Not all revolutions are won by violence and bloodshed. Director Margy Kinmouth takes us on a journey to the beginning of both the Russian Revolution and the relatively unknown art revolution that coincided with it, tracing their history and overlaps.
Starting in 1917 at the storming of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg and the abdication of Czar Nicholas, it seems only appropriate that Revolution is being released now, a hundred years on. Revolution tells its story through a combination of old footage, interpretive tableaux and reenactments, shots of Russian art across the century and interviews with artists, historians and gallerists.
Kinmouth makes her case for the link between art and revolution in its intent as an expression of disenfranchisement, a means for the proletariats to revolt against the unfair imperialist rule. From Sergei Eisenstein’s films to art that eschewed the Academy’s standards, art took on a strikingly political edge as it sought to crumble the old regimes and create new ones for the everyman in Russia to have his voice heard, the potential unlocked even further following the political uprising and communist takeover.
Throughout the film, we’re introduced to various figures in Russian art history. Of note in particular is Kazimir Malevich, whose geometric abstract art not only features heavily throughout the film, but whose philosophical musings are also heard throughout via voicover. Revolution acts as a kind of introduction to the hidden Russian art scene mostly unknown to the greater Western world, heralding its boldness in its avant garde expression and as a movement that both influenced and was influenced by the turmoil in the Soviet state.
Kinmouth does not discount the reappropriation of art during the red years either. In particular, Stalin was known to utilise art for propaganda purposes, reflecting socialist realist themes. In a rather interesting anecdote, the artist Peter Kotov was known to have refused to paint Stalin’s portrait, as he specialised only in painting nature.
If you’re looking for a beginner’s guide to 20th century Russian art interlaced with select Russian history, Revolution is a film you should be checking out. Informative and visually striking, you’ll come out of it with more than a passing interest in finding out a little more about the fascinating history behind these unfamiliar artists.