Soviet Space Dreams: Underwater Socialism

Our new book, Soviet Space Graphics, recalls a time when Russian popular science magazines flirted with fiction
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Knowledge is Power, issue 5, 1960, illustration by N. Grishin for the article ‘Flying Like Birds, Swimming Like Fish’, from Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR
Knowledge is Power, issue 5, 1960, illustration by N. Grishin for the article ‘Flying Like Birds, Swimming Like Fish’, from Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR

It’s hard to leaf through Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR, and not be awed by the positive ambition and pioneering power of the former Soviet Union. The book, which has been assembled in conjunction with the Moscow Design Museum, reproduces some of the most incredible illustrations from the USSR’s many popular science magazines of the 20th century. 

The majority of these pictures focus on space exploration, both in fact and in fiction, but a good proportion also take a look at the ways this massive, globally influential federal socialist state exercised its industrial and scientific ambitions down on earth. 

 

Knowledge is Power, issue 8, 1954, illustration by L. Vladimirsky for the article ‘The Atlantis’
Knowledge is Power, issue 8, 1954, illustration by L. Vladimirsky for the article ‘The Atlantis’

Then again, perhaps earth is too earthbound a term to describe the ones that illustrate Soviet aquatic exploration. Some, such as the illustration by A. Pobedinsky for the article ‘Sunken Ships Raised’, concerning techniques used by industrial divers, in a 1953 edition of Technology for the Youth, or A. Cherenkov’s picture for the cover of Young Technician, issue 12, 1977, showing a modern deep-sea diving suit, focus on developments well within the grasp of of the USSR. 

Others, including A. Lurie’s accompaniment to the article ‘Under the Ice of the Antarctic’, looking at research in the Antarctic Region, or a work by an unknown illustrator, for the 1969 article from Technology for the Youth, entitled ‘The Future of Fishing’, showing prospective underwater agricultural activities, certainly pointed the way towards possible new developments. And then there are the works of pure fantasy; consider L. Vladimirsky’s 1954 illustration, ‘The Atlantis’ (above), a piece about divers discovering the ruins of the lost city.

 

Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR

However, these detailed and beautifully executed images are at their most poignant when they show flights of pseudoscientific fantasy which never really came to pass. N. Grishin’s 1960 cover artwork for the article ‘Flying Like Birds, Swimming Like Fish’ (top), is a great work of whimsy.

The article does explore the very practical aero- and hydrodynamic features of fauna that could be utilized for new technologies; nevertheless, none of us are going to be jackknifing like tuna through the oceans of the world any time soon. And looking at the futuristic pioneer in the fish suit, it’s difficult not to envy him a little bit at the moment. 

To see all the images mentioned and many more, order a copy of Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR here.


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