Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Art Institute Blog Entry!

YES!!! My TASS entry on the Art Institute's blog is up and running as of yesterday! They made the language a little more flowery than it was earlier, which I'm confused about, but the general gist is the same. Huzzah!

LINK TO THE SITE (and nicer image of TASS 1000) HERE

Mightier than the Bayonet?

POSTED BY admin, ON July 28, 2010,

The word propaganda might initially sound pejorative. Propaganda has been historically perceived as a malevolent method of spreading false rumors. But might we also interpret propaganda as a means of providing a nation courage and willingness to fight in the face of immeasurable odds? Such was the task of the Soviet news agency (TASS) window-posters created in the Soviet Union during the Second World War—and such is the content of Windows on the War, a massive exhibition of these “propaganda” posters that will be mounted at the Art Institute next summer.

Propagandistic posters are usually focused on bolstering support on the home front and distanced from the reality of the battlefield. However, the makers of the TASS Windows had a different idea: to use their creative skills as ammunition in the fight against the Germans. Art became a weapon.

The poster above, number 1000, acts as a visual manifesto for the TASS studio. Above the picture is a quote by Vladimir Mayakovsky, the acclaimed Russian Futurist poet and founder of the ROSTA Windows—predecessors of TASS in the 1920s and the inspiration for the TASS Window project as a whole. The quote reads, in translation, “I want the pen to be equal to the bayonet”—a wish visually manifested in this image. We see Hitler being attacked by three bayonets, alongside a pencil and ink pen. In fact, if we follow Hitler’s gaze, he seems to be staring directly at the hands holding these two tools. The artists, writers, and poets of TASS, it would seem, have succeeded—they have “killed” the enemy’s spirit, while boosting the morale of Soviet citizens with this symbolic defeat. Finally, as Mayakovsky wished, the pen and pencil are on equal footing with the traditional weapons of war.

There was a bona fide sense that producing these TASS Windows was as important as being at the front. In the Soviet Union, the artists who created the posters became beloved cultural icons, as important as military generals. They received state medals and great renown for their work. To this day, surviving former Soviet citizens alive at the time of the TASS Windows can name the artists by heart—artists such as Sokolov-Skalya, Solov’ev, Shukhmin, and the Kukryniksy.

Surrounding the production of the TASS Windows are stories of passion, fervor, and intense labor. The artists would gather, regardless of abominable weather or the advancing enemy attack on Moscow, to create a new poster virtually every day of World War II. Not unlike the Red Army soldiers, the artists and writers labored in inhospitable conditions for the sake of the war effort. Because of the cultural importance of these posters and the iconic status of these artists and writers, heroic or wistful cultural myths came to surround the studio as time went on. According to some anecdotes, TASS posters were carried to the Front by the soldiers and were used to intimidate the enemy. Some TASS artists and writers were even driven to the Front itself so that they might absorb the details of war to imbue later drawings with veracity. The artists and writers of the TASS Windows truly felt their art to be one of the most powerful weapons against the Nazi invaders.

–Julia A., intern in the Department of Prints and Drawings

Image: Nikolai Fedorovich Denisovsky and Pavel Petrovich Sokolov-Skalya, Our One Thousandth Blow, June 5, 1944. Gift of the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries.

Billy Elliot

What makes people enjoy musicals? Personally it seems that everyone I know that loves them imagines themselves as the protagonist, exposed in the limelight. Doesn't everyone have an urge to belt into song once in a while? Why don't we indulge these urges? It seems that people would be happier if only the desire to sing and dance in the middle of a mundane task wasn't so frowned upon. Maybe this is why karaoke is so popular, because, lacking the escape and loss of self that the stage allots to only a select few actors, karaoke gives people the adrenaline rush of the spotlight, however temporarily.

I think that's why I liked Billy Elliot so much. I came into the musical knowing nothing about the history, plot, whatever. I didn't even know it was Elton John's musical. It simply seemed so utterly pertinent... I'm a sucker for stories of revolution, and Billy Elliot is set in the backdrop of the miner's strike in England during Thatcher's time. Billy's father is one of the 200,000 miners on strike, and with the clash of absurd-looking cops and swarthy miners striking batons against newspapers in an epic Capitalist vs. Socialist battle ... was a little boy who just freaking wanted to dance.

