Born in the USSR: a new show at Gallery Elena Shchukina explores contemporary Russian design

Contemporary Russian Design
Installation view of 'Born in the USSR: Contemporary Russian Design' at Gallery Elena Shchukina in London, with Moscow-based designer Katerina Kopytina's 'LightBean' lamps in the window.
(Image credit: Daffyd Jones)

When curator and Wallpaper* editor-at-large Suzanne Trocmé (opens in new tab) was looking through Russian resumés for the designers who would ultimately form Born in the USSR, launched at Gallery Elena Shchukina (opens in new tab) as part of the London Design Festival, she noticed a peculiarity in the bio. 'It said he was born in Leningrad, but he studied in St Petersburg,' says the London-based designer and curator. 'It made me wonder what it means to be born into one cultural environment and practicing in another.'

Trocmé cast her net wider to include designers born in the former USSR before 1991, pre-Perestroika, yet on the cusp of their nation's dissolution - which eventually exposed them to a world of imagery. A student in Russia in the 1980s, she had a unique perspective in the matter. 'There was no advertising,' she says of life behind the curtain then. 'No one else's opinion got in the way. In fact, that absence of visual bombardment was a luxury.'

The final cut of 14 includes some designers who have never left what is now Russia. And yet they design with sophisticated clarity, humour and national spirit. 'The designs I found, out of hundreds of pieces,' says Trocmé, 'embrace Russian traditions but are truly contemporary.'

She points to the wood 'Dot' table by Lera Moiseeva (opens in new tab), born to space engineers in Tarusa, Central Russia, in 1986. It is mobile, like a wheelbarrow, with a front wheel that pivots around the main surface 'like in the cosmos'. A collection of clay whistles in the shape of birds by Siberian-born Anna Denisenko (opens in new tab) reference the old acorn whistles used by Slavic watchmen to warn of approaching enemies.

The exhibition, launched in partnership with Wallpaper*, aims to upturn the stereotype of Russians in London. That the hub of Russian activity in London overlaps, Venn-like, with the Knightsbridge hub of the Design Festival is a stroke of luck.

As for the wider relationship between the two cultures, 'Sanctions are not always useful. It's important to support good talent wherever in the world you find it,' says Trocmé. 'I just wanted to show that Russian design is very cool and has a place in the world, and to support it - despite the geopolitical situation.'

'Imenno-Lavka

Curated by Wallpaper* editor-at-large Suzanne Trocmé, the exhibition features the work of 14 designers who were born in the former USSR before 1991. Pictured is 'Imenno-Lavka', by Yaroslav Misonzhnikov, is a bicycle-advertising system and mobile shop. 

(Image credit: Daffyd Jones)

Ad-bike

Felt iPhone covers and business-card holders in the basket of Yaroslav Misonzhnikov's 'ad-bike'.

(Image credit: Daffyd Jones)

'Vool' by Meta Works

'Vool' by Meta Works is a laptop stand and storage unit crafted from Russian pine. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the designer and Gallery Elena Shchukina)

Light Beans

Detail of Kopytina's 'LightBeans', which are made from natural local oak and coloured textile cord. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the designer and Gallery Elena Shchukina)

Red Corner

'Red Corner', by Maxim Maximov. Traditionally the 'red corner' was a place to pray and display treasured items in the Russian home. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the designer and Gallery Elena Shchukina)

The Bear Coffee Table

'The Bear Coffee Table', in walnut veneer and MDF, is a tongue-in-cheek take on the iconic Russian symbol by St Petersburg-based designer Alexander Kanygin. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the designer and Gallery Elena Shchukina)

Monkey No 1

Another playful piece by Kanygin, 'Monkey No 1', is finely wrought from oak, sipo and gum. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the designer and Gallery Elena Shchukina)

Reconciliation

'Reconciliation', a brass samovar by Alina Tukhvatullina, in the foreground.

(Image credit: Daffyd Jones)

'Dot' table

Lera Moiseeva's 'Dot' table has an attached wheel that pivots around the main table leg like an orbiting moon.

(Image credit: Daffyd Jones)

'Cararosa' porcelain vase

'Cararosa' porcelain vase, by Lera Moiseeva. The designer, from a family of space engineers in Tarusa, Russia, is inspired by images of the cosmos. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the designer and Gallery Elena Shchukina)

Quick USB Flash Drives

'Quick USB Flash Drives' with silicone casing by Yury Veredyuk, who was born in the Carpathians but works out of St Petersburg. Veredyuk also designed a traditional Russian rubakha with intricate embroidery that is revealed, on closer look, to be a series of QR codes linked to a Russian portal. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the designer and Gallery Elena Shchukina)

ADDRESS

Gallery Elena Shchukina (opens in new tab)
18 Beauchamp Place
Knightsbridge
London SW3 1NQ

VIEW GOOGLE MAPS