The Utopian Imagination Analysis Art Essay

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The utopian imagination, a means to envision new possibilities for human life, concerned with the imagination of a better world, and a perfected society set against the imperfect of the present, was a particularly strong notion in the early twentieth century, when an opportunity arose to transform the entire nation. This opportunity occurred as a part of the Russian revolution, when the development of world architecture had arrived at a point when it was necessary to find a route and branch break with many artistic principles, and traditional aesthetic ideas. This break was critical as we noticed a collision between the compositional forms associated with tradition and the future requirement for the rapid growth in industrial activity. As the nation was focused on creating a bettered society we saw many artists and architects come to light, striving to find the new direction for art, which would then become the way of life. Many architectural movements were formed on this basis of creating a utopian society, with leading architects of the period such as Alexander Rodchenko and El Lissitzky displaying utopian ideologies in many of their works. One of the most prominent movements that occurred from this period was the constructivist movement that originated in Russia in 1919. It rejected the idea of autonomous art, and was in favour of art as a practice directed towards social purpose. Alexander Rodchenko was a leading constructivist who played a key role in the reorganisation of everyday life. His objective was to create and disseminate objects that would help bring out a new way of life. He maintained a materialistic faith that new forms could be created through the analysis and combination of visual elements, such as colours lines and plans and he gave meaning to objects, believing that they should be a representation of the relations between humans. Another movement significant during this revolution was suprematism movement which was concerned with the fundamentals of geometric forms, and became a stylistic and artistic system for transforming the world in its entirety. The movement was lead by Kazmir Malevich, but it was one of his students El Lissitzky who came up with the beginnings to a solution when he started to explore the relationship between volume and surface.

Constructivism was a movement that originated in Russia immediately after world war one and was primarily an art and architectural movement. It rejected the idea of art for art's sake and turned its attention to the new demands of industrial tasks required for the new regime. The movement was a total commitment and acceptance of modernity, resulting in the need for a new order of art. The work of this period was totally abstract, with an emphasis of geometric shapes and continuous experimentation. New mediums were being explored, with an aim to simplify everything to its most fundamental level. The fact this movement occurred directly after world war one was no coincidence, but in fact the reason for the initiation of this movement. It was focused on sweeping away all that had gone before, and caused the outbreak of the war in the first place. The new art for the new social order was directed at creating a greater understanding, peace and unity, which would then hopefully have an impact on the social and economic problem of the day. The movement was devoted to the idea of 'giving a new thing to new life', and some of the constructivist's artists who dedicated their time to this movement were Naum Gabo, Vladimir Tatlin, El Lissitzky, Alexander Rodchenko, Antoine Pevsner, Alexander Vesnin, Liubov Popova and Kasimir Malevich.

Aleksandr Rodchenko


Rodchenko, was a large part of this movement, and contributed a number of works which imbued the ideals of the constructivist. Rodchenko debuted his work in the Moscow exhibition the Store, organised by Vladimir Tatlin, where his series of compass and ruler drawings "presented the measured matrixes of straight and curved lines" (Tupitsyn, 2009) . This series was ground breaking in its radicalisation of the techniques and materials used by artists. One work which exemplified these techniques was Board No.47 which he believed was in "direct relation to artist's constructivist's genealogy." He believed that the materials that he used in this work gave it a "strong sense of physicality and 'thingness' and prepared the ground for 'painting moving into real space'" (Tupitsyn, 2009). These works of his were related to the work of Tatlin's three-dimensional experimentation, although Rodchenko believed that he had made a progression on Tatlin, claiming that "Tatlin had not yet resolved to take this step and was making counter reliefs, which were still glued to the wall". Board No.47's structure initiated with a pile of rectangles arranged upwards along a vertical axis. The result of this prototype of painting was an "overloaded space, with multi-coloured shaped pushing the boarders of the canvas in all four directions towards the viewer." This painting demonstrates the third -dimension that constructivists such as Rodchenko were attempting to bring to painting, aimed to engage the public and resulted in a new dimension being brought to the life of painting.