And wow, did that boy know how to dance. The character was only 10 years old but performed pirouettes worthy of a mini-Baryshnikov, with occasional jazz and tap. I would probably pay $25 just to see this kid dance for a few hours. Billy Elliot's Chicago run at the Oriental has four kids alternating as Billys, which I think is a pretty ingenious way of not destroying the lives of kid actors. Then again, I'm not sure whether the alternating Billys are kitsch in and of themselves instead of actually being a practical measure but I digress.

Hugely recommended!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Taste of TASS

After a whole (half-)summer of translations, I have one I'm kinda proud of. It has a few awkward moments, but it's a pretty good indicator of how we do things. A "Taste of TASS," if you will. Even though this wasn't a TASS poster per se, it was written by Demian Bednii, who frequently wrote for the TASS posters. So I guess this falls under the denomination of TASS-related, but oh well. Check it:


Unfortunate country under the deadly heat.

Getting the corpses ready for future graves,

Laughing brazenly before death, twisting his rotten, evil grin,

The Fascist decay of worn-down teeth.

Еverything desecrated! In dirt is freedom and culture,

Into oppressive slavery is labor bound.

Onto all of Germany a figure is spread

Ominously dark, the Fascist evil octopus.

The octopus pulls its furry paws

To the north and south, east and west.

In Spain, the Fascist satraps are stunned,

The persistent germ of the People's Front.

The Fascist messengers dart all over the Balkans,

Disturb the Polish,

Connive Japanese plans,

While bringing verbal gifts to various countries

Who want to emblazon a swastika in their coat of arms

The fascist octopus, opening up the hope of its mileposts,

Began to furiously trumpet a march into our Union.

So what? Let him thrust his four paws at us,

We'll be able to chop them off!

-Demian Bednii

Copyright Julia Alekseyeva 2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pitchfork 2010

Finally! My first Pitchfork. I had bought tickets years before and always balked at the last minute, selling them for only slightly more than they're worth.

Pitchfork, the "indie" music festival par excellence, was always put on a music-lovers pedestal that could really only disappoint. In fact, however expensive Lollapalooza tickets are, Lolla seems to be a more relaxed and true festival experience.

1. Attire. One normally wears the most casual clothing possible for Lollapalooza, knowing that it is only going to get soaked with the neighboring concertgoers' sweat. You can always tell firstcomers by their flip-flops, if they are short (how would they see??), or skirts, if they are tall (how would they jump??). By enormous contrast, Pitchfork began like a runway show for American Apparel and Urban Outfitters. On the bus over, which was packed with festival attendees, there were more layers, jewelry, and "vintage" leather bags than were clearly necessary for this disgustingly hot and humid 95 degree day. Thankfully, as the day progressed, layers began disappearing and the cuteness factor eventually evened out as people realized that comfort and NOT having heat stroke is, in fact, more important than ending up in a StreetStyle blog.

2. Set length. Pitchfork was like the Taste of Chicago-- delicious, but a complete teaser. Tallest Man on Earth only got to play 5 or so songs in his measly 30 minute set. Even Broken Social Scene seemed to only get to about 7 or 8 songs, and Modest Mouse didn't even APPROACH the amazing 3-hour long set time of the last time I saw them live, back in 2006. Lollapalooza, on the other hand, is just a conglomeration of near-normal length concerts. With the exception of distortion-fueled post-rock like Animal Collective, Lolla just feels like a bunch of normal concerts, in which the artist(s) normally plays his/her/their hits, plus a few odds and ends for the true fans in the audience, and everyone leaves elated, dirty, and somewhat sick due to 2-ish hours of jumping with nary a bathroom or food break.

3. Shops. Lolla had a few minor merch booths. Beer and water were, obviously, the most popular items. Especially beer. Lolla crowds are more often than not easygoing suburban types, your potheads and bros, plus the far weirder city kids who *somehow* managed to scrounge up the $215 and attend. This = beer consumption. Pitchfork, however, although not lacking in stoners, had very little beer consumption. If people did drink beer, it seemed slightly out of place. The Threadless booth actually received more money than beer! A relatively expensive t-shirt franchise receiving more money than Miller Light somehow seems veeeeryyy strange to me. There was actually a whole avenue of shops, making Pitchfork more of a street fair + music festival.

