abstract art, a systems view

Archive for the ‘Aesthetics’ Category

Metamodernism, Oscillation and the Beer Game

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In Luke Turner‘s Metamodernist Manifesto he says “oscillation is the natural order of things” and he, along with Robin van den Akker, Nadine Feßler and Timotheus Vermeulen, sees this oscillation ( “between a modern desire for sens and a postmodern doubt about the sense of it all, between a modern sincerity and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy and empathy and apathy and unity and plurality and purity and corruption and naïveté and knowingness; between control and commons and craftsmanship and conceptualism and pragmatism and utopianism”) as an indication of the emergence of a new cultural dominant – metamodernism.

I feel sure that I am mixing metaphors as I attempt to question the naturalness of oscillation by referring to a business simulation known as the Beer Game, invented, I believe, at M.I.T by Jay Forrester and referenced by Peter Senge in the opening chapter of his book The Fifth Discipline.

Four ‘players’ take up the positions of Factory, Distributor, Wholesaler and Retailer, making up a production and distribution system, the product being crates of beer, represented by coins or counters, that make their way from the factory, to the other sectors and ending up as sales to external customers.

There are some system conditions: no communication takes place between the sectors other than the placing of orders and the receiving of product (silence), and there are delays in production and  transportation as well as in processing the orders. Orders are made by external customers and they are re-acted by each sector concluding with the factory that places orders with its own workforce. The decision-making required by each sector, at the end of each week, is how many crates of beer to order from their supplier upstream.

The activity spans a simulated year, at the beginning the system is stable, customers are ordering 4 crates of beer per week and each sector has 12 crates of beer in their respective inventories. Each sector aims to minimise costs by keeping inventory down at the same time as preventing backlog.

In conducting this simulation (as I have done with groups over 100 times in the last two years) we always find that when external customer orders are stable, the system becomes unstable, with sometimes wild oscillation, (as well as amplification: the oscillation pattern becoming more pronounced the further upstream you go).  A flat line could represent the orders from customers whereas this graph shows the oscillating pattern of orders placed within the system.

Getting back to the Metamodernist Manifesto, if we were to think of orders from customers as the external environment or  ‘nature’, we might conclude that oscillation is an artificial experience. It is not the ‘natural oder of things’ so much as the invented and exaggerated response to external stimuli. We do it to ourselves (that’s what really hurts, apologies Radiohead).

Then again, we could say that it is ‘natural’ in the sense that it is the repeated and predictable response: it seems to come naturally to us.

Maybe what I am saying is that although oscillation may indeed be ‘the natural order of things’, the natural order of things is not itself natural. Whilst the territory is flat, our maps oscillilate wildly.


More on ‘what is metamodernism?’

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What is Metamodernism? is a question asked at Notes on Metamodernism, edited by Nadine Fessler, Robin van den Akker, and Timotheus Vermeulen. Here is part of their response to their own question:

We understand metamodernism first and foremost as a structure of feeling, which can be defined, after Raymond Williams, as “a particular quality of social experience […] historically distinct from other particular qualities, which gives the sense of a generation or of a period.” Metamodernism therefore is both a heuristic label to come to terms with recent changes in aesthetics and culture and a notion to periodize these changes. So when we speak of metamodernism we do not refer to a particular movement, a specific manifesto or a set of theoretical or stylistic conventions. We do not attempt, in other words, as Charles Jencks would do, to group, categorize and pigeonhole the creative work of this or that architect or artist.  We rather attempt to chart, after Jameson, the ‘cultural dominant’ of a specific stage in the development of modernity.

Having said all that about not a particular movement or a manifesto, artist Luke Turner has written a Metamodernist Manifesto as follows:

  1. We recognise oscillation to be the natural order of the world.
  2. We must liberate ourselves from the inertia resulting from a century of modernist ideological naivety and the cynical insincerity of its antonymous bastard child.
  3. Movement shall henceforth be enabled by way of an oscillation between positions, with diametrically opposed ideas operating like the pulsating polarities of some colossal electric machine, propelling the world into action.
  4. We acknowledge the limitations inherent to all movement and experience, and the futility of any attempt to transcend the boundaries set forth therein. The essential incompleteness of a system should necessitate an adherence, not in order to achieve a given end or be slaves to its course, but rather perchance to glimpse by proxy some hidden exteriority. Existence is enriched if we set about our task as if those limits might be exceeded, for such action unfolds the world.
  5. All things are caught up within the irrevocable slide towards a state of maximum entropic dissemblance. Artistic creation is contingent upon the origination or revelation of difference therein. Affect at its zenith is the unmediated experience of difference in itself. It must be art’s role to explore the promise of its own paradoxical ambition by coaxing excess towards presence.
  6. The present is a symptom of the twin birth of immediacy and obsolescence. The new technology enables the simultaneous experience and enactment of events from a multiplicity of positions. Far from signalling its demise, these emergent networks facilitate the democratisation of history, illuminating the forking paths along which its grand narratives may navigate the here and now.
  7. Just as science strives for poetic elegance, artists might assume a quest for truth. All information is grounds for knowledge, whether empirical or aphoristic, no matter its truth-value. We should embrace the scientific-poetic synthesis and informed naivety of a magical realism. Erroneousness breeds sense.
  8. We propose a pragmatic romanticism unhindered by ideological anchorage. Thus, metamodernism shall be defined as the mercurial condition that lies between, beyond and in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and fragmentary positions. We must go forth and oscillate.

I love the (im)possibility of it, and that it leaves me feeling unsure about whether to take it seriously. It is almost as if the manifesto could itself be seen as an example of the metamodern. It seems to oscilate between sincerity and irony, setting out on a course that is destined to failure but doing it anyway. I think it may offer a basis for further consideration, debate, and practice, and in future posts I will act as if it does, and see what happens.

God and the art of seeing

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My brother Robert being a Baptist minister, I ought not to be too surprised to find on his bookshelf  God and the Art of Seeing by Richard Kidd and Graham Sparkes.

It caught my eye first of all because it sounds so much like another book I have enjoyed a lot: The Art of Seeing, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Rick E. Robinson. Well, it is nothing like that book! Kidd and Sparkes’ book is subtitled Visual Resources for a Journey of Faith. As you can imagine, it isn’t really an art book. And, as I am reading it, that’s one of the things I am enjoying: it is about the uses that people (can) make of art. And I do think there are also some very productive insights about the art.

There’s a chapter each on Edvard Munch, Marc Chagall, Stanley Spencer, Georgia O’Keefe, Jacob Lawrence and Vincent van Gogh.

