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Lenin Breaks Ice

Nuclear icebreaker exhibition inspires further research and an accompanying photo book.

On September 17, 2013, the Fifth Moscow Biennial of Contemporary launched an exhibition in collaboration with the Austrian Cultural Forum at an unusual location: on the deck of a decommissioned Soviet nuclear-powered icebreaker referred to as Lenin. Currently stationed in Russia’s northern Murmansk region, Lenin was the first nuclear ship in the world and became a symbol for “atomic peace” in the Soviet Union. Its symbolism played a large role in it being designated as the site of this Russian-Austrian art experiment. The exhibition, simply titled “Lenin: Icebreaker” featured artists such as Igor Makarevich,Elena Elagina, and Michael Strasser among others.

The exhibition curators – director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in Moscow Simon Mraz and art director of the Linz Art Museum Stella Rolling – faced the difficult task of “artistically rendering the history of the icebreaker through the prism of its historical significance.” The ideas that laid the framework for the exhibition are elaborated on in the book project “Lenin Breaks Ice.” 

Although intended as a sort of exhibition catalogue, the publishers say that the scope of the book is much broader. It includes texts from historians and art historians dedicated to the construction of the nuclear powered icebreaker, Soviet mythology and post-Soviet art, and unique archival materials and photographs by Yuri Palmin