All in all, Broken Social Scene steals the day. Modest Mouse was a teaser. El-P, however, pretty great.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

I write like...

Amazing website:

Supposedly figures out what famous writer your writing style is like.

For blog posts:

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

For articles:

I write like
Chuck Palahniuk

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

For creative writing:

I write like
Neil Gaiman

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Sometimes I also got Dan Brown for the fiction. Ugh. I really do hate the way I write fiction, though, and my example text is from my Structure and Style class from nearly four years ago... I should start writing fiction again just to prove that my style has improved.

For academic papers:

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

P.S. I just copy and pasted a few paragraphs of one of my old papers that was supposed to mimic Kafka and the dumb website said James Joyce. Either I picked the wrong (quasi-)modernist or this website is a bunch of hooey.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Adorable! + Disney List

Someone made an engagement ring box in the shape of Carl's house from Up!


How perfect to use the film Up for a declaration of endless love... (excuse the sappiness)


On the topic of Cartoons, my friend Colin wrote a wonderful review of the Disney Renaissance films (which, I hope, he will post online, somewhere, for public viewing). In my previous review of Waking Sleeping Beauty I assumed the Disney Renaissance only spanned until 1994. I was wrong, according to wikipedia, and a few other sources which I am too lazy to name. I was going to write a rebuttal review of each film, but that would require rewatching some of my least favorites. No thanks, I'd prefer never to see "Hercules" again.

So, in the name of laziness and useless listmaking:


1. Lion King
2. Beauty and the Beast
3. Aladdin
4. Pocahontas
5. The Little Mermaid
6. Mulan
7. Tarzan
8. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
9. Hercules

Let it be known that I despise the last two so vehemently because by the time of my viewing the film in mid-to-late-childhood, I already knew the original, grotesque, non-Disneyfied stories and loved the *real* versions so much more, even though Esmeralda is one of my favorite Disney heroines.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Ok, so this has officially been the longest lapse in posts since this blog's conception. Well, probably. I didn't really check. Regardless, sorry for the delay. I'm slowly thinking about revamping and re-conceptualizing what this blog is really all about. At this point it's somewhere between xanga, livejournal, and RottenTomatoes, and I'm not really quite sure how I feel about it. The reviews aren't really getting me anywhere, and usually they're just a way of ranting about movies I dislike, or supporting movies I do (which is most of the ones I see, anyway). And since I'll be going to grad school in a bit over a month (eep!) isn't it time to, well, maybe grow up a little?

Since the blog domain is just my first and last name, I suppose I can just have a "this is what I'm up to lately" kind of thing, but that seems a little trite and uninteresting. I can keep it random, but in that case I'd have to update it very often. I see so many movies that writing about all of them, and at least 600 words for each, is getting to be extremely draining (even though a good exercise an worthwhile, etc). I guess the blog could be an update on upcoming projects of mine? For example, I was just published (2 poems) in "Milk Money," a literary journal I know nothing about but that has a very cool cover (see "Vile Pile" cover).

Please let me know if you have any clues on what the heck to do with this blog! Or, you know, with my life.

Another update: the reason I've been slow on the blogging this summer is because of my internship at the Art Institute of Chicago. I'm hesitant to write directly about anything I'm working on (in the Prints and Drawings Department) because I suspect that any mention of the museum or department automatically gets tallied and reviewed by the staff, the way they did at my other Museum internship two Springs ago. Basically, at the Art Institute I've been translating Soviet TASS posters (OKHA TACC: Telegrafnaia Agentsia Sovetskovo Soyuza), which are these beautiful and incredibly moving (and often horrifying) WWII propaganda posters, made to encourage Russian citizens and soldiers to keep up the fight. It's incredibly powerful stuff. I probably can't include any images that aren't on the Museum site, but here's the blog, which I will hopefully start writing for soon (fingers crossed!): TASS BLOG.

I'm absolutely in love with this project. I just hope I don't become desensitized to scathing war propaganda, although I suspect it's slowly been happening!!!

More on the TASS project soon.