Nikolaos bogiatzis

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Constructivism : Creating the New Man in USSR after the Revolution

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was an act of rebellion that affected not only one country, but many others as well. The ultimate aim of Communism, the abolition of the state and the creation of classless society, could offer a utopian land for all the progressive and radical thinking people. Many artists realised that their role had to do with the ‘ praxis of life ‘ ( Lodder, 2004, p. 359 ). An art movement could not fulfill this ambition entirely. It was their work that had to intrude engineering and technology and interact with science, that could fully inspire and support the new ideals. Soviet Constructivism was the child of an evolutionary process that arose before the October Revolution and reached a point to claim even that ‘ Art is finished! ’ ( Gan, 1988, p. 223 ). Through the urge to produce useful objects, Constructivist artists embraced the Communist ideology and practiced their understanding of historical materialsm. The term Constructivism was used for the first time by the Working Group of Constructivists in 1921. The members of the group were Aleksei Gan, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, Konstantin Medunetskii, Karl Ioganson, Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg.

Aleksandr, Iskandar Maqduniy (Sharq mamlakatlarida Iskandar, Iskan-dar Zulqarnayn nomi bilan mashhur) (mil. av. 356, Pella - 323.13.6, Bobil) - ma-kedoniyalik sarkarda va davlat arbobi. Makedoniya podshosi Filipp II va uning rafiqasi Olimpiadaning o‘g‘li.
They were interested in the distinction between composition and construction. Moreover, alongside the fact of the continuous changes in Russian society just after the Revolution, ‘ the Constructivists were compelled to modify both their theory and their practice ‘ ( Lodder, 2004, p. 359 ). The period after October 1917 was a new era that every aspect of social life should be a conquered territory by the Communists. In revolutionary conditions, tradition and reactionary aesthetics could not flourish. They had to wither. Herbert Read criticised people who imagined that ‘ revolutionary art is a kind of folk - art, peasant pottery, madrigals and ballads ‘ and that ‘ surely that is not a conception of art worthy of the true Communist ‘ ( Read, 1982, p. 127 ). Constructivism instead, proved its radicality.

St Petersburg, 1913. A musical called Victory over the Sun was presented at Luna Park. It was a play described by the promoters as ‘ cubofuturist ‘. Painter and art theorist Kazimir Malevich did the designs and the whole impression depicted the lust for the creation of a new world. ‘ The Revolution rehearsed a cosmological convulsion ‘ ( Conrad, 1998, p. 231 ). Artists, theorists and radicals of that period wanted to make a rupture with the past in a way that history had to be denounced. The new world and the new man had to be free from the chains of the past. Vladimir Mayakovsky expressed this lust for the new through his inspiring poems. ‘ The great break - up that Mayakovsky envisaged, began as an aesthetic programme, attacking received notions of beauty ‘ ( Conrad, 1998, p. 230 ). Four years before the October Revolution, the seeds of Constructivism appeared in the sayings of Malevich and his Suprematism : ‘ A system is constructed in time and space independent of any aesthetic beauty, experience, or mood, and emerges rather as a philosophical colour system of realising the new achievements of my imagination, as a means of cognition ‘ ( Malevich, 1988, p. 144 ). The coming of the Revolution in 1917, created new needs. An architectural reconstruction, the necessity of making objects useful in the new environment and the support of scientific values made artists consider themselves as designers and engineers, as well. It was a move to ‘ scientific Communism, built on the theory of historical materialism ‘ ( Lodder, 2004, p. 361 ). They embraced technology and supported ‘ intellectual production ‘ ( Lodder, 2004, p. 361 ). They claimed that construction could be used to define only three dimensional and utilitarian structures and their views were in clear coherence with the social and ideological conditions of their time. Industry was the driving force behind progress, so the artists had to identify themselves with the industrial workers. Soviet society was ready to embrace ‘ the aesthetics of the machine age ’ (Conrad, 1998, p. 247). El Lissitzky’s Prouns ( Fig. 1 ), designed between 1919 and 1924 had already served ‘ as a station on the way to constructing a new form ‘ ( Lissitzky, 1988, p. 151 ).

