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Chernobyl and the fall of the Soviet Union.
Jonathan Cross: 2000-12-09

In December, 2000, I was introduced to the theory that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster might have played a direct role in the collapse of the Soviet Union less than 5 years later. Soon after, I started on a project to explore this subject through posters mimicking the design style of the Constructivists (which I have admired visually for some time), but subverting rather than reinforcing Soviet Ideology.

Using the aesthetic of the Bolshevik propaganda poster, I attempted to illustrate apparent contradictions in Soviet politics/culture, especially as connected to Chernobyl.

I began my project by reading all I could on the social effects of Chernobyl and made the choice to only use images and photographs which came from the event itself (newspaper photos, military graphs, etc.). I scanned these images into the computer and went to work isolating the important elements of each photograph and then combining them with each other in my design. I used repetition and careful symmetry to communicate power, cohesiveness and collective spirit. One of the newspaper headlines I used stated "The severe lessons of Chernobyl", which I combined with a map of the radioactive fallout across Europe and contrasted with the innocent enthusiasm of two children from a small town near the power plant.

The second poster tried to communicate the irony behind a banner painted at the Chernobyl power plant -- "COMMUNISM WILL TRIUMPH". The fact that this slogan was painted on the wall of the structure most symbolically linked to the destruction of Soviet communism seemed to parallel the internal contradictions of the Soviet system of "production for the people", which in reality was production for the war economy (with little left for the people).

In an attempt to unify contrasting elements, I focused on bold colors, patterns and movement in my designs. Through this visual medium I was able to explore the contradictions between the idealism broadcast by The State and the actual economic conditions of the citizens.

The Soviet Union collapsed because the people collectively lost faith in the militaristic totalitarianism which had supplanted true socialism in their country. In attempting to build a better future, I believe it is important to look at the failures of institutions such as the Soviet Union to understand how it is that such beautiful ideas can result in terrible conditions for people. This is a lesson that can be applied throughout ones life as we try to construct a better world and must constantly evaluate our actions based on their actual results, not just the intended ones.


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