mapped and named the cosmos, using new media to stake a claim to this new territory and incorporating it into the daily lives of its citizens. Soviet cosmonauts, meanwhile, were depicted as prototypes of the perfect Communist man; representing modernity, good taste, and the aesthetics of the everyday. Across five heavily illustrated chapters, Picturing the Cosmos navigates and critically examines these utopian narratives, highlighting the rhetorical tension between propaganda, censorship, art and politics.

 

Reviews
'Kohonen’s Picturing the Cosmos: A Visual History of Early Soviet Space Endeavor uses Socialist Realist artwork as well as archival materials from the illustrated magazine Огонёк (Ogonyok) to make her arguments. She focuses on the role of cosmic images in the making of propaganda, the construction of modernity, the grounding of political and ideological principles as well as technoutopic imaginaries. However, the bulk of the book – and in my opinion, the most interesting ­– has to do with how the highly polished media in the Soviet Union constructed idealised heroes out of the cosmonauts.' – Taylor R. Genovese, LSE Review of Books

'The book examines how visual media served to construct an overarching heroic mythos of the conquering Soviet man, bravely exploring the depths of space, for the glory of the USSR and all mankind, and how that narrative was crafted to emphasize the values that Soviet leaders wanted to instill in their citizenry — while hiding uncomfortable realities and preventing attitudes at odds with the official line.' – Mark Wolverton, Undark

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