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While Russian realism of the 19th century is mainly known for its depictions of agricultural labor-- sun-soaked peasants working the abundant fields --this talk examines how modern industry, and more specifically industrialized mining, was represented in imperial Russia. Molly Brunson considers Nikolai Kasatkin, arguably Russia’s first modern painter of coal, and his images of the Donbas coal industry within the contexts of contemporaneous journalistic writing and a transnational visual culture of mining. Faced with the difficulties of picturing the dark, subterranean world of coal mining, Kasatkin challenges the supposed transparency of realism, exploring instead the potential of labored physiological and ideological perception. What results, according to Brunson, is an artistic proposition that seeks to transform the mostly invisible energy of human and environmental resources into painterly material and political power.

Molly Brunson is an associate professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University, with a secondary appointment in the Department of the History of Art. She specializes in the literature and visual art of the 19th and 20th centuries, with an emphasis on the recurrent realisms that emerged in imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. Her first book, Russian Realisms: Literature and Painting, 1840­–1890, articulated a theory of realism from the relation between word and image in canonical works of literature and painting. In 2017 Russian Realisms won the award for Best Book in Cultural Studies from the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. Brunson is currently working on a book, The Russian Point of View: Perspective and the Birth of Modern Russian Culture, for which she was named a fellow at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute during summer 2016. She has also started a third book, The Underground: Mining and Matter in Russian and Soviet Culture.

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