Art, Emotion and Activism in the Post-Socialist Cityscape in Eastern Europe

Architecture, Cold War, Modernism, Uncategorized

In 2014 developers in Kraków in southern Poland proposed the construction of ‘Nowa Cracovia’, an office and retail development on the site occupied by the ‘old’ Cracovia, a hotel owned by the state tourist company which opened its doors in the late 1960s (designed in 1959 by Witold Cęckiewicz for Miastoprojekt, Kraków, with structural engineers Jerzy Tombiński and Andrzej Kozłowski. A long, low modernist slab, the Cracovia claims its place in architectural history as the first building in the People’s Republic of Poland (PRL) to employ a glass curtain wall. With chequerboard glass panels on the exterior and the glittering, abstract murals inside, this hotel and cinema complex were a bold declaration of the revival of modernism after the austere Stalin years. Crowley BETON 1The hotel closed in 2011, its small and poorly serviced rooms unable to meet the demands of contemporary tourism and, apparently, riddled with toxic materials like asbestos. The Cracovia stands empty today, with no other function than to act as a framework for mammoth mesh advertising. It occupies what developers like to call a ‘prestigious site’ close to the city centre. This quarter has been protected from urban development, chiefly because it is the setting of national landmarks – not least the Błonia, a park where the Polish aristocracy once elected its kings, and kopiec Kościuszki (Kościuszko Mound), a monument erected to the Polish national hero in the late nineteenth century. The hotel faces the National Museum, a massive block which looks so uninviting that visitors often imagine that it was designed in the Stalin years, despite its pre-war origins.

Nowa_Cracovia.1The ‘Nowa Cracovia’ scheme went through the offices of various architects, until it ended up on the drawing boards of DDJM, a practice led by architect Marek Dunikowski , that specializes in efficient and well detailed, if fairly anonymous office design. To pay respect to the historical setting, Dunikowski proposed fronting the Nowa Cracovia with what he called a ‘Pergola’, a double-height arcade dedicated to the history of the site in the national memory. Part picture-frame, part platform, the ‘Pergola’ would orientate the visitor to history. In the patriotic climate of Poland today, this is a familiar gesture: so much that is new in architecture declares a connection to the Second Republic of the inter-war years, before the communist take over. Sometimes this means restoring ‘lost’ building lines (a claim made for the Metropolitan office in Warsaw (2003) designed by Norman Foster Associates); at others, architects claim inspiration in the order of classicising modernism which thrived in the country before 1939. In fact, Dunikowski’s ‘Pergola’ seems to refer to the designs of Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz, the city’s leading architect in the 1930s.

What is more surprising is the way in which Dunikowski’s 2014 scheme also makes reference to the Cracovia hotel, even before the proposed demolition of this PRL landmark had occurred. A climate-controlled and artificially-lit shopping mall, the retail spaces in Dunikowski’s scheme were to be contained in a opaque box floating over an open ground floor lobby. The stone cladding the upper floors was to be engraved with the pattern of the distinctive rhythm of mullions, panes and aluminum panels of the curtain wall of the original Cracovia. This would have been most evident at night when external lighting would have picked out spectral traces of the old hotel

If the ‘need’ to invoke the pre-communist heritage reflects a desire to strike a line through the recent past, why invoke the architecture of the socialist era? After all, the prevailing sentiment in so much discussion in Poland until fairly recently has been that the Soviet system threw up almost no architecture of merit. Even when it is conceded that architects operating in the massive state planning offices did produce original and inventive schemes, critics continue to stress the shoddy construction and energy inefficiency of regime architecture. This argument is loudest when a case is being made for demolition. When the Supersam supermarket in Warsaw was flattened in 2006 to make way for a new high-rise office development, the recent collapse of a structure at the International Trade Fair in Katowice which killed more than sixty people was invoked in the arguments for ‘modernisation.’ [1] Crowley BETON 2The fact that Supersam (designed by Jerzy Hryniewiecki, Maciej Krasiński and Ewa Krasińska with structural engineer Wacław Zalewski, 1962) was a landmark in the history of architectural engineering – not least for the funicular roof system of tensile cables and compressive arches that formed its roof designed by Wacław Zalewski, later an MIT professor – and that it was still viable in structural terms counted for naught.