( Fig. 1 )

The definitive passage from two to three dimensional structures came with the Constructivists. From 1918 until 1921 Aleksandr Rodchenko and Vladimir Tatlin envisaged new aesthetics in Soviet society. They both worked for IZO which was the Department of Fine Arts and they were responsible for artistic matters in USSR. Tektonika summarised the Constructivist view : ‘ Tectonics or the tectonic style emerges and derives from the characteristics of Communism itself on the one hand, and from the functional use of industrial material on the other ‘ ( Rodchenko, 2004, p. 364 ). Moreover, mathematics and geometry could promote the progress to the three dimensional structures. Rodchenko’s Oval Hanging Constuction Number 12 ( Fig. 2 ), explored ‘ the internal spatial culture and dynamic potential of the basic forms of Euclidean geometry : the circle, hexagon, square, ellipse and triangle ‘ ( Lodder, 2004, p. 367 ).

( Fig. 2 )

Apart from tektonika, the Constructivists relied on the principles of faktura and konstruktsiya, which mean ‘ texture ‘ and ‘ construction ‘. Tatlin’s Model for the Monument to the Third International or Tatlin’s Tower ( Fig. 3 ), linked architecture with Constructivism and presented an ‘ organic synthesis of architectural, sculptural and painterly principles ‘ ( Bowlt, 1988, p. 205 ).

( Fig. 3 )

Tatlin’s Tower was the best promotion for the Communist ideology. From there, the Third International or Comintern could drive their propanda all over the world. The tower was the best paradigm of how art could be utilitarian, as well as functional. The materials of iron and glass had a strong symbolism : they indicated ‘ the power of the proletariat and the transparency of the new regime’s governmental procedures ‘ ( Lodder, 2004, p. 362 ). Tatlin himself was critical on pictorial art : ‘ We declare our distrust of the eye, and place our sensual impressions under control ‘ ( Tatlin, 1988, p. 206 ). He believed art should be utilitarian and supported the use of iron and glass as materials of the new world : ‘ This investigation of material, volume and construction made it possible for us in 1918, in an artistic form, to begin to combine materials like iron and glass, the materials of modern Classicism, comparable in their severity with the marble of antiquity ‘ ( Tatlin, 1988, p. 206 ).

Walter Benjamin arrived in Moscow in 1926. He noted the lack of cafés. People there were busy to form the new world. Flânerie was absent, as the Soviet worker would have his leisure time spent not in stylishly decorated cafés but in The Workers’ Clubs instead. In the first ten years after the Revolution, Moscow remained unreconstructed ( Conrad, 1998, p. 240 ). There was a necessity for building the new city. It was this necessity that made Constructivism exist. Herbert Read wrote that ‘ Architecture is a necessary art, and it is intimately bound up with the social reconstruction which must take place under a communist regime ‘ ( Read, 1982, p. 123 ). Indeed, the Constructivists helped forming the new environment with their ideas and patterns. The home and the space became objects of collectivisation. Some of them proposed even the abolition of separate rooms in homes. Radical and innovative ideas flourished.

Four years earlier Aleksei Gan, one of the first Constructivists who tried to formulate the constructivist ideas in accordance with Marxist precepts, referred to architecture and emphasised that it intended ‘ to find the communist expression of material structures ‘ (Gan, 1998, p. 239). In his book Konstruktivizm, tried to make a rupture with the past and to turn constructive art into an applied one. He attacked artistic culture and its representatives and wrote that ‘ it is only the proletariat with its sound Marxist materialism that does not follow them ‘ (Gan, 1988, p. 218). Everything had to be new. Gan demanded the ‘ tabula rasa ‘ in the new man and woman of Communism. Art belonged to the past. ‘ WITHOUT ART, BY MEANS OF INTELLECTUAL - MATERIAL PRODUCTION, THE CONSTRUCTIVIST JOINS THE PROLETARIAN ORDER FOR THE STRUGGLE WITH THE PAST, FOR THE CONQUEST OF THE FUTURE ‘ ( Gan, 1988, p. 225 ). The only way for art to survive was to be in the service of the everyday life. It could not be a mediator with higher values or ideas anymore. As the avant - garde critic Nikolai Punin put it : ‘ Art for the proletariat is not a sacred temple for lazy contemplation, but work, a factory, producing artistic objects for everyone ‘ (Punin, 2004, p. 365). Writer Osip Brik was more absolute : ‘ A real object is the aim of all true creativity ‘ ( Brik, 2004, p. 365 ). The Constructivists gave a lot of their energy in laboratory work as they tried to find the balance between their inspiration and the utility of their works. It seemed that technology influenced art more than art helped the former. Artist Aleksei Babichev talked about ‘ a new mechanical aestheticism ‘ ( Babichev, 2004, p. 368 ).

