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Postsocialism & Art: A Masterclass with Maja and Reuben Fowkes

A derelict industrial building with an internal archway overgrown with grass and shrubs and a newer brutalist style building beyond the arch
A derelict industrial building with an internal archway overgrown with grass and shrubs and a newer brutalist style building beyond the arch
Ilona Németh, Eastern Sugar, 2018-21. Derelict sugar factory in Pohronský Ruskov, 2020. Photo Olja Triaška Stefanović. Courtesy of the artist.
Written by
Communications Team
Published date
23 February 2021

Our new research project Postsocialism and Art reflects on the current state of Eastern European postsocialist heritage: its presence at UAL and its relation to the potent decolonial discussions happening in current times. The project brings together a community of art historians, theoreticians and art practitioners working on or interested in Eastern European heritage, with related events and activities taking place throughout this year.

Unruly Elements: Ecologies of Post-Socialism

During UAL Research Season 2021 on 24 March we are excited to welcome the first in a series of Masterclasses delivered by renowned scholars in the field - Unruly Elements: Ecologies of Post-Socialism, presented by Maja and Reuben Fowkes.

At the height of Stalinism, nature was considered not only as an unlimited resource for extracting the future of socialism, but also as a class enemy that needed to be kept under strict control. This representation is reflected in socialist realist art.

This presentation considers how attitudes and practices towards the natural world formed during the era of the socialist anthropocene were transformed over the transition to post-communism.

Art practices reveal the ways in which ideological projections onto nature have been re-made in line with nationalist agendas - but also the extent to which the integration of the socialist world into the neo-colonial circuits of the global economy has led to an intensification of extractivist operations.

At the same time, artists have pointed to the unruliness of natural elements and their capacity to evade ideological and horticultural regimentation - tracing the roots of this rebelliousness in the ruderal histories of socialism and exploring global decolonial parallels.

Maja and Reuben Fowkes

Maja and Reuben Fowkes are art historians, curators and co-directors of the Postsocialist Art Centre (PACT) at University College London, and founders of Translocal Institute for Contemporary Art. Their publications include Art and Climate Change (Thames & Hudson, forthcoming), the edited volume Ilona Németh: Eastern Sugar (Sternberg Press, 2021), Central and Eastern European Art Since 1950 (Thames & Hudson, 2020), a special issue of Third Text on Actually Existing Worlds of Socialism (2018) and Maja Fowkes’s The Green Bloc: Neo-Avant-Garde and Ecology under Socialism (2015). Their curatorial collaborations include the Anthropocene Reading Room, the Danube River School, the group show Walking without Footprints and a trilogy of exhibitions on the revolutions of 1956, 1968 and 1989. They lead the Getty Foundation supported research project Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History.

Future Masterclasses as part of this project later this year will welcome fellow scholars Madina Tlostanova, Boris Buden, and Ana Sladojevi. Postsocialism and Art is supported by the British Society of Aesthetics and the Association for Arts History.

UAL Research Season

Throughout March 2021 all 6 UAL Colleges, 3 Institutes and 9 Research Centres  will host activities reflecting the richness and diversity of ongoing research at UAL. Our events will look into Black Lives Matter, climate change, COVID-19, decolonisation, intersectionality, and sustainability. Many of them are open to the public.

Explore the programme.