In the chapter on Edvard Munch, discussing the painting The Sick Child, 1885-1886, the authors suggests that the many layers of over-painting contained in the twenty revisions, some layers invisible to the naked eye and conscious mind, expresses the passing of time as the dimension in which suffering takes place. Here form and content unite to express the same theme of suffering. I suggest that it could also be the case that whenever an abstract painting ‘records’ time through over-painted layers then suffering, is present metaphorically, suffering that is, in the sense of ‘struggle’.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 17, 2011 at 9:00 am

The Spatiotemporal Dimensions of Abstract Art and the Genesis of Modern Architecture by Ross Wolfe (guest blog)

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Iakov Chernikhov's "Architectural Fantasy" (1929)

Read Ross Wolfe’s “The Graveyard of Utopia: Soviet Urbanism and the Fate of the International Avant-Garde”

Modernist Architecture — Positive Bases

The theory and practice of modernist architecture were positively based on two primary phenomena that developed under capitalism: the abstract sense of space and time created by the internal dynamic of capitalism, and the more concrete process of industrialization that took place in Europe over the course of the nineteenth century. The former of these developments, the abstract side of capitalism’s spatiotemporal dialectic, first manifested itself spatially in the medium of Cubist and post-Cubist abstract painting (Neo-plasticism, Purism, Suprematism) and temporally in the simultaneous representation of motion and light by movements such as Futurism and Rayonism. This abstract temporal dimension was deepened and refined by the avant-garde’s appropriation of Taylorism, the system of “scientific management” in industry founded in America just prior to the First World War.[211] A discussion of Taylorization’s impact on modernist architecture will lead into a more general discussion of the inescapable influence that European industrialization had on its overall development. Specifically, it will examine the modernists’ fascination with machine technologies, efficiency, and the principle of standardization. All these aspects of modern society had been brought into existence by nineteenth-century capitalism in the shift from more primitive manufacturing techniques to full-blown industrialism. In this way, modernist architecture can be seen in its positive connection to the forces and logic unfolding out of capitalist modernity, in addition to its negative bases that were outlined in the previous subsection. Modernism captured in its architecture the greater project of “rationalization” that was taking place throughout the Western world during this time, as theorized by thinkers such as Weber, Adorno, and Horkheimer.

A tertiary influence may be cited alongside these two main positive bases of avant-garde architecture: the working class. In some sense, the modernists’ identification with the European proletariat can be traced to their general disgust with bourgeois society, coupled with the widespread leftist idea that the working class could play a revolutionary role in the construction of a new and more rational society. But in another sense, the modernists’ valorization of working class must have stemmed from its association with industrial production, which held an obvious positive appeal for avant-garde architects. Though this affirmation of the laboring masses of Europe thus had its sources in both positive and negative aspects of modern society, its general character should be seen as positive. Either way, the avant-garde expressed its solidarity with workers in its quest to provide them with adequate dwelling conditions, and, more broadly, to overcome the chronic shortage of urban housing. The modernists’ efforts to this end can be seen in their commitment to the creation of a standard Existenzminimuml’habitation minimum, Kleinstwohnung, or “minimum dwelling.”[212]




































FIGURE 1: The Spatiotemporal Dialectic of Capitalism and Architecture

Before detailing this more social component of modernist architectural ideology, it is proper to examine the formal properties imparted to it by the abstract spatiotemporal dimension of capitalism. Referring back to the characteristics established beforehand as belonging to the abstract forms of space and time manifested under capitalism,[213] the extent to which these qualities were expressed by modernist art and architecture will be made clear. The scientific, cyclical, and synchronous character of its temporality; the geometric, centrifugal, and global/international character of its spatiality; their mutual homogeneity — all these categories will be important to bear in mind moving through the following analysis. For these traits, generated by the inherent dynamism of modern society, would embed themselves in the artistic unconscious of a generation of painters and architects. These then would bubble to the surface in the works of the modernists, which expressed the new spatiotemporal sensibility of their age. Such expressions of this new aesthetic orientation should be seen as manifestations of the latent social dynamic of capitalism, however, mediated perhaps by the genius of individual artists.[214]

Ivan Kudriashev's "Construction of a Rectilinear Motion" (1925)

Iakov Chernikhov's "Architectural Fantasy 11" (1925-1931)

In his groundbreaking 1938 lectures on Space, Time, and Architecture, the modernist and insider historian of the avant-garde movement Sigfried Giedion credited the rise of the new architecture to a newfound sense of “space-time” that congealed around the turn of the twentieth century. According to Giedion, this modern aesthetic[215] sensibility described an abstract, four-dimensional unity of temporalized spatiality, much like the kind outlined in physics by Albert Einstein in 1905. This placed a heavy emphasis on the notion of “simultaneity.”[216] Giedion could have easily added the work that was taking place in philosophy in the writings of Henri Bergson around the same time.[217] In either case, he claimed that explicit awareness of this new sense of space and time appeared first in the works of abstract art, years before the artists’ insights were later taken up and applied by modernist architects. In the first decade of the century, Giedion asserted, “[p]ainters very different in type but sharing a common isolation from the public worked steadily toward a new conception of space. And no one can understand contemporary architecture, become aware of the feelings hidden behind it, unless he has grasped the spirit animating this painting.”[218]

Georges Braque's "Le Guéridon" (1911)

Pablo Picasso's "Violín en el café" (1913)

The pioneers of this radically new approach to spatiality, in Giedion’s account, were the Cubists. While Cubism was restricted mostly to the medium of painting, and only found itself translated directly into architecture in rare instances,[219] its explosion of linear perspective was a crucial step in the move toward a new spatiality. “The cubists dissect the object, try to lay hold of its inner composition,” wrote Giedion. “They seek to extend the scale of optical vision as contemporary science extends the law of matter. Therefore contemporary spatial approach has to get away from the single point of reference.” A consequence of this approach is the simultaneous representation of a single object from multiple points of view. “Fragments of lines hover over the surface, often forming open angles which become the gathering places of darker tones. These angles and lines began to grow, to be extended, and suddenly out of them developed one of the constituent facts of space-time representation — the plane.”[220] This was one of the major achievements of the Cubists in painting: their move toward a geometric, planar spatiality. In this respect, even the self-styled “Cubist” architects in Czechoslovakia before the war failed to live up to their artistic counterparts. As Teige observed, with characteristic astuteness: “Czech cubist architecture failed to assimilate the most fertile lesson of cubism: the adherence to geometry, to [Paul] Cézanne’s truth of geometric archetypes. Czech cubists might have been able to derive the principles of regularity and perpendicularity required by the new architecture from these sources.”[221] Marcel Janco, a Romanian-born Dadaist, in his 1928 “Reflections of Cubism,” was so bold as to assert that architecture would have never freed itself from the decorative arts had it not been for the contribution of Cubism.[222]

Aleksandr Rodchenko's "Red Yellow Blue" Triptych (1921): "I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue, and yellow. I affirmed: this is the end of painting."

Thus was the geometric aspect of capitalism’s abstract spatiality given definite form, depicted by the Cubist painters in the first decade of the twentieth century. After the war, a new wave of abstract painters rose up to build upon their accomplishments. Kazimir Malevich founded Suprematism in Russia, Piet Mondrian formulated Neo-Plasticism in Holland, and Amédée Ozenfant established Purism in France. Giedion regarded these painters as merely carrying Cubism forward to its logical conclusion. And as he correctly noted, each of these movements eventually extended themselves into the sphere of architecture. “In France appeared Le Corbusier and Ozenfant; in Russia, Malevich; in Hungary, [László] Moholy-Nagy; in Holland, Mondrian and van Doesburg,” recorded Giedion. “Common to them was an attempt to rationalize cubism or, as they felt was necessary, to correct its aberrations. The procedure was sometimes very different in different groups, but all moved toward rationalization and into architecture.”[223] Each of these painters would eventually address the question of architecture in their theoretical writings. Moreover, each of them would have major modernist architects join them as allies in the search for new tectonic forms. Malevich’s paintings inspired El Lissitzky’s PROUNs as well as his subsequent move toward architecture. Le Corbusier extended Ozenfant’s Purism into his writings on building for L’Esprit Nouveau. Oud and van Doesburg for the most part followed Mondrian’s conception of Neo-Plasticism in their architectural works of the 1920s.

