DIY, Post-Soviet, Mad Max Style

In the Guardian, Justin McGurik recently reviewed Vladimir Arkhipov’s Home-Made Europe: Contemporary Folk Artifacts, produced in the UK by Fuel. McGurik describes the book:

Here are everyday things people have fashioned with their own hands. Heaters, hammers, anchors, rat-traps, barbecues, showers and goalposts. They range from the pitiful – a child’s grill for corn on the cob, rigged out of wires bent over tea lights – to the technically impressive – one man made a fridge. This is a catalogue of human resourcefulness.

After reading the review, I stumbled across the 2007 Italian version of Archipov’s first book, Design del Popolo: 220 Invenzioni della Russia post-sovetica (ISBN Edizoni). A friend said to me:

Somehow nothing about the phrase ‘post-Soviet’ conjures DIY, since everything in pre-post-Soviet times had to be cobbled together. ‘Post-Soviet’ says leopard-print push-up bra, but maybe that’s just me.

TV Antenna



But the book is full of functional DIY and makeshift objects like the ones shown here—and many more, including toys made of cans, spectacles made of wire, radios made from various plastic parts, and a score of different TV antennae made from almost anything metallic.

Design of the People is an extraordinary catalog that tells of life in the Soviet Union during the years of Perestroika, before the advent of Putin, through objects created out of daily necessity. The text includes the stories and memories of those who made ​​the objects. Peasants, students, workers—they draw, through their inventions, a portrait of a past era. The reader gets a sense of the collective poverty of Russian socialism, but also of an intimate and emotional response to consumerism, the mass production of millions of anonymous pieces and “the creativity and pride” of the people who survived those difficult years.


2 thoughts on “DIY, Post-Soviet, Mad Max Style

  1. cipheroid

    I’ve always been a great admirer of Soviet ingenuity, and their engineers’ ability to create rugged, functional artifacts from primitive components — whether ashtrays, computer systems (think Riad series, their IBM System/36 copycat), or jet fighters (think Mig-23, a steel/aluminum rocket with wings). Glad to see that this cultural esthetic has not been lost with the dissolution of the old CCCP.
    Your article inspired me to see what other references I could find along these lines, and I stumbled across a site that highlights a few of these primitive DIY masterpieces:
    The site itself is a wonderful example of post-Soviet DIY primitivism, with its clunky hand-coded design and seemingly random use of Javascript element placement. The site requires some effort to navigate (hint: use the Find link in one of the Javascript popup fields) and enjoy.