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PROUN

The “way station” between
painting and architecture

Untitled.
Image: El Lissitzky,
PROUN 1-C (1919)

untitled2

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From “Theses on the PROUN: From painting to architecture” (1920)

Not world-illusion
but world-reality

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1.
We have named PROUN a station on the path to the construction of the new form. […] From being a simple depicter the artist becomes a creator (builder) of forms for a new world — the world of objectivity. This does not mean the creation of a rivalry with the engineer. Art has not yet crossed paths with science.

2. PROUN is understood as the creative construction of form (based on the mastery of space) assisted by economic construction of the applied material. The goal of PROUN is progressive movement on the way to concrete creation, and not the substantiation, explanation, or promotion of life.

The path of the PROUN does not lie within the narrowly limited, fragmented, and isolated scientific disciplines — the builder consolidates them all together in his own experimental investigation.

The path of the PROUN is not the incoherent approach of separate scientific disciplines, theories, and systems, but is rather the straightforward path of learned influence over reality. […]

4. We analyzed the first stage of our construction, confined to two-dimensional space, and found it to be as durable and resistant as the earth itself. We build in this space just  as we would on the ground, and therefore must take as our point of departure the concepts of gravity and force of attraction, as the foundation of everything built on the land. In PROUN the reciprocity of the effects of gravity [Newton, “for every action an equal and opposite reaction”] manifests itself in a new capacity. We see that on the surface (plane) of the picture, the PROUN ceases to exist as such and becomes a building surveyed from every direction — considered from above or examined from below. The result of this turns out to be the destruction of the single axis that leads to the horizon. Revolving, we are screwed into space. Up to now we have projected directly onto the space of the plane. Through the PROUN we arrive at the demand for a release from this projective plane. We imparted motion to the PROUN, deriving a host of projective axes thereby — we stand between them and displace them. Relying on this spatial framework, we must proceed to definitions. […]

10. PROUN is the active dynamic. PROUN is the movement from one station to the other along the chain of one’s commission.

The PROUN opens up the creation of the future, encompassing in all directions the new creative collective: starting from the plane, it then crosses over into spatial modeling and further to the construction of every form of life in itself.

PROUN alters the conventional forms of the arts and leaves behind the image of the petty individualist, who locked himself in his office and hid seated before a drawing easel, starting one picture and finishing another.

The future life — this is the reinforced concrete slab for the communist foundation of the nations of the entire world. With the aid of the PROUN one can build a unified city-commune on that foundation, intended for the life of all mankind.

In this manner, the PROUN leaves behind the image and the artist on the one hand, the car and the engineer on the other — and moves on equipped with new elements for the creation of a new space, and with their help divides, measures, and builds the unified, manysided imagery of our nature.

[Vitebsk — Moscow, 1920]

Из «Тезисов к ПРОУНУ (от живописи к архитектуре)» (1920)

Не мироиллюзии,
а мирореальность

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1.
ПРОУНом мы назвали станцию на пути строительства новой формы. […] От изобразителя художник становится созидателем (строителем) форм нового мира — мира предметности. Это созидание не означает конкуренции с инженером. Пути искусства еще не пересеклись с путями науки.

2. ПРОУН — это творческое построение формы  (исходя из овладения пространством)  с помощью экономичной конструкции применяемого материала. Задача ПРОУНа — поэтапное движение на пути конкретного творчества, а не обоснование, объяснение или популяризация жизни.

Путь ПРОУНа пролегает не в узко ограниченных и раздробленных отдельных научных дисциплинах — строитель объединяет их все вместе взятые в своем экспериментальном исследовании.

Путь ПРОУНа — это не непоследовательный путь отдельных научных дисциплин, теорий и систем, а это ясный путь изученного влияния — действительности. […]

4. Мы исследовали первые ступени нашего построения, заключенного в двухмерном пространстве, и обнаружили, что оно так же прочно и обладает такой же силой сопротивления, как и сама земля. Мы строим в этом пространстве точно так же, как на земле, и поэтому должны исходить из понятий гравитации и силы притяжения как основы всего, что строится на земле. В ПРОУНе взаимодействие результатов силы тяжести проявляется в новом качестве. Мы видим, что как поверхность (плоскость) картины ПРОУН прекращает свое существование и становится построением, обозреваемым со всех сторон, — рассматриваемым сверху и исследуемым снизу. Результатом чего является разрушение единственной оси, ведущей к горизонту. Вращаясь, мы ввинчиваемся в пространство. До сих пор мы непосредственно проецировали пространство на плоскость. Посредством ПРОУНа мы приходим к необходимости освобождения из этой проекционной плоскости. Мы придали ПРОУНу движение, получив тем самым множество проекционных осей, мы стоим между ними и перемещаем их. Основываясь на этом пространственном каркасе, мы должны приступить к определениям. […]

10. ПРОУН по-мужски активно динамичен. ПРОУН движется от одной станции к другой по цепи совершения.

ПРОУН ведет в созидании будущего, охватывая по всем направлениям новый творческий коллектив: он начинает на плоскости, затем переходит и пространственному моделированию и далее к построению всех форм в жизни в самом широком смысле.

ПРОУН изменяет привычные формы искусств и оставляет картину мелочному индивидуалисту, который, запершись в своем кабинете и прячась сидя перед мольбертом, может один начинать свою картину и один заканчивать ее.

Будущая жизнь — это железобетонная плита коммунистического фундамента для народов всего мира. С помощью ПРОУНа на этом фундаменте построят единый город-коммуну, для жизни всего человечества предназначенный.

