There was a time when it was the East that looked west for cultural inspiration. From the mid-60s onwards, Russian youth culture enacted its own form of aesthetic Glasnost. And despite the miles of concrete that divided Europe in two, the elements of Western culture that did make it beyond the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’ were consumed and copied with fervour. Real American jeans soon became an expression of rebellion in Eastern Europe and also a form of currency, with smuggled denims exchanging hands for the equivalent of a month’s wages.
But at some point over the past decade, the longing glare that was once directed westwards started being mirrored back. The inimitable style of a post-Soviet world has become a fixation for many, with its cold, imposing Brutalist structures and nostalgia-led sportswear acting as visual shorthand for what many consider to be the singular aesthetic of Russia.
The irony of this supposed cultural homogeneity is not lost on Russians, well aware of the real, vibrant and diverse landscape that is their culture today. Rather than simply replicate post-Soviet tropes, Russian photographer Alexey Kiselev takes us inside. Literally. These images are set within what was once a Moscow automobile factory, built as part of the Soviet Constructivist movement within architecture, which saw striking, grey concrete structures rise up all over Russia. The factory today acts as a cultural center – and beyond its hard exterior, there is the opulence of marble walls and the richness of oak floors, even a succulent plant or two. This is not the brooding, harsh vision of Russia that we have perhaps come to expect.
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Battle-ready camouflage motifs appear throughout, however, these are less a reflection of renewed tensions between Eastern and Western powers, but rather of a youthful approach to stylistic bricolage – one that bridges borders and tribal allegiances. Walls have been dismantled both literally and culturally for good reason – there are more important things to be fighting for.