With socialist era the subject of so much opprobrium, how can we explain the ghostly lines of the old Cracovia on the new building? Is this some kind of flimsy attempt at branding – the post-modern badging of place? Or perhaps we should see this as a kind of haunting of the architecture of capitalism by the revenants of the socialist past? Or maybe they are better understood as ‘spolia’, signs of the victory of one system over another. Whilst plans for the site have, as I will show later, moved on, this kind of architectural haunting is by no means a one-off. In fact, it belongs to a pattern in Polish architecture over the last decade. In centre of Katowice for instance, the new Galeria Katowicka, a mammoth shopping centre housing 250 retail units and parking for 1200 cars contains remnants of the building which once occupied the site, Katowice Railway Station (designed by Wacław Klyszewski, Jerzy Mokrzyński and Eugeniusz Wierzbicki with structural engineer Wacław Zalewski, 1959-1972). One of the most ambitious brutalist buildings of the PRL era, the station took the form of a raised platform in the centre of the city. A hub for transport in the region, cars and buses would deliver passengers to its lower levels, while foot-passengers could enter the station across an elevated walkway. The raised pavilion housing the ticket offices and cafés was covered by a roof supported by tapering columns in thick concrete columns. crowley-beton-3.jpgA number of these kielichy (goblets) – as they are popularly known – survive today, reinforced and subsumed into the new shopping centre, a fashionable parametric structure designed by Sud Architects for the developer in 2010. Boutiques now occupy the spaces between the concrete kielichy, structural elements that the developer Neinver called on its website, ‘a distinctive motif in post-War Polish architecture ’. It is – a presumably unintended – irony that Brutalism, so often accused of being indifferent to context, has been adopted as the means for making familiar. Similarly, the Nove Praha, a modern multiplex in an aestern district of Warsaw, stands on the site of its forbear, Kino Praha designed by Jan Bogusławski in 1948. The ground floor windows of new structure display casts of the socialist realist scenes of labour which once decorated the curved sweep of the stone and glass facade of Bogusławski’s cinema. Announcing the power of the workers on eve of the formation of the People’s Republic, these signs now act as advertising for leisure.Crowley BETON 4

The fate of Supersam, Katowice Railway Station and more recently, the Cracovia Hotel have been the matters of public controversy. In fact all three have been subjects of highly visible crusades in Poland to ‘save’ the structures. Similar campaigns have been mounted, as I shall show, in the Czech Republic too. Events tend to follow the same pattern: a developer sets out to demolish a communist era building, usually with the support of the city authorities, to free the land for new development. This, in turn, triggers the formation of a broad alliance of interests which mount lively on-site protests and an on-line social media campaign. And, in the case of the Katowice Railway Station, a petition signed by architects and historians around the world. Often those wishing to save the building are a mixed bunch combining heritage groups, community organisations concerned about the effect on local businesses or the environment, and, sometimes, anti-capitalist groups too. Campaigners attempt to get these buildings listed as sites of historical importance to ensure that they are given special protection. Listing, however, has not always meant a guarantee of survival with developers pressing higher authorities to get decisions overturned. These debates often spill out into the mainstream media, triggering discussion about urban development, public space and the power of government in the face of powerful commercial interests; the effects of globalisation on the cityscape. In fact, many of the most active defenders of late modernist buildings are as interested in investment patterns, and the ‘cosy’ relations of architects and developers with politicians, as they are with matters of modernist style and design. And they often use social media to put a spotlight on these relationships which have been formed behind closed doors.

In early 2014 for instance, the Hotel Praha in the Dejvice district of Prague was demolished after a loud and vigorous campaign to save the building from the bulldozer. Crowley BETON 5Commissioned in 1971, and opened a decade later, this hotel was a powerful sign of the privilege that the communist elite reserved for itself. With bespoke interiors and fittings, some created by celebrated Czech decorative artists, like glass artist Stanislav Libensky, supporters of the hotel claimed that the artistic merit of this late communist Gesamtkunstwerk outbalanced its dubious past. The story of the hotel’s privatization in the 1990s is indicative of the operations of capital in the Czech Republic after communist rule. Becoming property of Prague City Council in 1992, the hotel’s swimming pool and grounds were welcome additions to the public spaces of the city. However, in 2002, the hotel was sold to Falcon Capital, an investment company established by Georgian and Armenian businessmen in 1996, with murky connections to Russia that have perplexed journalists and commentators.[2] Then, in spring 2013, a Cyprus-based investment company Maraflex bought the hotel, before quickly selling it on to Petr Kellner, the richest individual in the Czech Republic. He then announced plans to demolish the hotel to build a private housing and a school. At the same time, appeals to list this late Socialist building were turned down, on the basis that the building – completed in 1981 – was too recent to warrant protection.[3]