Piet Mondrian's "Composition with Red, Yellow, Blue, and Black" (1921)

Theo van Doesburg's "Contra Composition XVI" (1922)

The members of the De Stijl movement in Holland were fully aware of the evolution of modern architecture out of the new spatiotemporal sensibility established by painting. “Only in our time,” wrote van Doesburg, “has the leading art form, painting, shown the way which architecture must take in order that it may,…with mechanical means and disciplines, realize in material form what is already present in the other arts in imaginary (aesthetic) form.”[224] Mondrian and van Doesburg, both during their years together in De Stijl and after their split, authored several programmatic essays on Neo-Plasticism and architecture. The first was written by Mondrian shortly after J.J.P. Oud joined the group in 1922. In it, he challenged the notion that “Neo-Plasticism’s ‘planar’ expression is…inapplicable to architecture.” Mondrian stressed the “planar” aspect of Neo-Plasticist architecture’s abstracted and absolutized notion of space and time, just as Teige would later. As in his paintings, the relativity of Renaissance linear perspective was abandoned in favor of the standpoint of infinity. “The new vision…does not proceed from one fixed point of view: it takes its viewpoint everywhere and is nowhere limited,” wrote Mondrian. “It is not bound by space or time…In practice it takes its viewpoint before the plane (the most extreme possibility of plastic intensification). Thus it sees architecture as a multiplicity of planes: again the plane.[225] Doesburg, in his 1924 manifesto “Towards a Plastic Architecture,” likewise expressed the spatiotemporal element of Neo-Plasticism in architecture: “§10. Space and time. The new architecture takes account not only of space, but also of time as an accent of architecture. The unity of time and space gives the appearance of architecture a new and completely plastic aspect (four-dimensional temporal and spatial plastic aspects).” At no point did he forget the indebtedness of modernist architecture to modernist painting, however. “[T]he plastic architect, under which heading I also include the painter, has to construct in the new field, time-space.”[226] Even after breaking with van Doesburg in 1924, Mondrian continued to push for Neo-Plasticism in the medium of architecture. Seconding Doesburg’s insistence on the use of color in new construction,[227] Mondrian proposed the total unity of plane and color: “[A]s the plastic expression of the plane, Neo-Plastic architecture irresistibly calls for color, without which the plane cannot be living reality.”[228] Doesburg, though his publication of De Stijl came to be less important (and less frequent), would continue to be one of best European commentators of modernist architecture, as can be clearly seen from his articles for Het Bouwbedrijf in the latter half of the 1920s.[229]

Le Corbusier's "Red Violin" (1920)

Amédée Ozenfant's "Le pichet blanc" (1926)

Meanwhile, in France, Le Corbusier-Saugnier (he would later drop the “Saugnier”) and Ozenfant were formulating their own post-Cubist doctrine, “Purism,” through their journal, L’Esprit Nouveau. In their co-authored manifesto for the movement, written in 1920, the intrinsic relationship between painterly and architectural modernism is stated explicitly: “[P]ainting is a question of architecture, and therefore volume is its means.”[230] Though both men were originally trained as painters, and though Ozenfant would never venture into architecture, their approach to the link between architecture and painting was nevertheless the inverse of that taken by Doesburg and Mondrian. For Le Corbusier and Ozenfant, architecture did not simply extend the results of modern painting to the realm of building; rather, architecture was already built into painting. Both had to be seen in terms of abstract space: “Space is needed for architectural composition; space means three dimensions. Therefore we think of the painting not as a surface, but as a space.”[231] The universality of such spatial composition was implied by the authors’ search for a “universal language”[232] of forms and colors, its mathematico-geometric character shown in its search for a “mathematical order…[to] be sought among universal means.”[233] What is more, the homogeneous quality of Purism’s modernist spatiality was conveyed through its ideal of artistic “unity”: “Unity in plastic art…is the homogeneous relationship of the surface or volume with each of the elements brought into play.”[234] Many of the concepts Le Corbusier and Ozenfant introduced in this early manifesto later reappeared in the former’s Towards an Architecture written three years later, especially in its notions of “volume,” “surface,” and “regulating lines.”[235] Ozenfant, reflecting on the subject of modernist architecture in his 1928 Foundations of Modern Art, declared the artistry of the architect to consist in the spatial precision of his designs: “The architect’s genius is in relating all the internal organs of the house…Each square centimeter must yield its maximum, and the rooms must be exactly related if they are to be pleasant to live in: a perfect harmony which though much to be desired, is rarely attained.”[236]

Kazimir Malevich's "Suprematist Painting: Eight Red Rectangles" (1915)

Olga Rozanova's "Non-Objective Composition" (1916)

Nikolai Suetin's "Dynamics in Suprematism" (1921)

Kazimir Malevich’s evolution out of Russian Cubo-Futurism into what he dubbed Suprematism was accomplished as early as 1916.[237] Although he would not foray into architecture until the mid-1920s, the fundamental reconception of space enacted in his paintings had immediate consequences for the development of modernist architecture, first through a fellow Russian painter, El Lissitzky, and second through Lissitzky’s Hungarian associate and collaborator, László Moholy-Nagy. Nevertheless, Malevich prophesied the birth of a Suprematist architecture out of the principles it established previously in painting, in his internationally-renowned book on The Non-Objective World, published in German as part of the Bauhausbücher series in 1926. “The new art of Suprematism,” he wrote, “which has produced new forms and form relationships by giving external expression to pictorial feeling, will become a new architecture: it will transfer these forms from the surface of canvas to space.”[238] Malevich took up this subject at greater length in several articles he contributed to the Ukrainian avant-garde journal New Generation, particularly his 1928 essay regarding “Painting and the Problem of Architecture.” As with the Purists in France and the De Stijl Neo-Plasticists in Holland, Malevich asserted that Suprematism could be easily transposed from the easel into space.[239] But Malevich himself was not interested in proposing new architectural designs; at most, he submitted abstract sculptural models of intersecting geometric shapes that he called “architectonics.”[240] Giedion recalled the significance of these projects:

Interrelation, hovering, and penetration form the basis of Malevich’s half-plastic architectural studies, which he calls “architectonen.” These objects are not intended for a particular purpose, but are to be understood simply as spatial research. Interrelations are created between these prisms, slabs, and surfaces when they penetrate or dislodge each other.[241]

Nikolai Suetin's "Architecton" (1926)

Kazimir Malevich's "Architecton Beta" (1926)

Malevich left it to professional architects to design the buildings that would embody the architecture of Suprematism. Unconsciously, he felt, modernist architects in the West were already moving towards its realization. “I do not mean to say that the new architecture of the West is Suprematist,” he clarified, “but I can say that new Western architecture stands on the road to Suprematist architectonics.”[242] Malevich tended to prefer buildings produced by the French Purist and Dutch Neo-Plasticist architects[243] (for reasons we might guess) to the utilitarianism of Russian Constructivism[244] and German functionalism, the so-called “New Objectivity,”[245] though he did state his approval of the works of the Germans Gropius and Korn.[246] Malevich did not fail to notice the abstract planar aspect of the new architecture’s spatiality, as Teige and Mondrian had also pointed out: “Analyzing new architecture we find that it is under the influence of ‘plane painting,’ i.e. of artistic form containing the plane element…For this reason contemporary architecture gives the impression of being two-dimensional.”[247]

Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2" (1912)

Umberto Boccioni's "Bottle Evolving in Space" (1912)

Before passing on to the subsequent development of Malevich’s spatial theories by Lissitzky and Moholy-Nagy, the more temporal aspect of avant-garde experimentation in the early twentieth century deserves mentioning. For while Doesburg might have spoken of spatiotemporal unity in De Stijl architecture,[248] the specifically temporal dimension of this unity remained underdefined. As Giedion argued, however, this work was carried out in the “research into movement” undertaken by members of the Futurist movement in art, along with some strains of Cubism. Again, he claims this mirrored a new scientific understanding of time that arose concurrently.[249] Avant-garde art, in turn, attempted to simulate dynamic motion within static media, either in painting or in sculpture. Giedion thus cited the Futurist sculptor Umberto Boccioni’s Bottle Evolving in Space (1912) and famous Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913), the painter Gino Severini’s Walking Dog (1913), and the unaffiliated artist Marcel Duchamp’s celebrated Nude Descending a Staircase (1912) as examples of modernism’s exploration of temporal simultaneity.[250] He could have easily added Giocamo Balla’s Light and Movement.

