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Work / Publication

The history of the hotel Venets: a 22-storey metaphor for Soviet utopia

It was while working on a project in a small town on the Volga River, Ulyanovsk that photographer, designer and publisher, Kirill Gluschenko first stayed in the 22-storey hotel – the Venets. “Such large hotels are a rarity in Russia,” he explains, “I took the most inexpensive room, which also turned out to be the oldest with its partially preserved Soviet interior. The view from the 20th floor was impressive and I immediately fell in love with the hotel.”

Kirill, originally from Kaliningrad – a small Russian city on the shores of the Baltic Sea – began taking photos after being gifted a 35mm camera, by his father, at the age of 18. After discovering and creating pixel art on an 8-bit computer, he transitioned to the world of design and spent years working as a designer and art director for magazines such as Port and Esquire. Currently studying towards a masters degree in photography at the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts, he is the founder of fictional publishing house Glushchenkoizdat, under which he creates books devoted to Russia’s small cities and the former Eastern Bloc.

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Kirill Gluschenko: Venets. Welcome to the Ideal

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Kirill Gluschenko: Venets. Welcome to the Ideal

Venets. Welcome to the Ideal, is one such book. When approached by the curator for the Space Force Construction exhibition in Venice (an exhibition dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution), Kirill immediately remembered his stay in the mammoth hotel in a city named after its most famous son: Vladimir Lenin (born Ulyanov). For the exhibition, Kirill reconstructed, in detail, a three-room suite for the Venets hotels which was designed and built together with the Lenin Memorial, producing Venets. Welcome to the Ideal to accompany the installation.

Built as a celebration of the centenary of Lenin, the hotel stands in a large complex – a show of Soviet power and its utopian ideals. With a river, railway stations, an airport, a university, a library for children, a palace of pioneers, a supermarket and several factories, Ulyanovsk was a city designed to show off. Regular groups of tourists and foreign officials were brought and led by tour guides, in a similar fashion to North Korea today.

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Kirill Gluschenko: Venets. Welcome to the Ideal

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Kirill Gluschenko: Venets. Welcome to the Ideal

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Kirill Gluschenko: Venets. Welcome to the Ideal

Venets. Welcome to the Ideal explores the hotel as an allegory for Russia and the fall of the Soviet Union. It presents a fictional narrative, based on the true story of a journalist who once spent a year in the hotel, told through archival photography, images of the hotel as it exists now and a text by Grigor Atanesian. To complete the project, Kirill spent one night on every floor of the hotel, documenting his surroundings and interviewing the hotel’s workers.

Through research, which “was more like an investigation”, Kirill was able to compile a series of original documents and photographs that uncover narratives from the history of one hotel. For example, although appearing luxurious and at odds with the rest of the struggling city, a children’s library was built, intended not for tourists but for local residents. “The book has a lot of memories of ordinary people who, in contrast to the editorials of Pravda, show how people really felt,” explains Kirill.

In its design, the book is extremely accomplished. Graded photos, varying paper stocks and references to Soviet layouts and typefaces make it feel like an object of the past. These subtle elements replicate the tourist photo albums published in the USSR where “the sun always shines, the workers always smile and the houses are clean and brand-new.”

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Kirill Gluschenko: Venets. Welcome to the Ideal

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Kirill Gluschenko: Venets. Welcome to the Ideal

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Kirill Gluschenko: Venets. Welcome to the Ideal

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Kirill Gluschenko: Venets. Welcome to the Ideal

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Kirill Gluschenko: Venets. Welcome to the Ideal

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Kirill Gluschenko: Venets. Welcome to the Ideal