Whilst the cycle of investment and divestment of former state property is not unusual in Eastern Central Europe, the response to Kellner’s acquisition is. In June 2013 protests were mounted outside the hotel and Kellner’s home and a banner with the words ‘Vekslak Bourá Prahu’ (Racketeer Destroys Prague) was draped over the entrance by anti-capitalist activists. Similar banners appeared outside the headquarters of Kellner’s office in July too. Derived from the German word ‘wechsel’ (english: ‘exchange’ or ‘switch’), ‘vekslak’ (racketeer) is often used to label those who have benefited from the precipitous privatization programmes after 1989, often – though not exclusively – members of the former elite. The term points not to the productivity of capitalism but its interest in accumulation and asset-stripping. These – ultimately unsuccessful – campaigns had the paradoxical effect of turning anti-capitalist protesters into the defenders of a luxury hotel. One activist, Dominik Forman, wrote:

Events which promote the preservation of Hotel Praha are important – not only because they are attempts to save a unique building, but mainly because the anger of the people is finally pointed in the right direction. The target of this anger is the richest oligarch, a financial speculator, who wants to demolish the hotel. He represents exactly the class of people responsible for the financial crisis … which falls on the shoulders of the poorest and weakest.[4]

The activists outside Kellner’s offices were met by counter-protests in his defence: figures wearing masks of Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro and Gustáv Husák carried banners with slogans parodying party-speak: ‘Soudruzi, toť naše snaha, ubráníme hotel Praha! (‘Comrades, with our efforts, we’ll defend the Hotel Praha!’) announced one. Crowley BETON 6And mirroring the use of social media by defenders of socmodernist architecture, a Facebook ‘community page’ was set up under the name ‘Zbourejte komunistický hotel Praha’ (Tear down the Communist Praha Hotel). It introduced itself with these words:

 

This (Facebook) page supports the demolition of inefficient, megalomaniac communist buildings such as the Hotel Prague in Dejvice. This building, nicknamed Hotel Bolshevik, ranks among the examples of socialist architecture fashioned from iron and concrete, and, in its megalomania, is so inefficient that it is currently unable to operate. This page was created in response to the actions of communists who want to create an outdoor museum of communism in the country.[5]

While the origins of this organization is not clear, its purpose was. It set out to seal the relationship of the building to a detested regime: to render the building as the past was to deprive it of any kind of future.

Demolition does not necessarily mean oblivion. Some buildings which disappeared in Central Eastern Europe more than a decade ago continue to be vividly remembered today. In Poland, ‘Supersam’ has enjoyed an impressive afterlife in the form of artworks, articles in the press and online discussions, and even ‘retro-style’ ceramic models. The shop continues to trade in an out-of-town industrial shed bearing the logo of the communist era business. Relics from the building – like its neon signage – are on display in museums. Presented as a salutary warning for the future, ‘Supersam’ is invoked in the press every time, it seems, a communist era building is slated for demolition. Much of this might be put down as a kind of late ‘ostalgie’, particularly when the building is rematerialized in the form of a knowingly kitsch ceramic ‘souvenir’. But as one writer put it in a 2016 article in Gazeta Wyborcza, ”The wrecking of Supersam caused such a stir in Warsaw that we started to look more closely at socmodernism, seeking its protection.”[6] It is clear that the brutalist and late modernist structures have become the focus of genuine feeling, often on the part of those who were too young to have had a direct or personal connection to those spaces. Emotion is a diffuse, instinctive and often highly individuated response to circumstance: nevertheless, it is capable of having material effects in the world. After all, anti-communist feeling is precisely what the enemies of the Hotel Praha sought to tap.