Umberto Boccioni's "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space" (1913)

Giedion’s claims are corroborated not only by the Futurists’ works, but also by their writings. From the moment of its foundation, Futurism in Italy championed dynamism, movement, and speed. “We intend to exalt movement and aggression, feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the slap and the punch,” shouted Marinetti, in his 1909 Manifesto. “We affirm that the beauty of the world has been enriched by a new form of beauty: the beauty of speed.”[251] This attitude, the Futurists claimed, reflected the modern pace of life — hectic, buzzing, and frantic — especially in the newfound sphere of the metropolis. In an odd way, the concrete spatial accumulations of the modern capitalist city converged with its abstract temporality of deadlines, the daily punch-in clock, store hours, the whole tyranny of standardized time to create the hustle and bustle of city life. As the legendary Russian Cubo-Futurist poet Vladimir Maiakovskii put it:

The city has enriched our experiences and impressions of the new urban elements, which were not known to poets of the past. The whole modern cultural world is becoming a vast, Cyclopean city. The city replaces nature and the elements. The city itself becomes an environment out of the bowels of which arises a new, urban people. Telephones, airplanes, express-elevators, rotating machines, sidewalks, chimneys, stone masses, soot and smoke — these are the elements of beauty in the new urban nature. We see electric light more often than the old, romantic moon. We, the urbanites, do not know the forests, fields, and flowers — we are familiar with the tunnels of the streets with their traffic, noise, their roaring, flashing, perpetual circuit. And most importantly — they have altered the rhythm of life. Everything has become lightning-quick, as fleeting as film on a tape. The smooth, quiet, slow rhythms of old poetry do not correspond to the psyche of the modern city dweller. Feverishness — that symbolizes the pace of modernity. In the city there are no smooth, measured, rounded lines: angles, bends, zigzags — these are what characterize the picture of the city.[252]

Giacomo Balla's "Paths of Movement + Dynamic Sequences" (1913)

This new feeling of constant, feverish motion had major repercussions for the members of the Futurist current. “In sculpture as in painting,” declared Boccioni, “renewal is impossible without looking for a style of movement.”[253] The Russian Ego-Futurist Vadim Shershenevich shared this sentiment: “We have lost the ability to understand the life of a motionless statue.” This loss, he suggested, was symptomatic of the dynamism of their age.[254] The struggle for the Futurists, therefore was to capture in a moment the evolution of an object in time. Their mathematical approach to understanding this time, moreover, was commensurate with the abstract time of capitalism.[255] Unlike Cubism, which created merely spatial fragmentation, Futurism aimed at temporal oblivion — the decomposition of flux. This effect, the simultaneous representation of dynamic continuity, produced in the object a quality that the founder of Futurism, F.T. Marinetti, called “geometrical and mechanical Splendor,” while provoking in the subject “the numerical sensibility.”[256] In Severini’s 1913 manifesto on “Plastic Analogies of Dynamism,” the artist recognized the historical character of this new sense of temporality. “Today, in this epoch of dynamism and simultaneity,” he wrote, “one cannot separate any event or object from the memories, the plastic affinities or aversions, which its expansive action calls up simultaneously in us.”[257] Hence the Futurists’ fascination with the whirring of machines, automobiles, and airplanes.[258]

Mikhail Larionov's "Red Rayonism" (1913)

Futurism’s temporal self-understanding was of a twofold nature, however. While the movement was interested in achieving a more dynamic, rationalized comprehension of the passage of time as it transpired under modernity, the Futurists understood themselves to be the culmination of the artistic processes of their age and thus the supersession of all that came before it. Their nihilistic stance toward the past, and ruthless intolerance for anachronism in the present, was taken up by subsequent incarnations of the avant-garde. Each new “ism” that took up the mantle of the avant-garde claimed to render all others obsolete.[259] If, for Malevich and the post-Cubist abstract painters his Black Square was to spatially embody “[t]he absolute zero that was to mark the beginning of a new world in which the new ‘white humanity’ would be cleansed of all previous images,” as Groys put it,[260] then for the Futurists, the present was to mark a sort of Year Zero. The plodding, irrational time of the past was to be abandoned in favor of a sleeker synchronicity, the rationally choreographed motions of a new, harmonious humanity. Renouncing the spatiotemporal order that had come before, the brothers Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner wrote in 1920: “We proclaim: For us, space and time are born today.”[261]

Naum Gabo's "Construction in Space" (1925)

While contradictory temporal elements persisted into the present, inhabiting the same space, these were to be extirpated — cleared to make way for the new spatiotemporal order. Traditionalism held onto remnants of the past at the expense of the future. “The speed of cultural evolution is reduced by the stragglers,” lamented Loos. “I perhaps am living in 1908 [the year of his essay’s publication], but my neighbor is living in 1900 and the man across the way in 1880.”[262] Loos’ sentiment was later conceptualized more rigorously by the German Marxist Ernst Bloch, in his notion of “non-synchronicity.” In an essay he wrote on the subject, he explained succinctly: “Not all people exist in the same Now. They do so only externally, by virtue of the fact that they may all be seen today. But that does not mean that they are living at the same time with others.”[263] This can be seen as the incarnation of the concrete, contradictory spatiality of capitalism that was described earlier.[264] The leftovers of ages that had been superseded by the ceaseless revolutions in production (itself a result of the concrete temporality that stemmed from relative surplus-value)[265] were deposited in one and the same locality. The “unevenness” of capitalist development could be witnessed in a single space. Ginzburg observed this phenomenon precisely: “The old is regenerated gradually; frequently one can observe how elements of the old world, still persisting by reason of traditions that have outlived the very ideas which engendered them, coexist side by side with elements of the new world, which overwhelm us with their barbaric freshness and the absolute independence of their unexpected appearance.”[266]

Of course, this fact did not sit easily with the members of the Futurist avant-garde, nor with those who succeeded them. It could well be argued that the very recognition of such concrete anachronisms, of “backwardness” in general, was unique to modernity, a symptom of the heightened pace of life. Either way, the Futurists were notoriously impatient with those who could not keep up with new developments, and who kept them from instituting a new regime of rationalized, uniform time. This might have been the source of their violent anti-traditionalism. Marinetti thus heaped scorn upon those who revered the art of the past, calling museums “cemeteries,” “public dormitories,” and “absurd slaughterhouses.”[267] The Futurists detested “Academicians,” as well as the works and figures they had canonized. “SHIT to…Dante, Shakespeare, Tolstoi, Goethe,” roared one of Marinetti’s young followers in France, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire.[268] Their counterparts in Russia, the Cubo-Futurist contingent, were equally blunt. “Throw Pushkin, Dostoevskii, Tolstoi, etc., etc., overboard from the steamship of Modernity,” they advised. “We alone are the face of our Time. Through us the horn of time blows in the art of the world.”[269] This unapologetic hostility toward tradition would be continued by all the avant-garde movements that followed. Even Malevich, who was generally more respectful, announced proudly that “we, the most daring, have spat upon the altar of its [tradition’s] art.”[270]

