Paul Nelson, Robert Pontabry et Anatole Kopp à l'inauguration de l'exposition des techniques américaines, Grand Palais, 14 juin 1946a

Foreign architects in the Soviet Union during the first two five-year plans

by Anatole Kopp

Untitled.
Image: Paul Nelson, Robert Pontabry et Anatole Kopp
à l’inauguration de l’exposition des techniques
américaines, Grand Palais, 14 juin 1946
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Reproduced below, sans footnotes, is the French-Russian architectural historian Anatole Kopp’s late article on “Foreign architects in the Soviet Union during the first two five-year plans,” from 1988. As things stand, it’s probably the most thorough account of international specialists’ activities in the USSR. In a post that’ll soon follow, I’ll go over Kopp’s career and outlook, his strengths and shortcomings, his collaborations and disagreements with peers such as Henri Lefebvre. His earlier work was stronger, and more influential, but this article is valuable if for no other reason than its comprehensiveness. That said, it does leave out mention of a few noteworthy figures, such as Hinnerk Scheper and Johan Niegeman. I’ve included some images of them, even though he neglects to mention them.

Soviet architecture of the 1920s — avant-garde architecture — was largely unresearched in the West until the mid-1960s. Since then, in Europe, in the United States, and also progressively in the Soviet Union, various studies have been devoted to this subject. What has remained largely unexamined, however, is the activity of a large number of foreign technicians who went to work in the USSR beginning in 1928. Their participation in various construction projects and in the development of Soviet architecture is the subject of this essay. Continue reading

bakunin

“…a monster, a huge mass of flesh and fat…”

Marx on Bakunin, from a letter to Engels written in Manchester dated 1863:

Bakunin has become a monster, a huge mass of flesh and fat, and is barely capable of walking any more. To crown it all, he is sexually perverse and jealous of the seventeen year-old Polish girl who married him in Siberia because of his martyrdom. He is presently in Sweden, where he is hatching “revolution” with the Finns.

They just don’t make insults like they used to.

Maiakovskii in New York1

Maiakovskii in New York

Brooklyn Bridge

Give Coolidge
a shout of joy!
I too will spare no words
………………………………………..about good things.
Blush
……….at my praise,
………………………………go red as our flag,
however
……………united-states
………………………………….-of
-america you may be.
As a crazed believer
………………………………..enters
…………………………………………….a church,
retreats
……………into a monastery cell,
…………………………………………………austere and plain;
so I,
………in graying evening
………………………………………haze,
humbly set foot
………………………..on Brooklyn Bridge.
As a conqueror presses
………………………………………into a city
……………………………………………………….all shattered,
on cannon with muzzles
……………………………………….craning high as a giraffe —
so, drunk with glory,
………………………………..eager to live,
I clamber,
……………….in pride,
………………………………upon Brooklyn Bridge.
As a foolish painter
……………………………….plunges his eye,
sharp and loving,
…………………………..into a museum madonna,
so I
……..from the near skies
……………………………………….bestrewn with stars,
gaze
………at New York
…………………………..through the Brooklyn Bridge.
New York,
……………….heavy and stifling
……………………………………………..till night,
has forgotten
…………………….its hardships
…………………………………………..and height;
and only
…………….the household ghosts
ascend
………….in the lucid glow of its windows.
Here
……….the elevateds
………………………………drone softly.
And only
……………..their gentle
…………………………………droning
tell us:
………….here trains
…………………………….are crawling and rattling
like dishes
…………………being cleared into a cupboard.
While
…………a shopkeeper fetched sugar
from a mill
………………….that seemed to project
………………………………………………………..out of the water —
the masts
……………….passing under the bridge
looked
…………..no larger than pins.
I am proud
………………….of just this
……………………………………mile of steel;
upon it,
……………my visions come to life, erect —
here’s a fight
…………………….for construction
………………………………………………instead of style,
an austere disposition
…………………………………..of bolts
………………………………………………..and steel.
If
….the end of the world
…………………………………….befall —
and chaos
……………….smash our planet
…………………………………………….to bits,
and what remains
…………………………….will be
…………………………………………this
bridge, rearing above the dust of destruction;
then,
……….as huge ancient lizards
……………………………………………..are rebuilt
from bones
………………….finer than needles,
………………………………………………….to tower in museums,
so,
……from this bridge,
………………………………..a geologist of the centuries
will succeed
………………….in recreating
……………………………………….our contemporary world.
He will say:
………………….— Yonder paw
……………………………………………of steel
once joined
………………….the seas and the prairies;
from this spot,
………………………Europe
…………………………………..rushed to the West,
scattering
……………….to the wind
……………………………………Indian feathers.
This rib
……………reminds us
………………………………..of a machine —
just imagine,
…………………….would there be hands enough,
after planting
……………………..a steel foot
………………………………………….in Manhattan,
to yank
…………..Brooklyn to oneself
…………………………………………….by the lip?
By the cables
…………………….of electric strands,
I recognize
…………………the era succeeding
…………………………………………………the steam age —
here
………men
………………had ranted
…………………………………on the radio.
Here
……….men
……………….had ascended
……………………………………….in planes.
For some,
………………life
…………………….here
……………………………..had no worries;
for others,
………………..it was a prolonged
………………………………………………and hungry howl.
From this spot,
………………………jobless men
leapt
………..headlong
………………………..into the Hudson.
Now
………my canvas
…………………………is unobstructed
as it stretches on cables of string
……………………………………………………..to the feet of the stars.
I see:
……….here
………………..stood Maiakovskii,
stood,
…………composing verse, syllable by syllable.
I stare
………….as an Eskimo gapes at a train,
I seize on it
………………….as a tick fastens to an ear.
Brooklyn Bridge —
yes…
………..That’s quite a thing!