Artists have done more to channel emotion, more than perhaps any champions of late socialist modernism. For instance, artists Cecylia Malik, Mateusz Okoński and Marta Sala organized a rolling demonstration through the streets of Kraków to the door of the Cracovia hotel in March 2014. Crowley BETON 7Around 300 people dressed in gold masks and clothes – some carrying banners or playing instruments, others transporting a golden calf in a shopping trolley – took part in a rally that the artists called ‘Chciwość Miasta’(Greedy City). Approaching protest in an emphatically ludic and spectacular manner, Malik and her friends  were effective at attracting the media and of course public attention too. But this was more than a photo-op. Focusing interest on the Cracovia’s striking and high quality decorative scheme, including an exuberant 37m2 mosaic of global landmarks from the 1960s that had been plastered over at some time in the early 1990s, Malik and Okoński were engaged in a project of architectural re-enchantment.

In the Czech Republic, one of the most distinct voices attacking the interests of commercial developers, as well as the architects and politicians with whom they form alliances, is the Arch Wars’ Facebook page. Much of the content takes the form of photographs with acerbic captions pointing out the absurdities of unchecked privatization on one hand, and the results of literal application of building regulations, particularly in small towns. Much of the content is submitted by Arch Wars’ 30,000 FB friends. The page also features witty animations fronted by an anonymous comic character, ‘Arch Vader’, dressed in black with a pirate’s tricorn.[7]  Crowley BETON 8Arch Vader’s animated messages owe more to the language of console games and super-hero movies than the architectural press. Commenting on the plans demolish and remake the modernist railway station in Havirov, a factory town near Cieszyn that is an example of what the Czechs call Brussels Style (after the Expo in 1958), Arch Vader accuses the local authorities and Czech Railways of leaving the building to decay in order to make the case for a new building, a cheap box under a tented roof. To be paid for with EU funds, this is an example of what Arch Vader calls the new ‘Brussels Style’ of the twenty-first century. Darkly sardonic and, for that reason, highly entertaining, these short films are reposted, acquiring large audiences as they travel through social media.

Whether expressed as a carnivalesque project of re-enchantment or as sardonic publicity, this creative energy needs to be judged by its effects. What does all this effort to attract public attention achieve? The attention given to images – gold calves, Arch Vader, etc. – is itself perhaps the problem. This activism is predicated on the idea that images can change attitudes and that developers, local authorities, and architects can be held to account in the ‘court of public opinion’. It is hardly surprising then that campaigning images are met with images in response: viewed in these terms, the ghostly lines of the old Cracovia Hotel traced on the DDJM Nowa Cracowia scheme or the kielichy inside the Galeria Katowicka are gestures to sentiment which leave the developers’ plans unchanged.

It would be wrong to suggest that these actions have no effects. It seems to me that these campaigns often fail in their own terms (i.e. relatively few buildings have been ‘saved’) but they have had a slower influence on the attitudes of architects, and city authorities. This is perhaps evident in the programme to improve the chain of railway stations which punctuate the East-West lines running through the centre of Warsaw (Warszawa Ochota; Warszawa Śródmieście, Warszawa Powiśle, Warszawa Stadion and Warszawa Wschodnia). Crowley BETON 9Small pavilions with ambitious and expressive structures, the stations were designed by Arseniusz Romanowicz and Piotr Szymaniak in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the very height of the post-war wave of modernism. With ‘op art’ decorative schemes and sculptural rooflines, they were signs of a new optimism not just for new architectural forms but even for the renewal of socialism. By the 1990s, they were in a sorry state, with the concrete suppurating and the bright glazing obscured by advertising and shabby kiosks. Dark and decaying, these stations were invariably described as rotting structures: some were even subject of gruesome urban myths. One was even believed to house an underground illegal meat processing plant, with the animal fat leaking into the city’s sewers. However, the pressing need to ensure functioning communications in the city during the Euro 2012 football championships, and the state of the global economic downturn meant that repair was the only option. Sometimes the architects charged with the task  came to realize that what was required was not architectural additions but removal, at least of the elements which obscured the original design. Michał Błaszczyk of PPMB was responsible for restoring ‘Stadion’, a double-height rectilinear box clad in rough stonework and a bold spherical entrance. He recalls: ”My first idea was to generate a new quality. But when together with Krzysztof Charewicz from the Warsaw Municipal Monument Preservation Office we started delving into the station’s documentation, looking at archival photos, it turned out that in the past it had looked different. It was then that the idea emerged to restore it and unveil its original appeal.’[8] Similarly, Henryk Łaguna (MAAS Projekt), the practice responsible for Upper Powiśle Pavilion, said: “Iin the 1960s and 1970s a tremendous amount of interesting interiors and buildings were carried out in Warsaw, which should be preserved and cleaned, since years of dereliction turn them into ruins. And then everybody goes: “How ugly! Tear it down immediately.”[9] The ruination of these buildings, according to Łaguna, was not a product of socialism but of the indifference of the 1980s and the forms of raw and uncontrolled capitalism that Warsaw experienced in the 1990s.[10] In their own way, these architects were also engaged in a project of re-enchantment.