El Lissitzky's "PROUN 24" (1922)

El Lissitzky "PROUN" (1923)

The ultimate synthesis of Cubist and post-Cubist painting’s abstract spatiality and Futurism’s abstract temporality in architecture was achieved in the theoretical writings of Lissitzky and Moholy-Nagy. In one of his earliest essays on architecture, Lissitzky explained the spatiotemporal aspects of modernist art and where they came from: “[T]he revolution in art began by giving form to the elements of time, of space, of tempo and rhythm, of movement. Before the war Cubists in France and Futurists in Italy advanced new theses in art.”[271] Lissitzky began his career as a painter following Malevich’s path of Suprematist non-representation, but later fell under the influence of the Constructivists in art, Tatlin and his protégé Aleksandr Rodchenko. Upon arriving in the West, he was greeted nearly universally as a cause célèbre, playing a pivotal role at the International Congress of Progressive Artists in Düsseldorf.[272] His abstract PROUN compositions were featured prominently at the Exhibition of Russian Art that took place in Berlin in 1922. Journalists and critics such as Paul Westheim,[273] Adolf Behne,[274] Ernő Kállai,[275] and Branko Ve Poljanski[276] all took note of Lissitzky’s innovations in the field of abstract art, and reviewed his work favorably. Giedion, reflecting on Lissitzky’s work in 1929, recalled how the artist himself regarded his PROUNs as “the interchange station between painting and architecture.”[277] Even in designing the room in which the PROUNs were to be viewed, one of Lissitzky’s foremost concerns was with the spatiotemporal layout of the exhibit. “Space has to be organized in such a way as to impel everyone automatically to perambulate in it,” he wrote.[278] Lissitzky ended his article on the PROUN room with an emphatic statement: “We reject space as a painted coffin for our living bodies.”[279] Later he would propose that art could create a sort of dynamic “pangeometry” in which abstract time and space could be interchangeably united.[280] With such goals in mind, it is therefore little wonder that the new spatiotemporal sensibility described by Giedion would prove so important to Lissitzky in his writings on architecture. In a 1926 article on “Architecture of the Steel and Ferro-Concrete Skeleton,” he thus wrote that “[w]e are faced with the task of creating spatial architecture which is not only seen by the eye from a distance, as in painting, and not only touched by the hands, as in sculpture, but among which people live and move — an architecture of space and time.”[281]

Composition by Moholy-Nagy (1924)

Moholy-Nagy's Composition A-II (1924)

Moholy-Nagy, whom Lissitzky converted to Constructivism soon after they met in the early 1920s, would also present a concept of architecture born out of an organization of space and time. Following his initial encounter with Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy and his fellow Hungarian avant-gardist Alfréd Kemény collaborated on a project for a kinetic sculpture entitled “Dynamic-Constructive System of Forces.” They expressed their idea of a temporally dynamic, motive sculpture moving through space. “Vital constructivity is the embodiment of life and the principle of all human and cosmic development,” they declared. “Translated into art, today this means the activation of space by means of dynamic-constructive systems of forces.”[282] Not long after writing this, Moholy-Nagy was appointed by Gropius as a professor at the recently opened Bauhaus school of design. In his 1928 lectures on The New Vision, Moholy-Nagy laid out the successive stages of art in painting, sculpture, and architecture as corresponding to material/surface, volume, and space. Already beginning in his section on “Kinetic Sculpture,” he cited Boccioni and the Futurists as well as his own work with Kemény. He also quoted from the Russians Gabo’s and Pevsner’s “Realistic Manifesto” of 1920: “Space and time are the two exclusive forms for the fulfillment of life, and therefore art must be guided by these two basic forms if it is to encompass life.”[283] All this, for Moholy-Nagy, still only takes place within the sphere of volume, or sculpture. It is only with the transition to “space” that architecture enters the picture. “The root of architecture lies in the mastery of the problem of space,” wrote Moholy-Nagy. “One of its most important components is the ordering of man in space, making space comprehensible, and taking architecture as the arrangement of universal space.”[284] But just as it was in sculpture, “[t]he common denominator is the concept of the dynamic (kinetic) in the balanced application of all elements of a [spatial] relationship.”[285]

[211] “Like the scientific managers, the modernist architects initially sought to improve building practices but soon realized that method, standardization, and planning enabled them to formulate a new approach to architecture. The overarching idea in scientific management was that of order, one that subsequently captivated the modernist architects because it enabled them to move away from the prevailing eclecticism and to present themselves as organizers, as technocrats who could ameliorate social conflict and improve standards of living.” Guillén, The Taylorized Beauty of the Mechanical. Pg. 4.

[212] See footnote 34 of the present paper.

[213] Refer back to the schematic chart on pg. 44.

[214] In his exposition of the unprecedented modernist sense of “space-time,” Giedion acknowledged the importance of socioeconomic factors in determining architectural ideology, but urged historians not to dismiss the significance of “emotional” factors: “Social, economic, and functional influences play a vital part in all human activities, from the sciences to the arts. But there are other factors which also have to be taken into account — our feelings and emotions. These factors are often dismissed as trivial, but actually their effect upon men’s actions is immense.” Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture. Pg. 430. Without writing off these emotional influences wholesale, we must nevertheless regard them as epiphenomenal to the more fundamental sociohistorical forces which made them possible.

[215] “Aesthetic” also carries spatiotemporal connotations, as in the Kantian “Transcendental Aesthetic”: “In the transcendental aesthetic we will…first isolate sensibility by separating off everything that the understanding thinks through its concepts, so that nothing but empirical intuition remains. Second, we will then detach from the latter everything that belongs to sensation, so that nothing remains except pure intuition and the mere form of appearances, which is the only thing that sensibility can make available a priori. In this investigation it will be found that there are two pure forms of sensible intuition as principles of a priori cognition, namely space and time.” Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Paul Guyer and Alan W. Wood. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1998). Pg. 174.

[216] “The presentation of objects from several points of view introduces a principle which is intimately bound up with modern life — simultaneity. It is a temporal coincidence that Einstein should have begun his famous work, Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper, in 1905 with a careful definition of simultaneity.” Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture. Pg. 436.

[217] Bergson, Henri. Duration and Simultaneity: With Reference to Einstein’s Theory. Translated by Herbert Dingle. (Bobs-Merrill Press. New York, NY: 1965). Originally published in 1906.

[218] Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture. Pg. 433.

[219] Notably, there was a prominent architectural strain of Cubism that appeared in the Czechoslovakian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to the Great War. As Teige recorded: “The foremost representatives of cubism in Czech architecture were Pavel Janák, Josef Gočár, Vlastislav Hofman, Josef Chochol, and Jiří Kroha. These architects transposed the principles of cubism from painting into architecture.” Teige, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia. Pg. 140. Teige further explained: “The aesthetic of cubist architecture is derived from cubist painting. The treatment of space and matter that we can read in cubist paintings is here applied to building.” Ibid., pg. 145.

[220] Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture. Pg. 437.

[222] “Architecture itself was ‘contaminated’ by the decorative arts. It can certainly be claimed that the groundwork for this event was prepared by a multitude of factors; still, without the cubist experiment it would not have been brought to birth. Certainly the architects Perret and the builder of the abattoirs from Lyon were the inspired forgers of revolutions, but the one who formulated in genial fashion the time’s sentiment, its needs, was Le Corbusier-Saugnier: ‘The home is an machine for living.’ The shout of hatred rising against aestheticism was the unification signal that caused architectonic Europe to gather around it. Today, because of the little resistance encountered by it in France, we have many modern accomplishments in Holland, Belgium, and Russia.” Janco, Marcel. “Reflections of Cubism.” Translated by Julian Semilian. From Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 2002). Pgs. 705-706.

