Home-Made: Contemporary Russian Folk Artifacts, by Vladimir Arkhipov, Fuel Publishing, 304 pages, 180 color pictures, 2006. ISBN 0-9550061-3-9
Folk Archive: Contemporary Popular Art from the UK, by Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane, Book Works, 158 pages, 2005. ISBN 1 870699-81-5
Two recent books from abroad attempt to document the spontaneous art making of ordinary people, one broadly and one eccentrically.
Folk Archives, from Britain, covers a wide range of vernacular expression, from protest posters to shop signs. Home Made, also published in Britain, takes a certain kind of ingenuity as its subject, specifically creative responses to the acute scarcity of consumer goods in the Soviet Union and its aftermath.
Folk Archives collects the more obviously artistic material, including a number of conventional (if sometimes clearly self-taught) paintings and sculpture, where the artifacts of Home-Made are far more prosaic – flashlights, screwdrivers and floor lamps, among other things.
While the bodies of work in some instances feel familiar (hand-painted shop signs from Britain, a cloth toy animal from the Soviet Union), in others they seem rather alien. The British protest art doesn’t track to any living tradition in the U.S., nor do the makeshift knives and forks from Russia. As hand-crafted utilitarian objects, though, the Russian pieces resonate with traditional folk craft, and like those objects they occasionally attain aesthetic distinction. Home Made makes a strong case that even the most mundane of these objects convey a message about the society and the people who made them.