first blog ·
Fragments, snippets, bits and bobs related to the forthcoming book on Ostalgia, Westalgia, cold war modern "dreamlands", called Poor but Sexy by Agata Pyzik, for Zer0 Books, also at http://nuitssansnuit.blogspot.com/
"When the influential American writer Jane Jacobs opposed zoning, she was opposing the tendency of spaces in estates to become bleak and abandoned. But what followed was insistence on making places ‘vibrant’. In the case of the Iron Gate, this meant building around the monolithic, huge and identical Ville Radieuse-style blocks in green space a net of significantly higher flats for speculation, clad with an especially cheap and perishable material – trespa, and imposing office/retail developments." An old article for Afterall magazine (May 2012), but today, with the revival of Jane Jacobs and studies on Socialist Realism, still pertinent. I was hoping to develop thinking on Socialist realist architecture in the book, but I ended up talking much more about its theory, visual arts, cinema and literature.
Poor but Sexy exists in a paper form! (and yes, this girl on the pic is me, hi). The author’s copies arrived a few days ago. Can’t entirely believe it, it’s still two months to the official premiere, but you can preorder a copy already and I’m sure they will be actually available before the official date.
Have no scanner working at the moment, so will be uploading small parts of my vast collection of communist era design & Illustration. In here, I concentrate on children’s illustration: most of all postcards, but also books. Another interesting element is the design of the luxury consumer goods, such as chocolate box, pictured above.
Historical costume film as contemporary politics battlefield. My piece for Calvert Journal about the historical film wars between Russia, Poland and Ukraine since the 1917 revolution. From Eisenstein’s epics Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible to Teutonic Knights to contemporary nationalistic wars in anti-Polish & anti-Russian films made in Eastern Europe.
Pre-order Poor but Sexy on amazon (I know, they’re appalling, so maybe wait until your local bookshop will have it for an online order), or simply browse through and through, beginning of every chapter on view.
The book has an official page and I’m officially an author now. yes!
above , my alternative cover picture, also by Paulina Olowska, Cake (courtesy Metro Pictures). In the end, I chose Kontrola W by this very same painter, her rework of a photo of this Polish punk band..see the very beginning of this tumblr.
It’s nearly here - my book Poor But Sexy. Culture Clashes in Europe East and West is coming out on March 28th 2014 on Zero Books. I will be posting here all events related to this - as well as reviews, articles and other pieces of writing. Book will be probably available before that date on Amazon anyway.
"24 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe is as divided as ever. The passengers of the low-budget airlines go east for stag parties, and they go west for work; but the east stays east, and west stays west. Caricatures abound - the Polish plumber in the tabloids, the New Cold War in the broadsheets and the endless search for ‘the new Berlin’ for hipsters.
Sweeping across the breadth of the former Iron Curtain, Agata Pyzik charts the mutual misunderstandings between Western and eastern Europe, going beyond the familiar myths of plucky dissidents, the horrors of Stalinism and the ‘success stories’ of a neoliberal New Europe. Rather than a low-wage hinterland for the affluent west or a picturesque holiday destination, Pyzik finds a rich and unwritten counter-history.
Poor but Sexy ranges from Warsaw to Luton, from Prague to East Berlin, from Ukraine to Romania, in search of the counter-currents and other traditions. Instead, Poor But Sexy peers into the secret histories of Eastern Europe (and its tortured relations with the ‘west’). Eastern European migration, the post-punk Bowiephile obsession with the ‘Eastern Bloc’, Orientalism and ‘self-colonisation’, the emancipatory potentials of Socialist Realism, and the possibility of a non-western idea of modernity and futurism. Its subjects veer from Femen to Depeche Mode, from David Bowie to Nikita Khrushchev, from Socialist Realists to New Romantics.
Refusing both a dewy-eyed Ostalgia for the ‘good old days’ and the equally desperate desire to become a ‘normal part of Europe’, Poor But Sexy reclaims the idea of an Other Europe.”
What’s a poor girl to do when worlds collide except listen to gloomy rock ’n’ roll bands and dance precariously along the fault-line of history where the Berlin Wall used to be? Born in Poland in the 1980s, Agata Pyzik is barely old enough to remember life under communism. Watching the waves of Ostalgie spreading across the former GDR and other ex-Warsaw Pakt states, she felt compelled to investigate the underlying causes of disenchantment among increasing numbers of Central Europeans hankering for the certainties guaranteed them under Soviet rule. If she began her mission with a sense of bemused contempt for dewy-eyed sentimentalism distorting people’s memory of what life was really like under communism, her investigations reveal a far more complex picture. Poor But Sexy is a fabulous freefall through 25 years of East-West exchanges predicated on the West’s arrogant assumption that at base everybody wants to buy in to their belief systems. Riding these East-West crosscurrents of desire, envy and wounded pride, she has found much to be proud of amid the ruins of communism, and in the process of looking back she has recovered some extraordinary punk, art, fashion and philosophical alternatives to the Western way ahead.
"Crisis bride" by a Polish popular rock band Lady Pank, which wasn’t particularly punk anyway, yet used some rough-edgedness of it. Here interesting for us, as it uses a footage of a scantily-clad punky girl wandering sheepishly around an early, 80s version of a supermarket - yet note there’s a very small offer there, mostly vinegar, I suppose. "Crisis bride", after all, so don’t expect luxury or highlights, it’s a vinegar, low-budget love, post Martial Law, with nothing attractive to consume, with only a parody of it. the only attarctive thing in this shop is…overemphacised girl’s bum. At the same time it’s implied, that the girl left the song’s narrator and now only sends him Christmas cards from "nowhere". She luckily escaped the crisis, run away to the West, but, according to what he sings, "she’ll never know what she’s truly lost"….
This has been watched by 20 million people already. It seems to belong to an increasingly popular ‘ironic self-exploitation’ trend among the former East. I recommend also watching this super-self-exploitative clip by a certain Russian comedian
At the same time, this is a specific genre of hip-hop mixed with turbo-folk - I’m sure you heard some of those awful, cheap synths, syncopated euro-pop hits, that poured out of New European coutries after 1989. Apparently, this guy, Donatan, saw a niche in nationalistic/football fans hip hop/turbofolk, and hence those slavic, folksy aesthetics dominating his clips (theres more in that ilk).
But its’ supposed to be ironic. Those breasts like watermelons and sperm-like cream are not there to tittilate you, oh no. On one hand, it’s against the exoticisation of Slavs, you have lyrics there mocking the mail order brides, Slavonic women’s sex appeal etc, but it’s done in the way: ‘we’ll auto-exoticise ourselves, before you’ll do it’. The assumption is that we are neo-barbarians (but we have attractive women) so what do we do? exploit it ourselves!
The other side is more murky: it’s an incredibly creepy, sexist (unbelievable explotation of women’s features), pornographic take on women and relations between sexes, and they know it (we live in post-internet times, so they’re aware of sexism), so they added this ‘irony pill’ at the beginning, that this is not really for real etc (while exploiting women to the bone).
A disco-polo (cheap synths turbo-folk populist music that emerged around ‘89) band called charmingly BOYS tell you how it is in 1993: Poland is not USA, money is everything, and they do it hanging from Socialist realist sculptures. total hardcore.
The Rainbow - art installation by Julita Wojcik in the center of Warsaw, an unofficial symbol of tolerance and of the local LGBT community, is burning, arsoned by the neo-fascists during the riots on November 11th. Here’s my write-up, which was initially commissioned and then rejected by The Guardian - it found home on New Left Project.