Notes from the Zone of Kaif: The Life and Work of Azazello - Hippie, Poet, Drug Addict and Artist

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Humanities

Abstract

Notes from the Zone of Kaif: The Life and Work of Azazello - Hippie, Poet, Drug Addict and Artist

Preserving, Analyzing and Disseminating the Archive of a Soviet Non-conformist

Azazello was a hippie, poet and artist. He believed in the power of mind-altering drugs and paid for his pacifism and opposition to the Soviet state with many months in psychiatric hospitals. He was an accomplished tailor of counter-cultural clothing and an ardent chronicler of his life through notes, miniature paintings and poetry. He was a true creature of the late socialist underground: streetwise, subcultural, rebellious, and yet unmistakably Soviet. He was a product of Brezhnev's 'stagnation' and its paradoxical consequence: a vivid, parallel underground world operating in a semi-legal sphere in the very same Moscow that was reported to be drab and grey by Western correspondents. Azazello's world was not guided by socialist norms. It was a world of people seeking kaif - an elusive non-Soviet pleasure best induced by drugs, alcohol and a community of like-minded peers.

In early 2015 Azazello donated to the Wende Museum in Los Angeles a large pile of papers and notebooks, which on closer inspection turned out to be a unique record of a world that was and remains hidden from view of not only ordinary Russians but also most academic specialists. Azazello chronicled his life not in diary form, but in hundreds and hundreds of pages of painting, notes, song texts and contact details written in thirty-six small notebooks, whose period of production ranged from 1972 to 1993. He also wrote hundreds of poems, which he dated by day and time and which mostly deal with his personal life and collective sentiments prominent in his circle. This archive provides a glimpse into a world that is usually very difficult to explore and has hence found little scholarly attention. Yet this 'world beyond and outside of Soviet norms' was undeniably an important aspect of late socialism, not only because it shows the 'borders of Sovietness', but also because its existence became a significant characteristic of late socialism.

This project aims to make sense of Azazello's world and work from a variety of angles and employing a number of different methodologies. We will digitalize the entirety of the archive, make it accessible on a bilingual (Russian/English) website, supply text and graphics with scholarly annotations and frame them with peer-reviewed articles and essays written by the six team members that link the archive and its author to broader academic debates and topics. The team, which consists of four historians and two literary scholars as well as two translators, will place the 'Azazello archive' into the context of Azazello's social and cultural surroundings, its literary tradition and inspiration, and its rootedness in Soviet aesthetics. The 'Azazello archive' will illuminate a corner of underground Moscow, which only by chance did not disappear into a rubbish bin, as has happened to so many similar documents. Project members will employ their existing expertise in the history of subculture(s), dissident writing and self-fashioning to highlight how the archive both reflects and contributes to the special make-up of its time and place.

This project will also serve as an important vehicle to advance the study of late socialist society and its legacy. Since Azazello's work stretches from the early 1970s to the mid 1990s the project will take its investigations beyond the 1991 caesura and explore not only what the nature of non-conformist life and culture was, but also how the mighty Soviet underground fared in its first years 'in the open'. The question of continuity and ruptures regarding late Soviet and post-Soviet culture and everyday life opens up an entirely new field of historical investigation, which sheds light on the all-important question of how 'dead' the Soviet Union really is.

Planned Impact

The impact of the proposed project is twofold:

To raise public awareness of lesser-known aspects of Russian and late socialist history; providing a resource on Soviet counterculture for educational, media and foreign policy professionals.

To strengthen the academic partnership with the Wende Museum and other public history institutions.


With the Azazello archive we have been lucky to discover a fascinating and unusual primary resource and are keen to make it available to a large academic and non-academic audience.

The project's principal outputs - a website showcasing the Azazello archive and containing a wide variety of scholarly interventions - will be designed to be accessible on a variety of levels and to people of very different backgrounds. Our partner The Wende Museum, will support the use and promotion of the bilingual online archive and host public events as part of the launch and PR to advertise the site. We will also collaborate with Pushkin House, London, Memorial and the German Historical Institute in Moscow and the 'Generation R' network in New York City to promote the website in special 'going-online' events. They will make use of their respective networks to attract people outside academia and specifically those with a professional interest in Russia and subculture. The exoticism and colourful nature of the Azazello archive and a general curiosity about outsiders will help the archive bridge the divide between academic and non-academic interests.



The website will primarily be designed to be accessible to:

Museum curators interested in non-conformist art and 1970s/80s aesthetics in Eastern Europe. The website will provide easy access to hitherto unknown aspects of the Soviet and post-Soviet art scene.

Representatives of the media. It will serve as a readily available resource to journalists writing on Soviet history or on contemporary non-conformist culture in Russia.

Teachers - History and language teachers in secondary education. The digital Azazello archive constitutes an interesting teaching resource for a subject that is usually inaccessible to non-specialists and non-Russian speakers. It is also a rare example of slang poetry coming out of the Soviet Union.

Interested public. People can enjoy the site as a repository of new poetry, unknown artifacts and easily accessible scholarly work.



It may also prove an interesting source of information for:

Writers, film producers, creative artists. The site contains documentation of unusual and interesting life stories, which in many ways are stranger than fiction but could nonetheless inspire it (as has indeed happened with the PI's monograph, which is currently guiding the writing of a Broadway musical).

Foreign Policy specialists. The website provides an interesting new angle on late Soviet society and the power of underground artists in Russia, which in the wake of Pussy Riot and Petr Pavlensky have contemporary political implications.



The project will be also benefit the work and reputation of the Wende Museum:

- The Museum is keen to collaborate with academics to make use and work with their collections. Academic interest in their collection justifies their acquisition policy and gives the materials new value beyond their primary existence.

- The Azazello archive will become one of the items which the museum uses for its educational and outreach activities in the wider LA community.

- The Azazello archive might inspire more people to donate their private collections to the Wende Museum, hence enhancing its standing as one of the centres of knowledge about Soviet underground life.

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