This a film of a talk that I gave at Artpool’s 40th anniversary conference in Budapest in February 2020 on post-atheistic religiosity in late Soviet art. The abstract appears below. The talk appears in a book, What will be Already Exists, edited by Emese Kürti and Zsuzsa László which is available in an open edition here.
In the mid 1980s researchers in Moscow – including philosopher Mikhail Epstein – investigated the rise of religious sects amongst Soviet intelligentsia, citizens of a society which had declared its commitment to atheism. The project resulted in an archive and “reference manual” documenting “New Sectarianism”: the esoteric beliefs of physicists who, for instance, attributed special meaning to light; or philologists who saw divine meaning in particular words.
In this talk, David Crowley approaches Epstein’s manual as a guide to the “post-atheistic religiosity” of Soviet artists in the 1970s and 1980s. Sharing a fascination with what might be called “bureaucratic aesthetics”, Viktor Pivovarov, Ilya Kabakov and Andrei Monastyrski among others, acted as archivists of the ordinary. However the ordinary did not mean the mundane: even the most unremarkable Soviet things seemed capable of what Pivovarov called “sacralization”.