[223] Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture. Pg. 439.

[224] Doesburg added that this movement from abstract art to architecture was not limited to Holland: “Not only in Holland but also in Russia (after 1917) this new movement ‘from the aesthetic to its material realization’ proceeded from the consequential development of painting (in Holland Neo-Plasticism, in Russia Suprematism [Malevich] and [Lissitzky’s] Proun)…Now at last architects are gaining confidence in the use of their expressive medium.” Doesburg, Theo van. “From the New Aesthetic to Its Material Realization.” Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé. De Stijl. (H.N. Abrams. New York: 1971). Pg. 181. Originally published in De Stijl, 1922 (Vol. VI, № 1, pgs. 10-14).

[225] Mondrian, Piet. “The Realization of Neo-Plasticism in the Distant Future and in Architecture Today: Architecture, Conceived as Our Total [Non-Natural] Environment.” Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé. De Stijl. (H.N. Abrams. New York: 1971). Pg. 169. Originally published in De Stijl, 1922 (Vol. V, № 3, pgs. 41-47; №5, pgs. 65-71).

[226] Doesburg, Theo van. “Towards a Plastic Architecture.” Translated by Hans L.C. Jaffé. De Stijl. (H.N. Abrams. New York: 1971). Pg. 187. Originally published in De Stijl, 1924 (Vol. VI, № 6/7, pgs. 78-83).

[227] “Color planes form an organic part of the new architecture as an element of the direct expression of its time and space relationships. Without color these relationships are no living reality; they are not visible.” Ibid., pg. 188.

[228] Mondrian, Piet. “The Neo-Plastic Architecture of the Future.” Translated by Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James. The New Art — The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian. Pg. 197. Originally published in L’Architecture vivante, Autumn 1925.

[229] Doesburg, Theo van. On European Architecture: Complete Articles from Het Bouwbedrijf, 1924-1931. Translated by Charlotte I. Loeb and Arthur L. Loeb. (Birkhäuser Verlag. Boston, MA: 1990).

[230] Le Corbusier and Ozenfant, Amédée. “Purism.” Translated by Robert L. Herbert. Modern Artists on Art. (Dover Books. Mineola, NY: 2000). Pg. 62. Originally published in L’Esprit Nouveau in 1920.

[231] Ibid., pg. 59.

[232] “The means of executing a work of art is a transmittable and universal language.” Ibid., pg. 54.

[233] Ibid., pg. 54.

Even further: “The choice of surface for…geometric determinations has been a preoccupation of every age.” Ibid., pg. 61.

[234] Ibid., pg. 61.

[235] Volume: “In the expression of volume, color is a perilous agent; often it destroys or disorganizes volume because the intrinsic properties of color are very different, some being radiant and pushing forward, others receding, still others being massive and staying in the real plane of the canvas, etc.” Ibid., pg. 62.

Surface: “[S]urface has important geometric properties; it permits various regulating lines which determine geometric locations of the highest plastic value.” Ibid., pg. 60.

Regulating lines: “[I]n all ages and times, great works of architecture as well as of painting of have been composed by imperious regulating lines of this nature.” Ibid., pg. 61.

These three Purist concepts are brought up again in Towards an Architecture. From the chapter “Three Reminders to Architects: 1. Volume”: “Architecture is the masterful, correct, and magnificent play of volumes brought together in light.” Le Corbusier, Towards an Architecture, pg. 102.

From the chapter “Three Reminders to Architects: 2. Surface”: “[I]t is the architect’s task to bring the surfaces that envelop these volumes to life.” Ibid., pg. 109.

From the chapter “Regulating Lines”: “The regulating line is a satisfaction of a spiritual order that leads to a search for ingenious relationships and for harmonious relationships.” Ibid., pg. 137.

[236] Ozenfant, Amédée. Foundations of Modern Art. Translated by John Rodker. (Dover Publications, Inc. New York, NY: 1952). Pg. 140. My emphasis. Originally published in 1928.

[237] Malevich, Kazimir. From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting. Translated by Xenia Glowaki-Prus and Arnold McMillin. Essays on Art, 1915-1933, Volume 1. Pg. 40. Originally published in 1916 as Ot kubizma i futurizma do suprematizma: Novyi zhivopisnyi realizm.

[238] Malevich, Kazimir. The Non-Objective World. Translated by Howard Dearstyne. (Paul Theobald and Company. Chicago, IL: 1959). Pg. 78. Originally published in 1926.

[239] “Suprematism has two methods of revealing the elements of perception: the ‘spatial’ method and the ‘easel’ method: space and canvas are the places where they appear.” Malevich, Kazimir. “Painting and the Problem of Architecture.” Translated by Xenia Glowaki-Prus and Arnold McMillin. Essays on Art, 1915-1933, Volume 2. Pg. 11. Originally published in Nova generatsiia 1928, № 2. Pgs. 116-124.

[240] “The architectonics — ‘Alpha’ of horizontal building and ‘Gota’ of vertical — reveal those features, which, it seems to me, ought to be in the new architecture.” Ibid., pg. 17.

[241] Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture. Pgs. 439-440.

[243] “[L]et us compare the Suprematist construction of…texture with the texture or structure of architecture by the Dutch architect Theo van Doesburg or Le Corbusier, Korn, etc…[T]his architecture is similar in structure to the structure of Suprematism, i.e. the new type of Suprematist art according to one Suprematist formula.” Malevich, Kazimir. “The Constructive Painting of Russian Artist and Constructivism.” Translated by Xenia Glowaki-Prus and Arnold McMillin. Essays on Art, 1915-1933, Volume 2. Pg. 81. Originally published in Nova generatsiia 1929, № 8, pgs. 47-54; № 9, pgs. 53-61.

[244] “The architect [Aleksandr] Vesnin sought a pure function, which resulted in a box divided up by a network of glass, whilst in Korn and Doesburg we see a multitude of different forms linked together by the harmony of contrasts;…[I]n the new, Constructivist building…signs [of art] are absent, as a result of which the artistic form in the majority of cases is missing.” Ibid., pgs. 82-83.

[245] “[A]rchitecture is basically a pure art form (architectonic)…And therefore no ‘matter-of-factness’ (Sachlichkeit) can offer us what art does. The most sachlich engines, telegraph, and radio apparatuses do not help us to reach the Promised Land.” Malevich, Kazimir. “Suprematist Architecture.” Translated by Tim Benton. Architecture and Design, 1890-1939: An International Anthology of Original Articles. (The Whitney Library of Design. New York, NY: 1975). Pgs. 109-110. Originally published in Wasmuths Monatshefte für Baukunst 1927, Vol. XI, pg. 412.

[246] “Characteristic examples [of Suprematist principles] can be found in the new architectural work of such artist-architects as Theo van Doesburg, Le Corbusier, Gerrit Rietveld, Walter Gropius, Arthur Korn et al.” Malevich, “Painting and the Problem of Architecture.” Pg. 16.

[247] Ibid., pg. 16.

[248] See the quotation of Doesburg’s “Towards a Plastic Architecture” on pg. 81.

[249] “In the first decade of [the twentieth] century, the physical sciences were profoundly shaken by an inner change, the most revolutionary perhaps since Aristotle and the Pythagoreans. It concerned, above all, the notion of time.” Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture, pg. 443.

[250] In each of these works, “movement is dissected mathematically.” Ibid., pg. 445.

[251] Marinetti, F.T. “Founding and Manifesto of Futurism.” Translated by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, Laura Wittman. Futurism: An Anthology. (Yale University Press. New Haven, CT: 2009). Pg. 51. Originally published in 1909.

[252] Maiakovskii, Vladimir. “Otchet.” Trudovaia gazeta. November 14th, 1914.

[253] Boccioni, Umberto. “Futurist Sculpture.” Translated by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, Laura Wittman. Futurism: An Anthology. (Yale University Press. New Haven, CT: 2009). Pg. 116. Originally published April 11th, 1912.

[254] “Urbanism with its dynamism, its beauty of speed, its intrinsic Americanism, trampled our integral soul.” Shershenevich, Vadim. “Preface to Automobile Gait.” Translated by Anna Lawton. Words in Revolution: Russian Futurist Manifestos, 1912-1928. Pg. 149. Originally published in 1916).

[255] “We must take the object which we wish to create and begin with its central core in order to uncover the new laws and new forms which link it invisibly but mathematically to external plastic infinity and to internal plastic infinity.” Ibid., pg. 114.

[256] Marinetti, F.T. “Geometric and Mechanical Splendor and the Numerical Sensibility.” Translated by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, Laura Wittman. Futurism: An Anthology. (Yale University Press. New Haven, CT: 2009). Pg. 175. Originally published March 18th, 1914.

[257] Severini, Gino. “Plastic Analogies of Dynamism: Futurist Manifesto.” Translated by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, Laura Wittman. Futurism: An Anthology. (Yale University Press. New Haven, CT: 2009). Pg. 165. Originally published in October 1913.

Boccioni reiterated this point: “With dynamism, then, art rises toward a higher ideal level; it creates a style and expresses our age of speed and simultaneity.” Boccioni, Umberto. “Absolute Motion + Relative Motion = Dynamism.” Translated by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, Laura Wittman. Futurism: An Anthology. (Yale University Press. New Haven, CT: 2009). Pg. 192.

[258] Even Malevich was enchanted by these frenetic phenomena: “The new life of iron and the machine, the glitter of electric lights, the whirring of propellers, have awoken the soul.” Malevich, From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism. Pg. 29.

[259] “And I must repeat, all together, and without any distinction between Constructivism and the art of protest. Cubism, Futurism, Dada, all the historical avant-garde movements arose and succeeded each other according to the typical law of industrial production, the essence of which is the continual technical revolution.” Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia. Pgs. 84-86.

[260] Grois, The Total Art of Stalinism. Pg. 19.

Compare with Malevich’s own statement: “At the present time man’s path lies through space, and Suprematism is a color semaphore in its infinite abyss.” Malevich, Kazimir. “Non-Objective Creation and Suprematism.” Translated by Xenia Glowaki-Prus and Arnold McMillin. Essays on Art, 1915-1933, Volume 1. Pg. 121.

[261] Gabo, Naum and Pevsner, Antoine. “The Realistic Manifesto.” Translated by Stephen Bann. The Tradition of Constructivism. (Da Capo Press. New York, NY: 1974). Pg. 4.

[262] Loos, “Ornament and Crime.”

[263] Bloch, Ernst. “Nonsynchronism and Our Obligation to Its Dialectics.” Translated by Mark Ritter. New German Critique, № 11 (Spring 1977). Pg. 22. Originally published in 1932.

[264] See the “concrete anachronisms” described on pgs. 42-43.

[265] See the “spasmodic transformations” described on pg. 28.

[266] Ginzburg, Style and Epoch. Pg. 76.

[267] “Museums: cemeteries! Identical, really, in the horrible promiscuity of so many bodies scarcely known to one another. Museums: public dormitories in which someone is put to sleep forever alongside others he hated or didn’t know! Museums: absurd slaughterhouses for painters and sculptors who go on thrashing each other with blows of line and color along the disputed walls!” Marinetti, “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism.” Pg. 52.

[268] Apollinaire, Guillaume. “Futurist Anti-Tradition.” Translated by Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, Laura Wittman. Futurism: An Anthology. (Yale University Press. New Haven, CT: 2009). Pg. 154. Originally published on June 29th, 1913.

[269] Khlebnikov, Velimir; Maiakovskii, Vladimir; Burliuk, David; Kruchenykh, Aleksei; Kamenskii, Vasilii; and Livshits, Benedikt. “Poshchechina obshestvennomu vkusu.” Originally published December 12th, 1912.

[270] Malevich, From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism. Pg. 27.

[272] With the avant-garde novelist Il’ia Ehrenburg, Lissitzky authored an important piece on the export of Russian modernism to the West. Lissitzky, El and Ehrenburg, Il’ia. “The Blockade of Russia is Coming to an End.” Translated by Stephen Bann. The Tradition of Constructivism. (Da Capo Press. New York, NY: 1974). Originally published in Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet, March-April 1922 (Vol. I, № 1/2).

He also issued the editorial statement of his journal Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet at the International Congress in 1922: “I come here as a representative of the magazine Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet, which stands for a new way of thinking and unites the leaders of the new art in nearly all countries.” Lissitzky, El. “Statement by the Editors of Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet.” Translated by Nicholas Bullock. The Tradition of Constructivism. (Da Capo Press. New York, NY: 1974). Pg. 63. Originally published in De Stijl, 1922 (Vol. V, № 4).

Lissitzky was also a signatory of Theo van Doesburg’s foundation of an International Constructivist group. Doesburg, Theo van; Lissitzky, El; Richter, Hans; Maes, Karel; and Burchartz, Max. “International Constructivist Creative Union.” Translated by Steven Lindberg. Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 2002). Originally published as “Manifest der K.I. (Konstructivistische Internationale schöpferische Arbeitsgemeinschaft),” De Stijl, 1922 (Vol. V, № 8).

[273] Westheim, Paul. “The Exhibition of the Russian Artists.” Translated by David Britt. Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 2002). Pg. 406. Originally published in Das Kunstblatt (November 1922).

[274] Adolf Behne. “On the Russian Exhibition.” Translated by Don Reneau. Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 2002). Originally published as “Der Staatsanwalt schüzt das Bild,” Die Weltbühne № 47 (November 23, 1922).

[275] “Lissitzky’s PROUN…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.” Kállai, Ernő. “Lissitzky.” Translated by Sophie Lissitzky-Kuppers. El Lissitzky: Life, Letters, Texts. (Thames & Hudson Press. London: 1980). Pg. 379. Originally published in Das Kunstblatt, Vol. 6, № 1, 1922.

[276]Lissitzky. The second Suprematist, Constructivist, spectral specialist, and explorer of ultra-violet rays. He is searching for a way to apply Suprematist painting to a true realization of visionary worlds, made real as concrete objects; he is looking for a way to apply this kind of painting to life, to things: a bridge, a monument, a submarine, an airplane, a train, and others.” Poljanski, Branko Ve. “Through the Russian Exhibition.” Translated by Maja Starčević. Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 2002). Pgs. 414-415. Originally published as “Kroz rusku izložbu u berlinu,” in Zenit, Vol. 3, № 22 (March 1923).

[277] Giedion, Sigfried. “Live Museum.” Translated by Sophie Lissitzky-Kuppers. El Lissitzky: Life, Letters, Texts. (Thames & Hudson Press. London: 1980). Pg. 382. Originally published in Der Cicerone, Vol. 21, № 4, 1929.

