DADA 99th anniversary celebration/Constructivism Session

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Fabian Tompsett at DADA 99 Alytus (Click on CC symbol for English or Lithuanian Subtitles - they start about 50 seconds in)

Introduction[edit | edit source]

To introduce myself, I would say that I am someone who “does art”, but that I am very suspicious of the social identity of “the artist”. I would like to live in a society where everyone is doing art in their daily lives and it is not the preserve of a particular group of people. In relationship to Dada this view can be found in a group of people who started off in Cologne and came to be known as the Figurative Constructivists by the late 1920s.[1] They comprise of such people as Franz Seiwert, Heinrich Hoerle, Gerd Arntz, Augustin Tschinkel and Peter Alma ().

The group emerged from the beginning of Dada and they had a relationship with Max Ernst when he was in Cologne.[2] The met up with Lissitzky at the International Congress of Progressive Artists in Düsseldorf in 1922, and they took on board aspects of the Constructivist approach. Seiwert in particular was active in the debate held in the pages of Die Aktion following the Russian Revolution, where they discussed art, science, pedagogy and what was happening with Proletkult in terms of the transformation of culture with the advent of socialism.

One of the key people in this debate was Alexander Bogdanov, who through his tektology theorised about how culture functions. So although there are distinct spheres of activity: drama, theatre, painting etc. through to science, they do not have to remain separate. There may still be focused activity, for example a practising artist might focus on the materiality of paint and how it is applied. However the way this knowledge could relate to other activities needs to be facilitated. There needs to be scope for cross-over, rather than the information being constrained within knowledge silos.(Bogdanov (1918) Unfortunately this is exactly what has happened with the academic world. Bogdanov regarded this as feature of bourgeois society. This has been an issue for 100 years and still presents a problem.

A key aspect of the Figurative Constructivists was their involvement with “pictorial statistics”, the presentation of statistical information in a visual way, what is generally known nowadays as infographics. A great deal of this can be seen on the internet, but its origin can be traced back the Dadaists and the constructivists. It is a way of representing information which does not rely on language. This is linked to the Isotypes, linked to Otto and Marie Neurath. Otto Neurath was a social scientist active in the Vienna Circle, and he saw this as being tied in with the Unity of Science Movement he was advocating.

He recruited Arntz Tschinkel and Alma to come and work for the Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum (Socio-Economic Museum) in Vienna.

Apparatus[edit | edit source]

Back in the 1930s Neurath was much involved with Niels Bohr, particularly as regards the positivist aspects of Bohr's physical-philosophical theory on which complementarity was based. This has been taken up by Karen Barad (2007), where she applies concepts drawn from Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto (1980), particularly that of the apparatus. The scientific experiment emerges from both the social relations and the physical objects which are necessary for it to be carried out. The apparatus can refer to both the actual objects as well as the social relations in which they are embedded.

However to illustrate the dissolution of boundaries between science and art, all we have to do is to turn to Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929), where the simple access to the private space afforded by a room of one's own is identified as an important aspect of what women need to realise themselves, whether as an artist or indeed a scientist. The fact that women were prevented from having access to such private spaces show how they were prevented from developing their own approach to cultural product where they could formulate their own conceptions. They were obliged to caring for others, whether men or children. So we have here a parallel discussion going on in Science Studies and Art Studies.

New Cubism[edit | edit source]

Meeple: Figurative Constructivism on the game board

Franz Seiwert felt that Bogdanov did not go far enough in breaking down the division between art and science and even the different disciplines within each. He regarded form and content as acting as a unity, and so developed an art practice which was not distinct from science. This then became an important element in the methodology of Figurative Constructivism. This same aesthetic can be seen with the advent of Eurogames, in the last twenty to thirty years. The boards and playing pieces resemble constructivist art: the use of cues is very frequent, and the representation of the human form through meeple (my+people) is an example of this. Another example can be seen in Guy Debord's Game of War, which works as a pedagogical tool teaching strategy in relation to struggle. This gaming aesthetic enables games to be created where by the rules, the playing mechanics is conveyed by images rather than words, and this can be seen as a re-emergence of one of the pedagogical elements of constructivism. This can be called the New Cubism

Constructivist Exercise[edit | edit source]

  1. A table is covered with a paper table clothe on which participants can draw what ever they like.
  2. Games pieces are provided (cubes, meeple etc.) which can then be placed on the table clothe.
  3. As these pieces can be stacked a third dimension is created. They can also be moved, allowing for a fourth dimension.
  4. The group can then use the experience and indeed the collectively created art work to prompt a discussion of whatever issue it is that they wish to collectively explore, in a fashion akin to art therapy, albeit as a group exercise.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Benus B. (2013) 'Figurative Constructivism and sociological graphics' in Isotype: Design and Contexts 1925-71 London: Hyphen Press, pp.216-248
  2. Roth, Lynette (2008). Painting as a weapon: Progressive Cologne 1920-1933: Siewert, Hoerle, Arntz (translation, Uta Hoffman ed.). Köln: Walther König. ISBN 9783865603982.