Artist (frans. artiste - bilimdon; lot. ars, artis - kasb, hunar, sanʼat) - dramatik spektakl, kinoda rollar, ope-ra va balet partiyalari, estrada konserti va sirk nomerlari ijrochisi. Teatr va kinoda aktyor, aktrisa deb ham yuriti-ladi.
However, Karl Ioganson managed to construct compositions that could be used as a pattern for the design of utilitarian objects. In Study in Balance ( Fig. 4 ), if the string was pulled the composition would be changed.

( Fig. 4 )

It was a period that aesthetic explorations between painting, graphics and laboratory work coexisted ( Lodder, 2004, p. 366 ). By 1921 the government would move to more realistic views regarding art. Applied art became a necessity. In 1922 writer and critic Viktor Pertsov stressed the importance of art to be in accordance with production : ‘ One must present objects that are obviously practical, and then the artist’s efforts will be socially justified and utilised ‘ (Pertsov, 1988, p. 233). Anton Lavinskii’s Kiosk for Gosizdat ( Fig. 5 ) was a successful response. It was an innovative sales kiosk for the state publishing house.

( Fig. 5 )

Gan pointed that : ‘ Constructivism has not only theoretically solved the problem of rationalising artistic work, but is indeed already putting into practice its new forms and participating in the building of the material culture of the present ( Gan, 2004, p. 372 ). One of the highlights of Constuctivism was The workers’ Club by Rodchenko. It was made for the ‘ International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts ‘ which ran in Paris in 1925 ( Fig. 6 ). It was a big opportunity for USSR to demonstrate its cultural achievements and did it successfully. Workers’ Club was the place where the proletarians spent their leisure time. A reading space and a chess table were available. Moveable display cases containing photographs and documents were also present, alongside posters and a corner devoted to Lenin, the great Soviet leader ( Tate, 2009 ).

( Fig. 6 )

Another success for Constructivism was the contribution of original designs for new textiles. Lyubov Popova created more than a hundred patterns and favoured geometric forms ( Fig. 7 ). Without any compromise, Constuctivist design was adopted by a popular audience ( Tate, 2009 ). Moreover, ‘ the textile print is the same product of artistic culture as the picture is - and there is no basis for advancing a dividing line between them ‘ ( Brik, 1988, p.244 ).

( Fig. 7 )

Two dimensional Constructivism had some bright moments, as well. Film and photography were two areas that Gan and Rodchenko explored because of their affiliation with mechanical process and technology. Photomontage, ideal for making propaganda, was another positively explored area. Rodchenko, Lissitzky and Klucis made a big impact with their works in that field ( Fig. 8 ).

( Fig. 8 )

Constructivism went even further with the embrace of productivist ideas and desires of making an alternative technology through the works of artists like Tatlin. He made the Letatlin ( Fig. 9 ), a name came by the combination of the Russian word ‘ letat ‘ which means ‘ to fly ’ and his last name. ‘ I want to give back to man the feeling of flight ‘ , he said ( Tatlin, 2004, p. 384 ). Letatlin managed to fly for more than a few hundred metres.

( Fig. 9 )

In conclusion, the artists associated with Constructivism had the task of constructing the new world and the new man that the Communist State wanted. It was not easy. They had to abandon the past and justify their role and their existence in a complex and new social environment. They had ‘ to act as counselors to the state on all questions of its material installations ‘ (Pertsov, 1988, pp. 233 - 234). They were politically engaged in Communist values and responded with projects ideal for a future Utopia. They brought art into terms with industry and technology. Moreover, they created designs for the everyday life. ‘ From laboratory work the constructivists have passed to practical activity ’ ( Gan, 1988, p. 224 ). However, as the State moved further into Stalin’s totalitarianism, the importance of being in accordance with a grim reality left Constructivism behind, as Socialist Realism would take over.

