Solaris - Shelter For The Next Cold War

Satire on the brink of surrealism is the only way to understand the times we live in.

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Solaris – Shelter for the Next Cold War is a multimedia installation that collects and reimagines U.S. and Russian political and economic symbols to raise questions about how we might find shelter from the evolving dynamic between the two countries.

Creating a fallout shelter focused on its occupant's emotional survival, Solaris immerses visitors in a rich multimedia environment that vibrates with tensions between individual and national identities, fine art and political propaganda, and capitalism and Communism. 

Select Included Works

Psalms, (Triptych) (2012)

In the USSR, the Red Star projected political, military and psychological power and control. Macy’s today uses an identical symbol to market all sorts of products at discount prices in honor of every national holiday, notably Thanksgiving. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade bears stark similarities with frenzied military parades, though, in this case, it inaugurates a month-long frenzy of consumption.

Marlboro by Malevich (2015)

In Marlboro by Malevich, the iconic Marlboro logo appears as a red square, evoking Kazimir Malevich’s Red Square (1915), the first character is in a “Marlboro” whose letters are composed of various shapes from across Malevich’s work. This work joins those of many artists fascinated with Malevich and branding.

International Motherfuckers (2018)

Stalinbucks (2012)

Stalinbucks reinterprets a familiar American brand in the form of a Russian and Soviet political and nationalist symbol. Yet, as much as this parody is meant to manifest a sense of unease, it also satirizes similarities between commercial marketing and messaging, and political propaganda.

Shapes of Influence (2015)


Hero (2015)

Totem (2016)

Central to systems of belief around the world, totems function as representations of humanity’s kinship with a mystical reality. The use of corporate logos as totemic imagery is an expression of contemporary consumerism’s role as the religion of capitalism. It is also an explicit comment on the destruction of communities that practice Totemism wrought by militant capitalism for hundreds of years.

The Colored Banners (2016)

Drawing on Soviet revolutionary propaganda and political performance, these banners exchange the Marxist-Leninist goal of a proletarian paradise for a vision of freedom in a capitalist paradise. They call attention to the role of sloganeering in all its forms as a tool by which political and economic elites co-opt the masses to fervently advocate for ideas and policies that, often, are against their own interests.

Solaris 12, Solaris 3, Solaris 24, Solaris 1, Solaris 23 (2016)

A body of work created for the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Solaris repurposes Soviet propaganda posters, but removes nearly all elements except of sunlight. Hints and outlines of marching revolutionaries linger, but only in their absence, a reference the Revolution’s failed promise to deliver to the world everything under the sun (and even the sun). While the original source material depicts the sun as a beacon in a future Marxist paradise, these render it as an explosion racing toward the viewer, a symbol of apocalypse, not paradise.


We live in a moment of cultural, social and political inflection, where past prescriptions for constructing a perfect world are crumbling in what feels like permanent emergency.

At Culture House (Washington, DC 2019)

At Culture House (Washington, DC 2019)

New media fuels an ever-increasing proliferation of messages promising a better life and greater connection with others, but which do little more than present conflicting pictures of what is real, fact, and truth. Amidst this din, how do we distinguish truth from the empty promises of politics, consumerism, and entertainment?

“Trump Year One” and recreation of bathroom prototype from  Umbrella  (Washington, DC 2019)

“Trump Year One” and recreation of bathroom prototype from Umbrella (Washington, DC 2019)

Solaris – Shelter for the Next Cold War appropriates symbols of identity – some endogenous and others imposed – to explore broader themes of authority and power in contemporary politics and commerce, individual expressions of national, religious and class identity, and civic agency and power in a radical moment. Together, they reimagine and juxtapose U.S. and Russian political and economic symbols to raise questions about how we might find shelter from the evolving dynamic between the two countries: Who will lead our communities? What do we need to sustain ourselves? What should we believe?

Posters from “Solaris” at Culture House (Washington, DC 2019)

Posters from “Solaris” at Culture House (Washington, DC 2019)

This is an emergency. But whereas past crises threatened physical destruction – the Red Scare, the Cuban Missile Crisis, global nuclear proliferation, domestic and international terrorism – today’s emergency is the assault on the foundational ideas that define our communities and our ability to maintain an individual identity. How should an individual respond? Where do we find shelter and solace amidst contemporary cacophony? What must we retain to sustain our sense of self?

Learn more.

Download the project prospectus


Companion Movie and Score


Original Installation Documentary

Explore the bathroom that inspired the art installation. In the heart of Washington, DC, a visit to the studio bathroom of artist Mark Kelner, reveals an impromptu installation that collects and reimagines U.S. and Russian political, economic, and pop culture symbols to illustrate and interrogate basic images through which he defines his identity.

Original Score and Playlist

The Solaris soundscape was composed by Kondotronics. The pieces draw on a language of the human body to evoke austere and anodyne spaces and to inspire a sense of information asymmetry and decision paralysis among listeners wrapped up in their own desires for material abundance.


Latest Press


Project Team


Zachary Paul Levine | Curator and Project Director

Levine is a museum professional and historian in Washington, DC. He is currently Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the National Building Museum where he provides strategic and administrative support for exhibition development and the museum’s collections. Levine has worked as a curator, writer and advisor for museums across the US on subjects on the intersection of history, technology and art. He trained as a historian of eastern and central Europe with a specialization in the Cold War and Jewish philanthropy. He has written and regularly speaks on a range of topics related to Jewish history and culture, the built environment, and the museum field. 


Mark Kelner | Visual Artist

Mr. Kelner is a multidisciplinary artist based in Washington, DC. His work explores themes of duality, identity, and mass culture through painting, sculpture, and video. Selections from these and other series have appeared in The Washington Post, Artenol, The Atlantic, and The Times, among other publications and media. From 2009 - 2017, Kelner served on the Board of Directors of the Hermitage Museum Foundation (USA) where he helped develop the Museum’s “Art from America” and “Art Without Borders” programs. Kelner is represented by Galerie Blue Square (Washington, DC) and LAZY Mike (Los Angeles) and has shown at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York and Librairie du Globe in Paris.

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Kondotronics | Composer

Kondotronics is a DC-based musician and programmer who creates compositions with inexpensive and obsolete synthesizer hardware. Inspired by the vacuity and madness of daily life in the heart of the American empire, Kondotronics works with synthesizers, drum machines, and samples to build percussive and hypnotic tracks from the relative comfort and safety of his “bunker” in DC.


Touring Opportunities


We hope to bring Solaris – Shelter for the Next Cold War to a mix of traditional and non-traditional venues including storefronts and abandoned buildings, historic structures, and museums and art galleries in as many communities as we can.

Solaris debuted at Umbrella (April 2019), a four day pop-up gallery in a soon-to-be demolished building located in the heart of DC’s thriving U Street arts district. The 900 square-foot installation attracted more than 11,000 visitors and received rave reviews.

Thousands more explored an expanded presentation (2,000 sq ft) from May - July 2019 at Culture House, a buzzing event and art space in a historic church, four blocks from the US Capitol. Complementary programs included a Cold War-themed dance party, panel discussions and lectures on present-day propaganda, site-specific improv performances, and customized tours.

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visiting  Solaris — Shelter for the Next Cold War  in Washington DC (April 2019)

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visiting Solaris — Shelter for the Next Cold War in Washington DC (April 2019)

Solaris is designed for spaces ranging from 1,000-4,000 square feet.  It includes a freestanding “bunker,” paintings, sculpture, video and sound media, interpretive text panels for all areas and pieces, and environmental lighting, plywood and steel stud walls. Please contact Zachary Paul Levine if you are interested in bringing Solaris to your community: