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Red Utopias books / Essarter Édition

Red Utopias is a collection of three books that bring together the photographs and texts of a dozen European authors and photographers around the theme of political utopias in Europe in a post-soviet era. The trilogy will be published in February 2019 by Essarter Édition.

In the wake of the centenary of the October revolution, we have been reminded that communism has so far only been possible through the unreal realm of literature and theory. Throughout history, the application of the socialist theories of Marx, Lenin and Stalin showed a propensity for totalitarianism. Everywhere, the influence of the USSR was so strong that it remains in memory as a kind of hope, an inaccessible dream which it is necessary to sustain. As if it were a political plan that could still be possible, it sees itself unequally commemorated between societies.

The idea that commemoration is sometimes utopian is reflected in the historiography of the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine in 2014, the revolution that preceded the war. The national pride of the uprising, embodied by decommunisation, only produced disillusionment. To remedy this, inhabitants, intellectuals, writers, artists and photographers are seeking a parallel system to reinvent life in society. On the other hand, in the separatist zone of Donbass, the glorious moments of the USSR are celebrated and the inhabitants, caught up in the war, try to live in this microcosm, relying on socialist hope.

At the beginning of this year, we have seen through numerous publications that societies – Western and those furthest away – have a need to talk about dreams in order to escape.

 

It is a question of collecting the testimonies of a particular kind of utopia. A utopia that envisages the revival of another utopia: the communist utopia. Is there any sense in talking about replicating this utopia? Is it not more a kind of restoration if it is the elite who are calling for it? Or is it not a kind of reactionary thought on the part of the working class who have not gained anything after the fall of the Berlin wall? It would then be a curious reaction, since it would reestablish an ideology that specifically denies any value of the past. What is the purpose of nostalgia for communism? This is what we want to discover – we, who first grasp it as a deadly ideology. Are we blinded by Western propaganda and by a more biased teaching than we would like to believe?

Red Utopias are collective memories, spaces and people. We interrogate architectures and places of memory through testimony and theory.

Red Utopias are an assembly of large format books that gives as much space to images as it does texts, without relegating one or the other to a secondary plan. Connected together by small notches, Red Utopias are a construction that readers can manipulate, clip, detach, reattach, assemble.

The trilogy Red Utopias brings the resultant content to life through individual launchings, a meeting and a series of lectures in the presence of photographers and authors across France, the UK and more. It gives readers the opportunity to be able to share their thoughts, to exchange, to question: the books become a meeting space.

 

Arthur Bondar

 

I. FROM EXILE

Arthur Bondar, Marylise Vigneau, Olessia Venediktova & Larisa Pelle

The aim of this book is to illustrate a potential memorial landscape of the communist utopia. The firsthand ac- counts of it come from our four authors, photographers and writers, all born while the Soviet Socialist Republics were still unified. Between the “improvised” poetry of Marylise Vigneau’s text and photographs, the conscientious photographic testimony of Arthur Bondar, and the reminiscence of the childhood memories of Olessia Venediktova and Larisa Pelle, From Exile is a tender and graphic testimony, personal and ordinary. It is of our past in exile, once banished, marching today in our present.

Karol Palka

 

II. THE RECONCILIATION OF SPACES

Karol Palka & Claire Laude

The previous book exposed exile, an impossible harmonious meeting of times. How is one to reconcile these two spaces that are the present and the past? In using architecture, myth and the hope of a union, Karol Palka and Claire Laude create together an imagining of places and cities. Karol Palka documents with a film- maker’s perspective, certain Soviet governmental buildings without indicating their names or the locations. Thus, all these places become just one: the imagining of a huge and unique place is built despite the geography. Claire Laude documents the dichotomy of Kalinin- grad and Königsberg, evidence of a city martyred by war and conquest, constructed and deconstructed by two peoples in conflict throughout the ages: the Russians and the Germans.

Alexander Earmochenko

 

III. WITH THE PEOPLE

Maxim Sarychau, Alexander Earmochenko & Christopher Nunn

This volume, that closes the trilogy, is a tribute to the People. What is their point of view, and their experience of life, with regard to this idea of the political utopia? Our four authors, writers and photographers, activists and in- habitants, paint a picture in crescendo to try and answer this question. Between the dark secrets of the state institutions described by Maxim Sarychau, the Soviet public holidays documented by Alexander Ermochenko, the disillusionment of Florian Tonnon with regard to his activist experience in the Communist Party and the small invented paradises photographed by Christopher Nunn, this book tells the story of isolated people, like on a boat in the middle of the ocean, in a political world where a kind of utopia left dark scars.

 

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