Interview with Christianna Bonin

In this episode of Dangerous HistoryChristianna Bonin talks with me about archives. She dials in from Moscow to discuss life under quarantine, adventures in WWII-era bunkers turned art vaults, the structure of Soviet archives and collections, Kazakh nationalism, and the impact of Stalin’s legacy on historical production today. Listen to the interview here. Recorded April 22, 2020, Christianna traces her path to her current focus on Russian decorative arts in the twentieth century through archival finds and tugs on her heartstrings she could not ignore. A dedicated scholar and a generous colleague, Christianna’s stories of the archives help illustrate the on-the-ground work of an art-and-architecture historian in her day-to-day life.

Christianna Bonin is a PhD candidate in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art program at MIT. She studies visual art and design practices from the late nineteenth century to the present, with a focus on interactions between Europe, Russia, and Central Asia. Her research interests revolve around cultural politics and critical distinctions of art and craft, copy and original, and conceptual and manual labor. Her dissertation is titled Radical in the Making: Art, Craft, and Politics in the Soviet Union, 1915-75. Her article, “The Art of the Sixtiers in Soviet Kazakhstan, or How to Make a Portrait from a Skull,” will be published in Central Asian Survey later this year. Christianna received a BA summa cum laude from Amherst College and an MA in art history from the Williams College Graduate Program. Aside from research, she enjoys good jukeboxes, Soviet kitsch, horseback riding, and her windowsill of succulents.

Figures mentioned in the conversation:

  • Adolph Loos, (1870-1933) Austrian architect and theorist
  • Vladimir Tretchikoff, Russian painter known for “Chinese Girl,” 1952
  • Garage Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve
  • Makhambet Utemisov, Kazakh poet and resistance fighter
  • Noel Shayakhmetov, Kazakh anthropologist
  • Mikhail Gerasimov, Soviet anthropologist and archeologist
  • Obshcheniye, Russian word meaning “community”
  • Almaty Pantheon, unbuilt Kazahk monument/museum

Examples of the tea service that inspired Christianna to write about decorative arts and crafts can be found at the Hillwood Museum and the Cooper Hewitt.