[1925]

The Brooklyn Bridge: A photo gallery

New York

For hours the train tears along the bank of the Hudson, at about two paces from the water. On the other side there are more roads, right at the foot of the Bear Mountains. Loads of boats and small craft are pushing along. More and more bridges seem to leap across the train. The carriage windows are increasingly being filled with the upright walls of maritime docks, coal depots, electrical placements, steel foundries, and pharmaceutical works. An hour before the terminus, you pass through a continuous density of chimneys, roofs, two-storey walls, and the steel girders of an elevated railway. With every step of the way, the roofs grow an extra floor. Eventually, tenements loom up, with their shaftlike walls and windows in squares, tinier squares and dots. This makes everything even more cramped, as though you were rubbing your cheek against this stone. Completely lost, you sink back onto your seat — there’s no hope, your eyes are just not used to this sort of thing; then you come to a stop — it’s Pennsylvania Station.

Americans keep quiet (or, perhaps, people only seem like that against the roar of the machinery), but over American heads megaphones and loudspeakers drone on about arrivals and departures.

Electric power is further utilized twofold and threefold by the white plates covering the windowless galleries and walkways, broken by information points, whole rows of commercial cash tills, and all kinds of shops that never close — from ice cream parlors and snack bars to crockery and furniture stores.

Vladimir Maiakovskii in New York (1925)

Vladimir Maiakovskii in New York (1925)

It is hardly conceivable that anyone could clearly imagine this whole labyrinth in its entirety. If you have come in for business at an office say two miles away downtown, in the banking or business sector of New York, on maybe the fifty-third floor of the Woolworth Building, and you have owlish proclivities — there’s no need for you even to emerge from underground. Right here, under the ground, you get into a station lift and it will whizz you up to the vestibule of the Pennsylvania Hotel, a hotel of two thousand guest-rooms of all conceivable types. Everything a visiting businessman can need: post offices, banks, telegraph offices, all sorts of goods — you’ll find everything here, without even going outside the hotel. Continue reading

Ross Wolfe and Sammy Medina, "Corbu's Corpus" Le Corbusier at the MoMA

Corbu’s corpus

Ross Wolfe and Sammy Medina
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First published by the University of Bristol’s Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, and is reproduced here with permission.
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Exhibit review
Le Corbusier: An atlas of modern landscapes

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Jean-Louis Cohen with Barry Bergdoll.
15 June-23 September 2013.
Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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The Museum of Modern Art’s Le Corbusier: An atlas of modern landscapes, recently opened to the public, marks the institution’s first exhibit devoted to the archmodernist in over fifty years. As such, it’s already managed to generate a great deal of buzz amongst members of New York’s architectural community. Corbu enthusiasts from up and down the East Coast have thus flocked to the show, turning out in droves. But its impact extends well beyond just the fanboys and devotees, whose attendance might be taken for granted. Many from the general public with only a passing interest in architecture have also made pilgrimages, hoping to catch a glimpse of what once seemed imaginable. Name recognition alone cannot account for this success, however. Part of it has to do with the timing of the exhibition.