El Lissitzky


Suprematism was another of the architectural movements that initiated in Russia at the end of the First World War. It was developed by the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, whose style was a highly geometric form of abstract painting and was referred to as an art which was based upon a "pure artistic feeling" rather than on the depiction of objects. In 1919 El Lissitzky was asked to teach graphics and architecture at the Vitebsk art school, which was where he was introduced to suprematism under the influence of Malevich. While Lissitzky was teaching at this school he developed his form of suprematism which similarly to constructivism was focused on developing a new style of art, though Lissitzky was focused on creating an "interchange station between art and architecture." He used his painting which he titled prouns (which stood for "projects for the establishment - affirmation - of a new art"), to create this interchange while also promoting his ideas of suprematism. As well as these Proun paintings Lissitzky was also famous for many festival decorations and posters which were highly revolutionary and abstract. Lissitzky used his poster designs to advertise the principles of suprematism which we can see clearly through one of his best known abstract propaganda posters 'Beat the White's with Red Wedge', which symbolises the Bolsheviks defeating their opponents, the white movement during the Russian Civil War.

El Lissitzky


El Lissitzky who was trained as an engineer and architect believed that Communism and social engineering would create a new order and the new technology would provide for society's needs. His aim was to bring unity because technology and art, and he believed that by creating new objects for mankind he could achieve this. Because there was a focus on discovering a new order party leaders, architects and engineers wanted to learn firsthand about the new technological achievements, which lead many of them on travels around Western Europe to experience directly these technologies that were being developed. El Lissitzky was one of the leaders who were chosen to travel Western Europe being sent to Berlin to learn about the advancement that were being made there. He was eager to study these new inventions, and wanted to spread these new innovations to "every conscientious master of our time" (Lissitzky). In 1923 he organised an exhibition in Berlin to display these new techniques that he had acquired during his time in Germany. In this exhibition he translated his geometric Proun compositions into a room-size environment, which is known as the 'Proun Room'. In this environment his intent was the engage visitors and allow them to feel as though they were 'floating in space.

"The image is not a painting, but a structure around which we must circle, looking at it from all sides, peering down from above, investigating from below."(El Lissitzky)

It was through these exhibitions that the Soviet government was convincing the world of political stability, while also creating an impression of a country that was making progressions. Other architects whom works were displayed in these exhibitions were Walter Gropius, Ledwig Mies van der Rohe, Erich Mendelsohn, Max and Bruno Taut, Ludwig Hilberseimn and Hugo Haring. With these exhibitions containing the work of such renowned and modern architects further convinced the nation of a changing society and captured the new social order that was evolving.

During this period in Russia we saw both of these architectural groups working towards a utopian society, though differing due to each movement concerning itself with different principles. The constructivists were focused on creating objects which contained functionality, eliminating art which existed with no purpose. This was known as Reist Utopia, with Rodchenko expressing objects as

"Objects that receive a meaning, they become friends and comrades of humans and humans begin to learn and laugh, to rejoice and converse with objects" (Rodchenko)

He proposed "Kiosks with advance communications media," and "furniture that could be changed to satisfy multiple purposes", demonstrating the constructivists desire to create objects with functionality, and aimed at people who were concerned with the material world. By contrast the suprematism movement was more concerned with the capability of the object to embody ideals known as the phenomenological utopia. This defined by Malevich offered a means to transcend objects, to identify them as a marker of human thought. More concerned with the symbolic meaning that the object stood for.

In the early twentieth century Russia had a vision for the future that was focused on creating a bettered and perfected society. This utopian mind set initiated the search for new and more advance ways of life, which would in turn transform Russia into a Utopian nation. As the political order were determined to achieve this utopian society, they made promises about continuous development and advancements in science, technology and industry, which would allow for artists to be able to finally produce works were they were not limited by the current state of technology. Architects were encouraged to design buildings requiring new technologies that were not yet available but would soon be developed. During this period architects created the most imaginative and far reaching experimental projects in the history of modern movements. They were experimenting with new techniques and materials, which would reflect the new society, and create an art that rejected the idea of art for art's sake, and become art which embodied social purposes. The problem with this was that as their projects were so technologically advanced, and being designed much faster that the technology itself, when the projects were complete the equipment that was required to construct these projects was not yet available, leaving many of the works that were proposed by these artists' utopian projects.