Christina Kiaer has described the main aim of the constructivist movement as ‘to mass produce transparent utilitarian things for use in everyday life’. How adequate is this description?
Constructivism is primarily an art movement that was based in Russia in the early 20th century. It had a considerable link to the Russian Communist Revolution. They merged the arts with modern technological rationalism for political and ideological uses, being essentially a form of Soviet propaganda. The theory of constructivism was a departure from Russian Futurism that sought to break and destroy traditions, but is also derived from Russian Suprematism, Dutch De Stijl and the German Bauhaus.
The artists did not believe in abstract ideas, rather they tried to link art with concrete and real ideas. Early modern movements around WWI were idealistic, seeking a new order in art and architecture that dealt with social and economic problems. They wanted to renew the idea that art does not revolve around "fine art", but rather emphasized on "practical art" while combining man and mechanization1.
Constructivism was an invention of the Russian avant-garde that found ‘followers’ across the continent. They depicted art that was mostly three dimensional, and they also often portrayed art that could be connected to their Proletarian beliefs. The group of artists and designers involved in constructivism (including Rodchenko, Vesnin, Popova...) had political as well as artistic ambitions.
Christina Kiaer has described the main aim of the constructivist movement as “to mass produce transparent utilitarian things for use in everyday life”. We can ask ourselves: how adequate is this description?
We will examine the constructivist’s involvement on Bolshevik public relations campaigns and propaganda and even be seen as a tool for social reform, underlining their role in the revolution; whereas secondly discussing the group's main aims like to help stimulate industry and mass-production, and make art more accessible to the average working man.
Firstly, constructivism first started out as an art in the service of the revolution. At the start of the Soviet Reign, during the civil war of 1918-1921, the constructivists who, at the time were known as the futurists, were set in charge of decorating and re-thinking the open spaces in major cities2. On the occasion of the first anniversary of the revolution in 1918, architect Nikolai Kolli exhibited his “Red Wedge”3, a totally abstract monument which represented a red wedge breaking through a white block, symbolising the conflict and more importantly, the domination of the Red Army. Some more rural parts of Russia were also importantly linked with the constructivist movement. Perhaps the most famous is the small provincial town of Vitebsk, where the Unovis group (led by Kazimir Malevich) displayed many propaganda plaques and buildings4. The pure geometrical and simplistic forms used in poster such as “Lengiz”5. Books on all the branches of knowledge” created by Russian artist, sculptor, photographer and graphic designer Alexander Rodchenko (1924) represented the main characteristics of constructivism.
Working on public festivals and street designs allowed the constructivists to work in parallel with the political, social and economical changes installed by the new Soviet government. Vladimir Tatlin, who is considered the father of constructivism, was very involved in helping to spread the doctrine of the successful, conquering Bolsheviks6. After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, he was appointed to work on a new building that would change the landscape of Petrograd. The “Monument to the Third International” or simply “Tatlin’s Tower”, was a monumental building, to be built from the main industrial materials: iron, glass, and steel. It was envisioned to be an impressive and supreme symbol of modernity in materials, shape and function: The investigation of material, volume, and...
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