Moholy-Nagy also remarked upon this fact: “Lissitzky says that his pictures (PROUN) are a kind of transition between painting and architecture.” Moholy-Nagy, László. The New Vision: Fundamentals of Bauhaus Design, Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. Translated by Daphne M. Hoffman. (Dover Publications, Inc. Mineola, NY: 2005). Pg. 84. Originally published in 1928.

[278] Lissitzky, El. “PROUN Space: The Great Berlin Art Exhibition of 1923.” Translated by Eric Dluhosch. Russia: An Architecture for World Revolution. (MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 1984). Pg. 139. Originally published in G № 1, 1923.

[279] Ibid., pg. 140.

[280] “In their vital quest for the enlargement of F[orm] in A[rt], a number of modern artists…believe that they can build up multidimensional real spaces that may be entered without an umbrella, where space and time have been combined into a mutually interchangeable single whole.” Lissitzky, El. “A[rt] and Pangeometry.” Translated by Eric Dluhosch. Russia: An Architecture for World Revolution. (MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 1984). Pg. 145. My emphasis. Originally published in Europa Almanach, 1925.

Lissitzky’s colleague in the Constructivist publication ABC, the Dutch architect Mart Stam, wrote an article on space that was directly inspired by “A[rt] and Pangeometry”: “Space is — is everywhere, penetrating and surrounding everything…Time has no boundaries — time crosses all boundaries…Our task is: 1. to perceive our relationship to this specific space, to this specific time; 2. to give this relationship of ours, through our work, a form that everyone can assimilate.” Stam, Mart. “Space.” Translated by C. v. Amerongen. Mart Stam: A Documentation of His Work, 1920-1965. (Royal Institute of British Architects. London: 1970). Pg. 20. Originally published in ABC 1925, № 5.

[281] Lissitzky, El. “Arkhitektura stal’nogo i zhelezobetonnogo skeleta.” Stroitel’naia promyshlennost. (Vol. 3, № 1. Moscow, Soviet Union: 1926). Pg. 63.

[282] Moholy-Nagy, László and Kemény, Alfréd. “Dynamic-Constructive System of Forces.” Translated by Krisztina Passuth. Between Two Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-Gardes, 1910-1930. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 2002). Originally published in Der Sturm № 12 (1922).

[283] Moholy-Nagy, The New Vision. Pg. 138.

[284] Ibid., pg. 181.

[285] Ibid., pg. 184.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 11, 2011 at 9:11 am

Marek Tobolewski, ‘Sym’, Tarpey Gallery

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What kind of pleasure is it that I am experiencing when viewing the Marek Tobolewski show ‘Sym’, at Tarpey Gallery, Castle Donington? ( I said a little about this exhibition in a previous post.)

Marek Tobolewski  ~ Sym ~  Tarpey Gallery ©The Artist, Image by courtesy of the artist.

In The Art of Seeing, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Rick E. Robinson show that the aesthetic encounter is an example of the flow state (deep involvement in, and effortless progression of an activity for its own sake). It’s a naturally occurring trance. But what kind of trance is it? When I gazed up into the sky, in The Deer Shelter yesterday, was I in the same kind of trance as when looking at Tobolewski’s work? I would argue that the two responses are similar, yet with interesting differences. The Deer Shelter trance was somehow more outward, more expansive, than the ‘Sym’ trance that seems more focused, more inward. The pleasure, for me, comes from tracing the line with my eye/mind, leading to a state that is more like study than reverie.  I find that I am talking to myself as I follow the walk that the continuous line makes in repeating, though never precisely, a similar walk taken in a previous painting. One of the questions I ask myself is which of the paintings came first, for example in the dyptich 1LC DipSymM+R 2011, Cobalt White on Lamp Black & Lamp Black on Cobalt White, (shown on the right in the installation shot above), did one of the pair precede the other and if so, which one? Or were they painted together? Is one a copy of the other, or are they copies without an original: ‘sym’-ulacra? And now that I am comparing the two pictures, I notice that the trance has changed. Now I am seeing the whole, the synthesis that is the dyptich, and then the whole that is the series on view here.  The poppy red painting on linen, on the left in the installation shot, seems to have its origin in the dyptich, and  there may be others too that are not here, so my perception of the whole turns out only to be partial after all.

Borrowing another distinction from the field of linguistics (I also used one in a my previous post about this exhibition), I could say that the completed paintings are nominalisations: verbs in noun form, and that in viewing them my trance is one of denominalsing and renominalising. The line taken for a walk, by the artist in the act of painting, is all verb. In the completed walk the verb has become noun. A symmetrical process takes place in viewing the work. I see the paintings in their nominalised form and start to trace the continuous line, with the various levels of underpainting and crossing. The work has become all verb again, until later I stand back to see the ‘whole’ with a new understanding. This itself is a further development of the trance state.

I want to say something about trance phenomena like time distortion that connect directly to these paintings. And I will … another time.

The Marek Tobolewski exhibition Sym, at Tarpey Gallery, Castle Donington, continues until 24 September 2011.

James Turrell at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

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I love Deer Shelter Skyspace, 2006 by James Turrell, at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It is a large square chamber with an aperture cut into the roof, through which you get a “heightened vision of the sky, seemingly transformed into a trompe l’oeil painting”.

I interpret it as a hallowed space, I feel the necessity to speak in hushed tones when I am in there, and I notice that others seem to do so too. However, today, asking others about their experience I realise that this is not universally so. I was going to suggest that the sacred space is always an aesthetic (immanent) rather than a spiritual (transcendent) experience.

When I visited today, my brother pointed out that rain had caused the Skyspace to be ‘mirrored’ on the ground. My gaze was so directed towards the sky that I had not seen it before.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 1, 2011 at 7:52 am

Make grey while the sun shines

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At  hyperalergenic, there’s a brief discussion about how grey can achieve optical effects that other colours cannot. And check out the commentary and pictures of work by Julie Shapiro and Stephanie McMahon. In the two paintings shown there, each quite different to the other, they both make use of grey to enliven the other colours.

Thinking of the use of grey in painting, I was reminded of a visit I made to The Hepworth, Wakefield where I saw that wonderful Winifred Nicholson painting.

Winifred Nicholson, Quarante Huit Quai d'Auteuil, 1935 Oil on board©Tate, London, 2011,©The Trustees of Winifred Nicholson, Courtesy of Hepworth Wakefield

Grey used here, elicits a muted sensation in the viewer. (I continue to be amazed that a painting can alter ones  ’emotional’ state so easily). The grey seems to mediate the contrast of the blue square and the yellow figure-eight shape at the top left, that I tend to read as a sun. In a way it is a very powerful painting. Slowing me down and provoking stillness takes a certain kind of power. And in another sense, it’s the opposite of powerful: unassuming, careful, tentative even.

Then I remembered a grey painting I saw by Mali Morris, entitled Marvell’s Mower,

Mali Morris, Marvell's Mower 1999, Acrylic on Canvas, 46 x 61 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist.

quite different in its character than Nicholson’s Quarante Huit Quai d’Auteuil, though it shares the main circle motif on a grey ground,grey on grey, and something of the blue/yellow contrast. (It’s likely that this ‘grey’ is in fact black and yellow). It is darker, and bolder, and the central circle shape looks as though it is moving, at speed, and then not. There’s more enjoyment of the paint, and the process of painting, in the Morris. It is almost as if Marvell’s Mower has action frozen in reflection, whereas Quarante Huit Quai d’Auteuil is entirely reflective

In both paintings grey is definitely a colour, not the kind of grey you get on a cloudy day, but the luminescent grey that you might see only when the sun is shining.

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 31, 2011 at 7:46 am