In terms of overall curation, the sheer volume of works amassed at the MoMA show is enough to make it worth a visit. Each phase of Le Corbusier’s legendary career is laid out in incredible detail, with multiple models, sketches, and photographs accompanying individual displays. Breadth finds itself matched by depth, as the architect’s corpus is examined across a variety of media. While the exhibit unfolds chronologically — beginning with his youthful pastoral depictions of the Jura mountainsides up through his post-Cubist collaborations with Ozenfant, then on to his first buildings and forays into urbanism — the astonishing scope of Corbusier’s travels and commissions is conveyed throughout. This was very much the way Jeanneret operated, keeping several fires going at once. At the height of his creative output, while he was writing La Ville Radieuse (1930-33), the book’s subtitle grants a sense of just how far his projects ranged: Algiers, Antwerp, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Geneva, Moscow, Montevideo, Nemours, Paris, Piacé, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo. An atlas of modern landscapes chronicles Corbusier’s journeys through space over time, in a chronotopic manner of which his friend Giedion, the “official historian” of modernism, would no doubt have approved.

Cutaway revealing the interior to Le Corbusier's Villa Cook, 6 Calle Denfert-Rochereau, Boulogne-sur-Seine (1926)

Cutaway revealing the interior to Le Corbusier’s Villa Cook,
6 Calle Denfert-Rochereau, Boulogne-sur-Seine (1926)

Of course, the curatorial intelligence exhibited by the show’s selection and presentation of pieces should not surprise anyone familiar with the process by which it came together. Assembly was carried out under Jean-Louis Cohen’s encyclopedic gaze, with contributions also coming from numerous other scholars and academics. Cohen, whose brilliance has for too long gone now unrecognized in the Anglophone world, has finally begun to enjoy some success of late with the release of his sweeping historical overview, The future of architecture since 1889 (2012), and supervision of MoMA’s blockbuster Corbusier expo. His fingerprints can be seen all over the show. Its contents are not merely exhaustive — they are definitive. For a figure on the order of magnitude of a Le Corbusier, this is an impressive feat. Continue reading

mesto-zakhoronenija2a

The many deaths of art

Anton Vidokle, Gregg Horowitz,
Paul Mattick, and Yates McKee

Untitled.
Image: The “tombstone” of Kazimir Malevich,
buried beneath The Black Square (1935)

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Originally posted over at the Platypus Review. Last spring, in response to Paul Mason’s article “Does Occupy Signal the Death of Contemporary Art?,” the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted an event on the “death of art.”[1] Speakers included Julieta Aranda who was represented by Anton Vidokle, Gregg Horowitz, Paul Mattick, and Yates McKee. The discussion was moderated by Chris Mansour and was held at the New School in New York on February 23, 2013. Complete video of the event can be found online by clicking here. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Opening remarks

Anton Vidokle: These are Julieta Aranda’s opening remarks: It was with a strange sense of déjà vu that I accepted the invitation to attend yet another funeral for art. Of course I have heard about all the previous ones, but this is the first time I have been invited to attend one. As an artist it is hard to understand the compulsion to establish our sense of art history through the recurrent announcements of “the death or art.” Art seems to be constantly dying, but we never talk much about its birth. It must have been stubbornly reborn on countless occasions, since we are here again, trying to measure its vital signs. I tried to do a bit of a research into the many deaths of art — but I was quickly overwhelmed: In one way or another, we have been trying to put art in a coffin and nail it shut for the past 2,000 years.

In the 1980s — during the art market boom — there were plenty of death calls: the death of painting, the death of modernism, and also the death of postmodernism. Meanwhile, the New York art market was very much alive, fueled by the usual suspects: speculators, investors, real estate developers, social climbers, and so forth. Of course as with everything that is artificially inflated, there was an eventual market crash, and this crash had many casualties. Many galleries disappeared, and many artists’ careers dried out. But this wasn’t understood to be the death of art as it had been previously announced.

