They still radiate the future


Last night I went to see a preliminary screening of Isabella Willinger’s newly-released documentary Away from all suns. Sammy Medina of FastCo, with whom I frequently collaborate, and Anna Kats of ArtInfo were also in attendance. 
The movie was being shown as part of  Tribeca Cinema’s “Architecture and Design Week,” an event sponsored by Archtober and a host of other companies/publications (far too numerous to name). Her film focuses on three contemporary individuals whose lives are somehow connected to utopian modernist buildings slowly decaying in Moscow. One building, Ivan Nikolaev’s student commune (1929), is currently being renovated. Another, El Lissitzky’s printing factory, is in danger of being torn down. Yet another, Moisei Ginzburg and Ignatii Milinis’ Dom Narkomfin, is left in a general state of disrepair. Stunning archival footage is mobilized to juxtapose these buildings’ original state against their current dilapidation.

Hopefully I’ll be writing up a review of the film and pitching it to Art Margins or Calvert Journal, so I’ll spare the reader any further thoughts of my own. What follows is an interview with the director Isa Willinger conducted by Boris Schumatsky. It’s being reposted here from the film’s official website. Willinger expresses some sentiments in this exchange that more or less approximate statements that writers like Owen Hatherley, Douglas Murphy, Agata Pyzik, and myself have voiced in the past, independently of or in close dialogue with one another — nostalgia for an age we never knew, awe before the ruins of a past seemingly more futuristic than our own, hope against hope that radical transformation might yet be possible. The line from Willinger I paraphrased for the title of this entry runs as follows: “Many of [these Constructivist buildings in Moscow] are quite run down today, yet they still radiate their futuristic visions.” It recalls, consciously or not, something Owen Hatherley wrote about Il’ia Golosov’s Zuev Club nearby:

The windows might be infilled, the balconies long since disappeared ⎯ what all this damage proves is that buildings with this much power and conviction can still carry you away with them. Or it carries me, anyway. I look at this and I can still feel radiating off the bloody thing the promise of a better society.

Below you can watch a trailer of the film, followed by the edited transcript of the interview.

Away from all suns (2013)

Isa Willinger interviewed
by Boris Schumatsky

Boris Schumatsky:
 Your film is about people living in buildings of the Russian avant-garde and about the buildings themselves. You seem to be just as fascinated by the buildings as by your protagonists. What is it that struck you about the Constructivist buildings?

Isa Willinger: To me the buildings seem like ruins from another future. I spent some time in Moscow some years ago and on my walks through the city I discovered these exceptional buildings. They really stick out from the rest of Moscow’s city landscape. Many of them are quite run down today, yet they still radiate their futuristic visions. This, of course, is a stunning paradox: Something is from the past and at the same time it seems from the future.

Boris Schumatsky: Can you tell us about the background of Constructivism?

Isa Willinger: The term was first applied to the abstract works of art by Tatlin, Malevich, Popova, Stepanova, El Lissitzky, and others in the 1910s and 1920s. Soon, the artists’ works transgressed the boundary between geometrical shapes on paper or canvas and architectural drawings toying with those shapes. The first Constructivist buildings were built in the mid 20s only, due to a lack of resources in early Soviet Russia. The Constructivist movement was infused with the hopes of socialist revolution, overcoming a repressive tsarist regime, and building a better, more modern society. Continue reading