Таким образом, ПРОУН оставляет картину и художника с одной стороны, машину и инженера — с другой и идет дальше, вооруженный новыми элементами в созидании нового пространства, делит его с помощью элементов 1.2.3 измерений и строит новую многостороннюю, по единую образность нашей природы.

[Витебск — Москва. 1920]

El Lissitzky, proposal for a PROUN street celebration (1923)

El Lissitzky, proposal for a PROUN street celebration (1923)

Lissitzky (1922)

Ernő Kállai

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We have lost the sense of union with nature and of a supernatural religion. The energies which direct our paths are scientifically and technically oriented, organized according to rational principles. This may be regarded as a tragic or a satisfactory state of affairs. For an art which does not wish to remain a fiction but to justify itself in the actual circumstances of our civilization, it creates the need, not to insinuate itself subconsciously or metaphysically, but to display intellectual clarity and discipline in its creative attitudes, to symbolize, not organic growth, but abstract construction.

The first, firm shoots of constructivism are already to be seen in the works of Cézanne, though still overshadowed by the organic growths of nature. The cubists promoted it from a position of secondary importance and made it the guiding principle of their work. But they draped the unity of abstract, spatial energies with a multiplicity of forms, radical enough in their intellectual transformation of nature, but still providing illustrations of an external reality, mechanical though this often was. But the intellect which still managed to assert itself, in spite of this compromise, is a power capable of giving new shape to the world and to life; its characteristic fecundity will only become effective when it attains complete self-sufficiency. Released from social anarchy and the obscure fermentation of psychosis, the man of the future, whose lucid, energetic intellect already radiates from the works of cubism, is still an embryo today, a single living cell, simple, elemental, but with incalculable potentialities for the coming historical objectivization. For that very reason he must in no circumstances get entangled in the contradictory, contaminated toils of present-day relativity, the patchwork of half-hearted half-truths called reality. He must keep away from its representation. He must not and cannot have anything in common with it, even if it were to be completely changed in style.

Intellectual man freed himself from the areas and objects of present reality which resisted the development of his essential being. He became a suprematist, went back to the fundamental elements of his own spatial objectivization, the elementary forms of geometry. The work of the Russian suprematists consists of paintings of surfaces, without representational significance, without perspective effects. The suprematist is satisfied with the consciousness of the material restrictions of his picture and of his own spiritual contrast to the natural world of appearances, formed by the play of homogeneous shades in two dimensions. Of course, this restriction means a severe limitation of artistic potentialities, a truly modest existence. But in the scattered squares, circles and straight lines of the suprematists there lies the possibility of a creative conjunction. The suprematists held in their hands the bricks for a new building. All that was needed was the start of a total activity, to construct from the loose elements a solid, complex unit of form, to make intellectual art embody life in its greatest amplitude. This was brought about by Lissitzky’s PROUN.

The new objectivity was in no sense an approximation, at however great a remove, of abstract form to a given reality. That would have been a reversion to cubism, a renunciation of constructivist activity. Lissitzky’s PROUN, on the contrary, is utmost tension, violent jettisoning. A new world of objects is in the process of being built. Space is filled by all possible variant physical forms of a constant energy. They are very much synthesized, but down to the last details they are strictly subject to the central, unifying law of their structure. This structure is multi-dimensional. Thrusting sharply into space on all sides, it contains layers and strata, diametrical opposites thoroughly intertwined, held in a state of tension, and drawn into the tightly-knit complex of components, which cut across, embrace, support, and resist each other. Numerous projections, incisions, and gradations in all directions help the physical, defined nature of the form to set. All the dialectical wealth available to the creation of form is concentrated on objective synthesis, definition, and clarification. The space outside the object is only there to provide a standard of metallic sharpness and clarity which gives to the space of the picture the uninhibited, energetic potential of an architect’s plan. From this ground plan the axes move outwards, inwards in depth, diagonally vertically and horizontally, and determine the position of suprematism’s surface elements, from which the formal structure of the object is built up by stages. And since the object must justify itself in every direction and area of the space as an independent, significant reality, its construction must appear meaningful and alive from all sides. Floating unsupported in the middle of a limitless open space, the picture, hitherto only pictorial, is stripped of all limitations, and all the traditional methods of architectonic adjustment are overthrown. The tectonic values of PROUN, its essential state of being a pictorial relief, made in part of metals, its tendency towards an outward movement of form into actual space, do not make it analogous to frescoes or mosaics. It is a preparation for a new synthesis of real and illusionist methods of creating space, the realization of which will go hand in hand with modern technical work problems.

PROUN’s determination to achieve spiritual independence and objective reality was bound to find its way to technology by its intellectual nature. PROUN is the product of a creative power of mathematical and technical exactness. Obviously, it can be related to an airman’s sensation of space. Concentric circles bore down m narrowing shafts, allowing the eve to travel, swift and sure as an arrow, across a space whose freedom extends far beyond all bounds of terrestrial gravity. The diagonals of a spider’s web of razor-sharp, straight lines strive to reach the tip of a Utopian antenna or wireless mast. A technical planetary system keeps its balance, describes elliptical paths or sends elongated constructions with fixed wings out into the distance, airplanes of infinity. Their coloring moves between black and white in shades of intellectual, realistic gray, in which suddenly a single intense red explodes. The living, artistic kernel of the construction opens. What are mere utilitarian purposes beside this overflowing energy and dynamism? What are arid, rational considerations beside the wild, baroque tempo of these lines, not spirals but straight lines, precipices, intersections and collisions crashing through all the barriers of the familiar and the static? Lissitzky says himself, in his introduction to PROUN, that this is not an attempt to compete with engineers PROUN should be more than a purely technical sensation.

[From Das Kunstblatt,
Vol. 6, No. 1, 1922]

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