I am skeptical about the Peter and the Wolf announcements of an imminent death of art — this time in its “contemporary” incarnation. For me, it is more interesting to question the favorable disposition — almost a wish — that we have towards the demise of art. The death sentence on contemporary art comes not only because the current operative model for contemporary art is deficient. (Under the current model, meaning is often quickly emptied out from objects and images, and market artists are a renewable resource.) But this wish also comes partly because we want a new big thing, we want the new thing to come now, and we want to be the new thing while the market is booming. As Hito Steyerl, a German video artist and writer, points out in her Kracauer Lecture, “The New Flesh: Material Afterlives of Images,” “To declare something over or dead is a form of production, that purposefully kills off something in order to launch new commodities or attract attention.”[2] Continue reading

totaltheatreeeee

Theater at the Bauhaus (1925)

Oskar Schlemmer

Untitled
Image: Walter Gropius, design for the
“total theater” at the Bauhaus (1926)

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From a lecture-demonstration at the Bauhaus by Oskar Schlem­mer to the Circle of Friends of the Bauhaus (March 16, 1927).

Before speaking about theater proper at the Bauhaus, we should first take a brief look at the way in which it came about, consider the justification for its existence, and observe its path and its goals. In short, we should review its primary endeavor, which is to approach all our material from a basic and elementary standpoint. It is because of this endeavor that the stage here has became an organic link in the total chain of Bauhaus activity.

It is natural that the aims of the Bauhaus — to seek the union of the artistic-ideal with the craftsmanlike-practical by thoroughly investigating the creative elements, and to understand in all its ramifications the essence of der Bau, creative construction — have valid application to the field of the theater. For, like the concept of Bau itself, the stage is an orchestral complex which comes about only through the cooperation of many different forces. It is the union of the most heterogeneous assortment of creative elements. Not the least of its functions is to serve the metaphysical needs of man by constructing a world of illusion and by creating the transcen­dental on the basis of the rational.

Cover to a more recent edition of Oskar Schlemmer's writings on the theater

Cover to a more recent edition of Oskar
Schlemmer’s writings on the theater

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From the first day of its existence, the Bauhaus sensed the impulse for creative theater; for from that first day the play instinct [der Spieltrieb] was present. The play instinct, which Schiller in his wonderful and endur­ ing Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen [Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man, (1795)] calls the source of man’s real creative values, is the un-self-conscious and naIve pleasure in shaping and pro­ ducing, without asking questions about use or uselessness, sense or non­ sense, good or bad. This pleasure through creation was especially strong at the beginning (not to say the infancy) of the Bauhaus
…….in Weimar
and was expressed in our exuberant parties, in improvisations, and in the imaginative masks and costumes which we made.

We might say that during the course of its development, this state of naïveté, which is the womb of the play instinct, is generally followed by a period of reflection, doubt, and criticism, something that in turn can easily bring about the destruction of the original state, unless a second and, as it were, skeptical kind of naIvete tempers this critical phase. Today we have become much more aware of ourselves. A sense for standards and con­stants has arisen out of the unconscious and the chaotic. This, together with concepts such as norm, type, and synthesis, points the way to creative form [Gestaltung].

Costumes

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It was due only to intense skepticism, for example, that in 1922 Lothar Schreyer’s plan to form a Bauhaus theater failed; at the time there was practically no climate for strong philosophical points of view (Weltan­schauungstendenzen), none at least which could be found in the sacral garb of Expressionism. On the other hand, there was a distinct feeling for satire and parody. It was probably a legacy of the Dadaists to ridicule automatically everything that smacked of solemnity or ethical precepts. And so the grotesque flourished again. It found its nourishment in travesty and in mocking the antiquated forms of the contemporary theater. Though its tendency was fundamentally negative, its evident recognition of the origin, conditions, and laws of theatrical play was a positive feature.

