One of the ironies of Soviet time in Russia was the creativity in the art community. As long as the message supported the party view creativity could be expressed.
St. Petersburg was a flourishing center for the Avant garde before the 1918 revolution. many artists stayed on and even found support from the government when their message fit their goals, or be adjusted to do so.
The first great movement in Soviet Russian art was Constructivism, an artistic and architectural movement that originated in Russia from 1919 onward which rejected the idea of “art for art’s sake” in favor of art as a practice directed towards social purposes. Constructivism as an active force lasted until around 1934, having a great deal of effect on developments in the art in Germany and elsewhere, before being replaced by Socialist Realism. Its motifs have recurred in art movements since.
Artists Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, Liubov Popova, Alexander Vesnin, Varvara Stepanova became the early leaders of the movement.
Enter Vladimir Tatlin and his proposal for the Monument to the Third International in 1919 which combined a machine aesthetic with dynamic components celebrating technology such as searchlights and projection screens. The Tatlin Tower, a grandiose monument, never to be built.
The Tatlin Tower – A video representation
Tatlin’s work was immediately hailed by artists in Germany as a revolution in art: a 1920 photo shows George Grosz and John Heartfield holding a placard saying ‘Art is Dead – Long Live Tatlin’s Machine Art’, while the designs for the tower were published in Bruno Taut’s magazine Fruhlicht.
Tatlin’s tower started a period of exchange of ideas between Moscow and Berlin, something reinforced by El Lissitzky and Ilya Ehrenburg’s Soviet-German magazine Veshch-Gegenstand-Objet which spread the idea of ‘Construction art’, as did the Constructivist exhibits at the 1922 Russische Ausstellung in Berlin, organised by Lissitzky.
A ‘Constructivist international’ was formed, which met with Dadaists and De Stijl artists in Germany in 1922. Participants in this short-lived international included Lissitzky, Hans Richter, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.
However the idea of “art for teh sake of Art” was wrong to the Russian Constructivists: which wanted direct participation in industry and an end to easel painting.
Tatlin was one of the first to answer this and attempt to transfer his talents to industrial production, with his designs for an economical stove, for workers’ overalls and for furniture. The Utopian element in Constructivism was maintained by his ‘letatlin’, a flying machine which he worked on until the 1930s.
Constructionist art is both idealistic and impractical. A period of intense creativity and clash of ideals and aesthetics. Thought Tatlin’s Tower was never built, it spawned countless debates and inspired and offended.
This film inpsired from a Vladimir Mayakovsky Film is one interesting results of these times.
In 2005, Theodore Ushev made a short ani8mate film that revisits the themses of the Constructionists set to the musical composition “Time, Forward!” by Russian composer Georgy Sviridov.
Drawing on the tower’s design, the film seems to build toward a utopian goal, until the grandiose, futuristic forms abruptly tumble. In Tower Bawher, Ushev celebrates constructivist art while also critiquing the use of art in the service of ideology.
The film makes fresh the creative ideas of the Constructionists, both their allure and foolishness.
More Films by Theodore ushev: