The new past: surreal collages crafted from Soviet books

Dutch artist Tamara Stoffers’s whimsical collages, made from Soviet-era books, have travelled to Brussels, Rotterdam, and Stockholm. Her current exhibition at Moscow’s Lumière Center of Photography, The New Past, is the first time her collages have been exhibited in the New East.

25 March 2019
Text and image: Tamara Stoffers

My interest in the USSR began in 2014 after I stumbled upon a picture book about Moscow printed in 1963. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, trying to take in all the details: from the architecture to the everyday objects. The images had a very unfamiliar atmosphere. I was especially interested in the way ordinary people suddenly looked heroic.

It was then that I started to collect objects from the USSR. At first these were traditional things like matryoshkas and painted wooden spoons. Once I acquired more knowledge about Soviet design, my collection grew to include metal cup holders (podstakanniki), postcards, banners, pins, desk-sized busts of Lenin, and lots of books. My living space now resembles a Soviet kommunalka from the 1960s.

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Twice a week I go on a hunt for new materials in local second-hand shops in Zwolle and Deventer. Over a five year period, I’ve accumulated more than 30 picture books, which I use for my collages. Collage as a medium has wonderful narrative qualities. Merging images that wouldn’t usually go together entices the viewer to find their own story. Each person will comes up with their own interpretation as to why the images have been combined and the overall message behind the work. I’m fond of the freedom collage offers the viewer.

Before I discovered Soviet material, I made collages using sewing magazines from the 50s. When I became captivated by the history and visual language of the USSR, my focus shifted. The images already seemed surreal as they were, even monumental at times. By manipulating the images, the viewer gets the opportunity to access the places in the pictures in a new, unfamiliar way.

The New Past by Tamara Stoffers is on display at the Lumière Center of Photography in Moscow until 30 June. You can find more information here.

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