The dance, however, stayed alive throughout this period. During the course of our growth it changed from the crude country dancing of our “youth hostelers” [Rüpeltanz der Wandervögel] to the full-dress fox trot. The same thing happened in music: our concertina metamorphosed into our jazz band (A. Weininger). Group dancing found its image reflected on the stage in the dance of the individual. And from this developed our formalized use of color [das Farbig-Formale], and the Mechanical Ballet (K. Schmidt, Bogler, Teltscher). Experimentation with colored light and shadows became the “Reflectory Light Play” (Schwertfeger and L. Hirschfeld­ Mack). A marionette theater was begun.

While we had no stage of our own in Weimar and had to give our productions on a sort of dubious suburban podium there, since the move
…….to Dessau
we have been in the enviable position of having a “house-stage” of our own in the new Bauhaus building. Although it was originally meant to be a platform for lectures as well as a stage for performances on a limited scale, it is nevertheless well equipped for a serious approach to stage problems.

Architecture

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For us these problems and their solution lie in fundamentals, in elementary matters, in discovering literally the primary meaning of Stage. We are concerned with what makes things typical, with type, with number and measure, with basic law. • • • I scarcely need to say that these concerns have been active, if not necessarily dominant, during all periods of great art; but they could be active only when preconditioned by a state of hypersensitive alertness and tension, that is, when functioning as the regulators of a real feeling of involvement with the world and life. Of many memorable statements which have been made about number, measure, and law in art, I cite only one sentence from Philipp Otto Runge: “It is precisely in the case of those works of art which most truly arise from the imagination and the mystique of our soul, unhampered by externals and unburdened by history, that the strictest regularity is necessary.” Continue reading

babel-desmazierews_intro_planetes1

Research and editorial consultation

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Image: Erik Desmazieres, original illustration to
Jorge Luis Borges’ The Library of Babel (1941)

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In the hopes of supplementing my income — which is rather modest as things currently stand — I’m hereby offering my services to the public as a freelance research and editorial consultant, available for a negotiable fee. Since a number of readers have already contacted me with questions regarding the content on this site (hoping to track down a specific quote or source an image), or seeking my advice about their own studies and intellectual pursuits, I figured I’d formalize the process.

Normally, of course, in the past this has all been done pro bono. But as the volume of inquiries I receive has begun to significantly increase in recent months, to the point where it’s become unmanageable, this is no longer a viable option for me. This, I hope, will help me prioritize those tasks which I can actually take on and commit myself to fully. Longer-term projects under different arrangements would be welcome as well. So if any groups, individuals, or institutions would be interested in hiring someone with my qualifications on a more permanent basis, don’t hesitate to ask.

Jorge Luis Borges

Erik Desmazieres, original illustration to Jorge Luis Borges’ The Library of Babel (1941)

While nothing has been cast in stone as yet, the cost of a given assignment will depend upon the amount of work it requires, measured in terms of both the size and difficulty of the project. At first the price will probably be relatively lower, until I’ve gotten a few under my belt and have a better sense of how much time and energy demand. Still, it’s not as if I haven’t done this sort of thing before, albeit in a slightly different setting and under different arrangements. Whether in an academic or professional capacity, the quality and consistency of my work is self-evident throughout.

On this page, I’m thus including a copy of my CV in PDF format, with clickable hyperlinks to examples of my writing and a copy of my employment history. My areas of greatest specialty include politics, philosophy, architecture, Russo-Soviet and European history, and archival research in multiple languages (especially Russian). However, I’d be happy to work in an editorial capacity on written pieces as well, helping to iron out any problems with grammar, style, formatting, or flow that that might exist. Given my extensive experience with visual media, also, I’d be willing to edit and curate any photos or videos you might need.

Please feel free to contact me with questions or requests. I can be reached at rosslaurencewolfe@gmail.com.

Curriculum Vitae

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Composition 16, 1929a

The speculative constructivism of Iakov Chernikhov’s early architectural experiments, 1925-1932

Chernikov-11 main libraryIakov Chernikhov, strict integration of individual structural elements into a single coordinatedd unit

Problems of constructivism
in their relation to art

Erikh Fedorovich Gollerbakh
Construction of Architectural
and Machine Forms
(1930)

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In this epoch of the triumphant development of mechanical engineering and the continuous growth of industrialization a new conception of artistic activity is being born. New demands are being made of the fine arts. Old and decrepit forms are being repudiated. Modernity demands of fine art that it should directly serve the urgent needs of our time.