Among the various socialist-era buildings slated for demolition, the Cracovia hotel is perhaps the most likely structure to benefit from the slow turn in opinion that has occurred in the last decade. An extension to the listing of the building on the heritage register in November 2016 protected the front elevation, the building’s entrance and the foyer of the cinema which forms part of the original ensemble: any future designs for the site are now obliged to preserve these elements. Coming after months of public discussion about the future of the building and the protests described above, perhaps listing encouraged the building’s current owner, Echo Investment, to sell the building. And, in a tidy two-step, the hotel’s neighbour, the National Museum, secured the funds from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage a month later to make an offer. Proposing to turn the building into a new gallery of architecture and design, as well as Museum stores and offices, the scheme has been presented as a new public space in the city – forming a ‘square’ between the Museum and the former hotel. Parts of the hotel which were closed off years ago, like the courtyard, will become a sculpture garden.

This turn of events in Kraków might be claimed as a triumph, even as an illustration of the power of popular protest. Yet the response of those who have campaigned on behalf of the building has been rather muted, even suspicious. The explanation for this lies in the fact that the project has been backed by the right-wing conservative nationalist government which has mounted a wholesale assault on liberal culture since taking power in October 2015. The proposal – first floated by the vice-director of the Museum, Andrzej Szczerski, twelve months earlier, and widely debated in the city’s media – was, it seems, another negotiation behind closed doors. With the building being bought with state funds, the Cracovia will be renationalised by a right wing government. This result is as paradoxical as anti-capitalist activists campaigning to save a luxury hotel.

 

 

[1] When Supersam closed, material summarising a report by Warsaw Polytechnic engineers appeared in its windows, including photographs of the poor state of the structure. Making the case for demolition, these signs announced that the ‘technical state of the building … threatens us with a building catastrophe on the scale of Katowice.’

[2] See for instance, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s ‘Corruption Watch: September 4, 2003’ (4 September 2003) http://www.rferl.org/a/1342381.html – accessed February 2017.

[3] See Kateřina Samojská, Bourá se (hotel) Praha’ in Za Starou Praha, XLIII, no. 1 (2013), pp. 19-25

[4]Dominik Forman, ‘Mají argumenty pro bourání hotelu Praha smysl?’ (2013) – http://solidarita.socsol.cz/2013/nezarazene/maji-argumenty-pro-bourani-hotelu-praha-smysl – accessed November 2016

[5] https://en-gb.facebook.com/zbourejtekomunistickyhotelpraha/ – accessed November 2016

[6]Dariusz Bartoszewicz, ‘Supersam. 54 lata temu otwarto pierwszy samoobsługowy sklep’ in Gazeta Wyborcza (6 June 2016) – http://warszawa.wyborcza.pl/warszawa/1,34862,20192183,supersam-54-lata-temu-otwarto-pierwszy-samoobslugowy-sklep.html – accessed November 2016

[7] See https://www.facebook.com/arch.vader

[8]Błaszczyk interviewed in Grzegorz Piątek, ed., AR/PS (Warsaw, 2012), 264.

[9]Łaguna interviewed in Grzegorz Piątek, ed., AR/PS (Warsaw, 2012), 257

[10] On this, see my book Warsaw (London, 2003) and Olga Drenda’s excellent Duchologia polska. Rzeczy I ludzie w latach transformacji (Kraków, 2016).

 

 

The Peasant in the City

Architecture, Cold War, Design Exhibition, Eastern Europe, Modernism, Uncategorized

This piece was written for a Zacheta show, Polska – kraj folkloru? You can download the catalogue in English here. It includes excellent essays by Gabriela Świtek, Błażej Brzostek and the curator, Joanna Kordjak.