References - Bibliography

Brik, O. ( 1988 ) ‘ From Pictures to Textile Prints ‘ In Bowlt, J. E. ( ed. ) Russian Art of the Avant-Garde. Theory and Criticism 1902 - 1934. London : Thames & Hudson, pp. 244 - 249.

London, Katta London - Buyuk Britaniya poytaxti, mamlakatning muhim siyosiy, iqtisodiy va madaniy markazi. Temza daryosining quyi oqimida, Shim. dengizdan 64 km masofada, London havzasi deb ataluvchi tekislikning markaziy qismida joylashgan.

Conrad, P. ( 1998 ) ‘ The Beginning of the World in Moscow and Petrograd ‘ In Conrad, P. ( ed. ) Modern Times, Modern Places. Life & Art in the 20th Century. London : Thames & Hudson, pp. 229 - 251.

Gan, A. ( 1988 ) ‘ Constructivism ‘ In Bowlt, J. E. ( ed. ) Russian Art of the Avant-Garde. Theory and Criticism 1902 - 1934. London : Thames & Hudson, pp. 214 - 225.

Lissitzky, E. ( 1988 ) ‘ Suprematism in World Reconstruction, 1920 ‘ In Bowlt, J. E. ( ed. ) Russian Art of the Avant-Garde. Theory and Criticism 1902 - 1934. London : Thames & Hudson, pp. 151 - 158.

Lodder, C. ( 2004 ) ‘ Soviet Constructivism ‘ In Edwards, S., Wood, P. ( eds. ) Art of the Avant-Gardes. London : Yale University Press / The Open University, pp. 358 - 393.

Malevich, K. ( 1988 ) ‘ Suprematism ‘ In Bowlt, J. E. ( ed. ) Russian Art of the Avant-Garde. Theory and Criticism 1902 - 1934. London : Thames & Hudson, pp. 143 - 145.

Pertsov, V. ( 1988 ) ‘ At the Junction of Art and Production ‘ In Bowlt, J. E. (ed.) Russian Art of the Avant-Garde. Theory and Criticism 1902 - 1934. London : Thames & Hudson, pp. 230 - 236.

Read, H. ( 1982 ) ‘ What is Revolutionary Art ? ‘ In Frascina, F., Harrison, C. (eds.) Modern Art and Modernism : A Critical Anthology. London : Harper & Row, pp. 123 - 127.

Tate Modern Rodchenko and Popova : Defining Constuctivism [ online ] [Accessed on 1 February 2015]

Tate Modern Rodchenko and Popova : Defining Constuctivism [ online ] [Accessed on 1 February 2015]

Tatlin, V. ( 1988 ) ‘ The Work Ahead of Us ‘ In Bowlt, J. E. ( ed. ) Russian Art of the Avant-Garde. Theory and Criticism 1902 - 1934. London : Thames & Hudson, pp. 205 - 208.

Illustration list

( Fig. 1 ) : Lissitzky, El ( c. 1920 ) Proun 2C, Oil, Paper and Metal on Wood, 60 x 40 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

( Fig. 2 ) : Rodchenko, Aleksandr ( c. 1920 ) Oval Hanging Construction Number 12, Plywood, Open Construction Partially Painted with Aluminium Paint, and Wire, 61 x 84 x 47 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

( Fig. 3 ) : Tatlin, Vladimir ( 1920 ) Model for the Monument to the Third International, Photo, Bridgeman Art Library, London.

( Fig. 4 ) : Ioganson, Karl ( 1920 - 1921 ) Study in Balance, Wood, Metal, String.

( Fig. 5 ) : Lavinskii, Anton ( c. 1924 ) Kiosk for Gosizdat.

( Fig. 6 ) : Rodchenko, Aleksandr ( 1925 ) Workers’ Club, Installation Photograph, Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris.

( Fig. 7 ) : Popova, Lyubov ( 1923 - 1924 ), Fabric Samples, State Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow.

( Fig. 8 ) : Klucis, Gustav ( 1930 ), Five Year Plan in Four Years, Lithograph, 104.5 x 74 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

( Fig. 9 ) : Tatlin, Vladimir ( 1932 ), Letatlin.

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