Bending their ear to the modern world’s demands, artists are trying to find new principles forgiving form to their intentions — new principles that will be in keeping with the industrial and technological character of modern civilization. If they proceed from outside and amount to an “adapting” of old forms to new content, these attempts are rarely successful. Art can be brought onto its true path only through the creation of new forms which are adequate to the forms of life itself, and which answer its concrete requirements. Instead of seeking every kind of adaptation from the outside, what we need is the equally possible discovery of new values from within, that is, in the field of those phenomena which are characteristic of the modern tenor of life, of the modern state of technology. To a certain degree, art may become engineering. It must move from its previous aimless decorativeness, from its unprincipled aestheticism alienated from life, to an existence of practical utility. In this process the question of a transformation of artistic forms must not depend exclusively upon ideological content, but must be solved on the basis of a fundamental re-examination of the means of expression. Industrial and technological “being” cannot fail to influence the artistic and creative “consciousness.”

Needless to say, diverse other factors can also influence this consciousness. In the latest Western European art, and on the Left Front of the visual arts in the USSR, one can see the influence of prehistoric, primitive art, of ancient, archaic cultures, of the art of savages, children folk-cultures and so on. But when we are told that the artists who soak up these influences are “setting up new traditions,” are “achieving one of the greatest revolutions ever known in the history of the arts,” we are justified in doubting the extent to which these “new” traditions have any genuinely revolutionary content. Would it not be more correct to regard them as feeble imitation sui generis, as a conscious return to those albeit great, but already incarnate and largely extinct forms of which countless multitudes fill the long history of art — sometimes outreaching their original prototypes created at the dawn of human existence, sometimes endlessly inferior to them. Do we have to seek artistic models in the cemeteries of dead art, in the depth of history, amongst socially backward strata of modern humanity, when the progress of modern life is endlessly generating new forms, is conquering the indifference of the elements and harnessing them in the steel chains of technology. Instead of imitating the stiffened corpses of dead forms — albeit of beautiful ones — is it not better to seek the basis of a new art in the deep structures of organic and spatial phenomena in the world around us?

Iakov Chernikhov teaching in an arts class in Leningrad, 1920s

Investigation of the principles governing these structures leads to an identification of the primary geometrical laws common to the most diverse phenomena of the external world. It is precisely investigation, positing the principle of a scientific foundation for art, that will offer the possibility of finding a synthesis of technology with all aspects of the visual arts in a single constructivist art.

We do not yet have one single investigation specifically devoted to the question of constructivism. More than that, we do not have so much as an essay which elucidates the concept of constructivism, or outlines its course of development. Most discussion of constructivism is very superficial and unconvincing: people point out that it is based on principles of the mechanical and geometrical inter-relations of materials and their forms. They mention that constructivism aspires to create practically useful and externally beautiful objects (or in the first place, designs for them). Finally they underline constructivism’s direct connection with the mechanization of the whole structure of our lives, with the intensive development of industrial production, and so on. None of these diffuse and foggy definitions give any precise or true understanding of the essence of constructivism. Indeed, it is difficult to give a precise definition when it has still not fully defined itself. It is impossible to write an investigation of a subject whose actual nature has still not yet entirely emerged. This is why constructivism should not now be written about by historians of art or aesthetic critics, but by theoreticians of art or — even better — by practitioners, that is to say by those artists (or engineers) who are themselves constructivists.

The book presented to the reader here by architect-artist Iakov G. Chernikhov constitutes precisely such an experiment in laying out the fundamentals of constructivism. The author is not an art historian evaluating an artistic phenomenon “from the sidelines,” but a builder-artist pursuing and creating relatively new forms of depiction in his own personal professional work.