A Socialist capital – a city for every citizen … the worker, the peasant and the working intelligentsia’ – political slogan Poland, early 1950s

zrzut-ekranu-2013-01-8-o-14-00-12In the 1952 romantic comedy ‘Przygoda na Mariensztacie’ (Adventure in Mariensztat), Hanka, a country-girl, arrives in Warsaw as a tourist. A socialist realist fairytale, ‘Przygoda na Mariensztacie’ was the first full colour feature film in Poland and the director Leonard Buczkowki made full use of the bright fabrics of her festive dress, and the even brighter red horizons of the city. Her route though the capital’s streets, conducted at an exhausting ‘Warszawskie tempo’ (Warsaw tempo) by an animated guide motivated by the spirit of socialism, takes her from Mariensztat, a new housing district, past romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz on his plinth and Stanisław August’s picturesque palace which seems to float on the surface of the lake in Łazienki Park. Her tour ends abruptly when she seems to be lost in Constitution Square, the monumental showpiece of new socialist realist architecture in the city. Unperturbed, the joy of finding herself in the radiant future of socialist Warsaw is written in her smile. She is a peasant who is on the way to becoming a socialist activist. She joins a work brigade, becoming a bricklayer. The agent of her transformation was not a lecture or a political tract but the city itself. Warsaw had done its ideological work in this fable. Not only were the workers making the city; the city was making workers of peasants. Access to education, to homes of the kind being built in Constitution Square and to houses of culture would, it was claimed, overcome what Marx and Engels had classed the ‘idiocy of rural life’ in The Communist Manifesto one-hundred years earlier.

Social transformation was declared to be a priority of the new political order in the People’s Republic of Poland. Vice-Minister of Culture Włodzimierz Sokorski announced:

 

there is progress, a constant grappling with the new life conditions, a process of transforming peasants into proletarians. And take a look at the newly accepted university students who come from the working classes of cities or villages. Look how they have to struggle, how they are initially oppressed with the dominance of the pseudo-elites that they meet at the start of their student life. How they don’t give up, nonetheless, how they push themselves up to the surface and hold on tight to the positions achieved. They will be our leading and militant intelligentsia.[1]

 

Yet state attitudes to peasant life were contradictory. At the same time as calling for peasants to be made into proletarians, Sokorski also claimed that peasant culture was the beating heart of national life: ‘Folk art’, had he claimed, ‘formed itself in opposition to aristocratic, courtly culture. And at the same time its roots can be traced to a form of society founded on the drudgery of the masses, the feudal peasantry. When aristocratic culture severed itself from its national origins by becoming a source of docile cosmopolitanism and fossil-like formalism, peasant art nourished itself from a perpetually creative, richly national and deeply class-marked social stream.’[2] Peasant culture was ‘a living movement which renews itself everyday and every hour in the creative march of the Polish countryside to Socialism’.[3] This claim was allegorised in countless representations of the peasant in the company of her fellow builders of socialism. zulawskaHad Hanka looked up during her visit to Constitution Square in Buczkowski’s ‘Przygoda na Mariensztacie’, for instance, she might have even caught a glimpse of herself. The monumental arcades which flank the square were decorated with mosaics created by ceramic artist Hanna Żuławska to represent the seasons. Spring features a brightly dressed peasant woman marching arm-in-arm with a miner from Silesia, a factory worker and a ZMP-owiec (member of the socialist youth organisation) carrying a red flag. Here was an illustration of the national unity so loudly proclaimed by the state at the time. Countless other representations – posters, magazines, and in newsreels – recreated this happy scene. Almost invariably embodied as a woman in these images, the Polish peasantry was identified with femininity and the proletarian worker with masculinity. The peasant was both romanticised and emasculated in such representations (just as the political parties which represented peasant interests had been in the late 1940s).

The paradoxes of official representations of the peasantry was evident to many, even if censorship meant they could not be admitted. Writing abroad Czesław Miłosz in his critical account of the Stalin years, The Captive Mind, accused the state of making a fetish of peasant culture at the time when it was attempting (and failing) to impose collective farms in the countryside, attacking so called ‘kulaks’ (wealthy peasants) and encouraging internal migration to new urban projects like the construction of the city and kombinat of Nowa Huta:

 

