Surprise? My project proposal was just the tip of the iceberg.

After a brutal spring semester finally came to an end, I set to work on my summer research for real. I began, like all well-motivated researchers, by googling the key terms for my research project to see what came up. The first terms to be googled were “Fluxus” and “Free Culture Society” together, to see if any research had been done similar to mine. What a shock it was to see my previous blog post come up as the second search result. My first thoughts were, “the thing I am researching is a figment of my imagination and I am going to have a hell of a time trying to find information about a nonexistent topic.” Fortunately, with the help of my friends (“Congratulations! Your research topic is unique!”) and some more legitimate research sources (I love Swem), I started to sink my teeth into some good information about the nonconformist art scenes in Vilnius and St. Petersburg. It did not come as a surprise, that as I started reading, my project began to take on a life of its own, opening new doors (or, as it were, books) to be read, and twisting the whole project in a new direction. Suddenly, I was up against something a lot bigger than just loose terms like, “free culture” and “art censorship.”

One of the first things that broadened my research was a deeper understanding of translation and transliteration criteria of Russian words in the cyrillic alphabet to English words in the latin alphabet. I had been vaguely aware that there were different systems since this past winter, when I read The Master and Margarita for the first time, alternating between two translations (one character, was named “Bezdomny” in one copy, and “Homeless” in the other, for the obvious reason that Bezdomny means Homeless, something that I was lucky enough to know already). I didn’t realize, however, that the translation/transliteration system would affect my research. The most significant example of this was my St. Petersburg site, the art center at Пушкинская-10. The address can be translated as the transliterated, “Pushkinskaya-10,” or the translation “Pushkin-10, by virtue of the fact that “Pushkinskaya” is qualifying the word “ulitsa” which means “street.” Thus, searching either “Pushkin-10” or “Pushkinskaya-10” was giving me different results, and different resources. I caught on that different editors use different systems of translation and transliteration, and began searching for information using both options, or just searching for the cyrillic title to begin with.

I further broadened my research by meeting with my advisor, Professor Prokhorov, who will be in Russia with us for our six week program. I started throwing out ideas and discoveries from my early research. I told him that I realized that the project could not be about two specific art organizations if I didn’t understand the art-historical milieu surrounding them, which is why the project had to be about nonconformist art in general. He responded that to understand nonconformist art in general, I had to understand the concept that nonconformist art was not conforming to: socialist realism. He thrust a book called The Soviet Novel (by Katerina Clark), along with three other books, into my hands, and suggested that I read it backwards, so I could best understand the gravity of the socialist realist movement. The other books were to help me understand the art censorship “laws” that don’t actually exist in writing, but still prevent people from displaying their art in public, both during the Soviet era and now.

For the early stage of my research project, I have been buried in various books about so many different things, and toying with the borders of my project. I’m asking myself questions, like, “is nonconformist art limited to visual arts like painting and sculpture, or can I expand to music and literature as well?” (it is then that I pick up my free-reading copy of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago and try futilely to justify reading it as research time) and “To what degree did the emigration of artists during World War II affect the artistic population in Vilnius?” (and I try to get in touch with the wife of a family friend who was a fairly well-known artist in the Lithuanian-American community until his death 3 years ago) These questions lead to further reading and the sending of more e-mails to people who I’m hoping to get interviews with. I’m comfortable and excited about the fact that my project topic only seems to be expanding at this point, but as the project expands, I feel limited by the fact that I will only be in Europe for six weeks. I didn’t realize when I was proposing this project the importance of art as it was implemented against the Soviet system. I guess there’s no better time, than when traveling to Russia and Lithuania, and conducting a full-time summer research project about it!

In addition to this blog portal, I will be continuing the blog that I kept while studying in Lithuania. Visit that here.


  1. bcevans says:

    Your project sounds really interesting Monika. I hope navigating the transliteration problem becomes easier with a little experience. Looking forward to hearing more about your project! (Thanks for the birthday wishes as well!)