by Madina Tlostanova. Duke University Press, 2018. 160 p. ill. ISBN 9780822371274 (pbk.), $22.95.
Reviewed November 2018
Melanie E. Emerson, Dean of the Library + Special Collections, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, firstname.lastname@example.org
In her introduction, “A Futureless Ontology?” Madina Tlostanova clearly states she is focused “mainly on the experiences, sensibilities and creative work of the postcolonial artists who happen to be at the same time postsoviet.” This is exactly what she does throughout this well researched and insightful book. It exposes readers to new and often challenging ways of thinking about art production by artists from post-communist countries, and in turn considers the social and human implications of a decolonized post-soviet experience. While the author begins her deep exploration of these issues in a moment of despair, seeing no clear future, the discursive text winds its way to seeing a future by way of the contemporary creative work of artists, activists, writers, and so many others from the former Soviet Bloc.
The book is divided into five chapters; each includes a variety of examples of artwork and visual displays of activism as illustration of the theoretical underpinnings posited throughout the text, however, the images are not meant to be the focus of the book. The images are black and white, which can limit the readers’ full understanding of work that may not be familiar. Yet, this does not detract from the articulation of the concepts or the descriptions of the artistic practices used as supporting evidence for the author’s arguments. Additionally, the author has provided extensive notes, references, and an index, which serve as useful resources for further research.
At times, the text can be dense and filled with explications of others scholars analyzing these interactions of art, empire, colonization, and social practice, yet it is still approachable and introduces readers to a number of artists that likely are unknown outside this particular field of study. Interviews with artists are also included in the volume, which provides more direct consideration of the artists/activists’ practice and offers easier access to the content.
Tlostanova has produced a thought-provoking and compelling publication, which explores a topic not covered, especially with such depth, in many other volumes. She investigates the ways in which post-Soviet art production can be a form of activism and social engagement that helps expand one’s understanding of these conditions but also pushes toward change, reform, and rethinking. It also introduces readers to artists who are not immediately recognizable, even to those immersed in contemporary art practices. For these reasons, the book is a valuable addition to any academic library that supports research in contemporary art, as well as institutions that support research in Slavic studies.