Chernikhov’s book The Construction of Architectural and Machine Forms is not a narrowly specialist technical investigation or handbook; if it were the latter there would be no place in it for a preface from an art historian. This book has an incomparably broader perspective. It is an investigation of theoretical principles which touch upon certain problems of the philosophy of art. The questions which the author raises about the meaning of the constructive approach, about its essence, about the nature or “constitution” of that approach, about the laws of construction and about constructive principles of form-generation, all these lead to the boundaries where the theory of art begins. However the author does not withdraw into the debris of abstract cognition. He does not get cut off from the real origins of his theoretical debate. In his role as a practicing artist participating directly in the productive and constructional life of our country, Chernikhov knows all too well the importance and value of concrete tasks in the art of today understanding “art,” as I do, in the very broadest sense of that word. While taking into account the methodological value of abstract solutions and structures, he also knows that we must not build forms which are beyond the realm of the useful, that we must not prop up the concept of a self-sufficient, “pure” art. His book rests upon a recognition of the profound commonality of the constructive principles underlying art and technology. And with that, on a recognition that the creative handling of materials can become a great organizing force, if it is directed towards the creation of useful, utilitarian forms. Continue reading

Andreev Danton copy 2

A Soviet homage to the Great French Revolution

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Happy Bastille Day, everyone. To celebrate, here are some assorted artworks by early Soviet sculptors and painters commemorating the Great French Revolution.

We begin with two pieces from the years immediately following the October Revolution. One of these, of course, is the sculptor Nikolai Andreev’s frightening Head of Danton (1919). Less well known are the memorials to M. Robespierre (1918 & 1920) by Beatrice Sandomirskaia [Беатрисе Сандомирская] and Sarra Lebedeva.

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Still more remarkable, though from a slightly later date, is the set of illustrations by the Bolshevik artist Mikhail Sokolov depicting the principal actors and main events of the last great bourgeois revolution. These were intended as part of a volume entitled Figures of the 1789 French Revolution (1930-1934), and are reproduced below alongside some of the historical representations on which Sokolov’s work was based.

Continue reading

Chernikhov architecture of industrial forms 1934a

Program and utopia

Roger Rashi, Sam Gindin, Richard Rubin,
Aaron Benanav, and Stephen Eric Bronner

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This year’s Platypus International Convention concluded with the plenary “Program and Utopia,” held on June 6 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This closing plenary brought together Roger Rashi, founding member of Québec Solidaire; Aaron Benanav, of the Endnotes collective; Stephen Eric Bronner, a professor at Rutgers University, scholar of modernism and the history of socialism, and member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA); Sam Gindin, author, and director of the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly; and Richard Rubin, of Platypus. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation that night. A full video of the plenary can be found online.

Opening remarks

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Roger Rashi:
Thank you for inviting me to speak tonight. I am honored to be on a panel with such distinguished guests. Can utopia and program be merged in a new, formal relation in the 21st century? It will not be easy, but I think we can follow the example of Marx, who, as the French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre has pointed out, synthesized the utopian and the political trends within French Socialism and thereby politicized utopia. Marx hypothesized that, by seizing power, we could eventually, through a series of stages, arrive at a classless society. This synthesis was put to the test in the 20th century and has not come out unscathed. Can we undertake this synthesis again in the 21st century? I believe we can. However, it will be a difficult process that requires our involvement in mass struggles and in the anti-neoliberal movements, which are starting to merge into one.

Today, the Left is in crisis. But there remain many social movements. The first decade of the 21st century saw a rise of mass movements challenging neoliberalism. This has taken two major forms. In Latin America there is the “pink tide” — Chavez in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia, Correa in Ecuador — representing attempts to use state power to move gradually towards a form of socialism, although it is not socialism yet. Then, there is the new active struggle in the Middle East and southern Europe: the tremendous movement of the Arab Spring and the ongoing fight against austerity, respectively. Out of these movements, how can we craft a new political expression for the Left that will synthesize utopia — the goal of a classless society — and program, the practical movement towards formulating this kind of plan?

One approach is to come back to a vision of communism that Marx had in the middle of the 19th century. Here we should remember that Communism is not just a program or a utopia, but the actual movement attempting to abolish the existing state of affairs. It is the practical movement struggling against the status quo. From this perspective we can understand the emergent Left parties in different parts of the world, including Québec City, where I live. In the movement there, we have tried to develop from a united front against neoliberalism into a political party that can engage in elections as well as mass struggles — what we call combining the street and the ballot. We hope to move towards an understanding of what it means to overcome neoliberalism as well as the basis of neoliberalism: capitalism.

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