NEON REVOLUTION - EASTERN BLOC ELECTRO-GRAPHIC DESIGN
It is the 1950s and the Iron Curtain has fallen across Eastern Europe. An ideological and physical barrier separates countries, cultures and people. For the citizens trapped in the East, this was a visceral shock and violent protests inevitably erupted. Although a brutal Soviet backlash ensued, the authorities, knowing the could not stem the tide for long, held urgent conferences in Moscow and Czechoslovakia in 1956-57.
How could the Soviet dream survive the modern world? Could the Eastern Bloc reconcile socialism with its citizen’s burgeoning demands for greater freedom? What new symbol could project cultural and economic superiority to the world and return hope to the people? The authorities believed they could build a bright new future for the Eastern Bloc – with neon! This audacious new plan was quickly adopted and showcased the work of some of the best graphic artists of the day. Suddenly bold and brilliant modernist symbols and unique letterforms – in threads of neon light – exploded onto the urban landscape.
Yet, almost nothing would be known of this remarkable untold chapter of 20th century design history, were it not for the actions of photographer Ilona Karwinska and her partner David Hill. For more than a decade, they travelled across the former Eastern Bloc – making a final photographic record of the once dazzling NEON REVOLUTION!
Ilona Karwinska is a British fine art photographer who specialises in anthropological portraiture of world cultures. Ilona is a graduate of Goldsmiths College and the London College of Printing with a Master’s Degree (MA) in Image and Communication. She is also the director and co-founder of the Neon Muzeum in Warsaw, Poland.
As a result of this unusual and pioneering neon documentation project, Ilona was named one of Poland's top 50 creative activists by a leading publication. In recognition of her achievements she has been included in the prestigious publication ‘Who is Who’.
Her best-selling photographic books are entitled ‘Polish Cold War Neon’ (published by MBP, 2011) and ‘Warsaw Neon’ (published by The Neon Muzeum, 2015). These exceptionally beautiful publications comprehensively reveal the visual history of Poland’s cold war neon legacy. They have both garnered widespread interest and excellent reviews and features in publications such as The New York Times, BBC, The Guardian, Creative Review, and C20 Magazine amongst many others.
With Neon Revolution, Ilona has brought together in a single publication more than eleven years of documentary photographs and archival materials to visually narrate – for the very first time – the untold story of Eastern Bloc electro-graphic design. This richly illustrated and beautifully printed hardcover book will appeal to artists, designers, architects, typographers, cold war historians... and lovers of neon art.
Accompanying Ilona Karwinska’s remarkable neon photographs – of which there are over 400 included in this publication – is the personal memoir of Jeffrey Feltman – American Diplomat and Under Secretary General of the United Nations. It was his impromptu visit to the Neon Muzeum during the Warsaw Nato Conference, in the summer of 2016, that revealed a shared love of cold war era neon signs and led to this collaboration. Additionally, his stunning photographs of neon signs, taken as a young diplomat in Budapest just as the Soviet Union collapsed, give the reader a fascinating glimpse of these unique electro-graphic symbols which have now all but disappeared.
Furthermore, an elegant and informative essay by Professor David Crowley sheds light on the new age of neonisation in Warsaw. The essay, entitled ‘Light After Dark’ is complemented by stunning never-before-seen photographs taken by Hans J. Orth (Herder Institut) during his visit to Warsaw in 1966.
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Size: 30cm x 24cm
Published by Neon Muzeum Warsaw, Poland