In the villages, where the entire former pattern of custom is to be abolished through the transformation of peasants into agricultural workers, there still remains survivals of the individual peasant cultures which slowly stratified over the centuries. Still, let us speak frankly, the main support of this culture were usually the wealthier peasants. The battle against them, and their subsequent need to hide, must lead to the atrophy of peasant dress, decoration of huts, cultivation of private gardens, etc. There is a definite contradiction between the official protection of folklore (as a harmless form of national culture designed to satisfy patriotic tendencies) and the necessities of the new economic structure.[4]

 

For those who could not make a permanent move to Warsaw or Nowa Huta, tourism offered an alternative. Day trips and tours to Warsaw were organised for Poles from across the country to witness the miracle of reconstruction. To serve these national pilgrims, plans were put in place for new hotel and cultural centre in the heart of the city, Dom Chłopa (House of the Peasant). architektra002-kopia-kopia-2First conceived in 1946 (though plans for similar structures can be traced back to the First World War [5]), Dom Chłopa was conceived as a place not only of rest but of improvement. The building was to contain not only bedrooms and a restaurant for 500 guests, but also a library, a świetlica (political education room) and a cinema/theatre as well as a medical centre, a photographer’s studio and a hairdressers. Long delayed, the competition to design the building on a plot on Plac Powstanców Warszawy was not announced until May 1957. The winning scheme was designed by the most successful architect of the Stalin years, Bohdan Pniewski, and Małgorzata Handzelewicz-Wacławek. Organised around a quadrangle, their scheme provided accommodation under a rippling roof line (that earned it the nickname ‘the house of the camels’) and a glass-walled lobby from which all Dom Chłopa’s services could be accessed. Constructed after the so called ‘Thaw’, the architects could now take advantage of the ‘contemporary style’.

screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-17-36-34The open lobby was decorated with brightly coloured furnishings and largely abstract decorative schemes by artists Władysław Zych, and husband and wife team of Hanna and Gabriel Rechowicz. Attempting to produce a thoroughly modern interior, Hanna Rechowicz admits to making some compromises: ‘There were strange birds and other pretty funny unknown animals and plants … Because it is a hotel in which peasants stay, they asked for some that could be read as fragments of reality’.[6] Nevertheless, the Dom Chlopa’s presented its guests with a vision of the bright future in social, political and aesthetic terms.

Dom Chłopa was an exceptional institution but perhaps one that had been prefigured in the writing of the Stefan Żeromski. In his last novel, Przedwiośne (The Coming Spring, 1924), the writer tells the story of a father and son returning home from Baku after the First World War and the revolutionary events in Russia and elsewhere. It is a political bildungsroman. One of the magnetic images which pulls them home to Poland is the father’s descriptions of a liberated country enjoying the benefits of modern technology. Peasant homes are now, he tells his son, made with glass walls – bright, transparent, warm and above all hygienic: ‘water cools the walls; as a result, even in the greatest swelter it’s as cool there as in our cellar in Baku, but without the damp and the bad smell. The very same water constantly washes the glass floors, walls, and ceilings, bringing cool and cleanliness. (…) there is nothing that could rot or go moldy or smell from visible or invisible dirt, since all the utensils, all the furniture and fittings – everything is made of glass.’[7] Żeromski’s vision was fashioned not only from one of the clichés of progress – glass architecture, but also from one of the deep rooted prejudices of modern life – the dirtiness of the peasant. Similarly, the Dom Chłopa had been shaped by the conviction that the peasant needed to be improved to truly engage with the city. When not decorating the city in her gala dress, she appears to have been viewed as detritus (lit. matter out of place). Varsovian Anna Mańkowska passed her opinion of country tourists when interviewed in an article in Stolica (Capital City) in 1958: ‘I see countless tours through the windows of my apartment in the Old Market Square in Warsaw. Unwashed and rumpled and carrying their cases and bundles all day and foraging for orangeade at a kiosk, I wish for the simple device of day hotels, conceived for ordinary people.’[8]

This trope of dirtiness was evident in other campaigns to improve peasant life. Writing in Stolica Stanislaw Komornicki accused new-comers of reproducing the social spaces of the rural home in their new city apartments. The small, often meanly proportioned, kitchen was, he observed, sometimes used like the traditional czarna izba (black chamber) in the peasant home, a multi-functional room organized around the fireplace where household labour was conducted and meals consumed. In transposition, this ‘disposition’ in the new Warsaw apartment left the much-trumpeted collective services like the communal laundry unused. The other, biała izba (white chamber) – which had been used as a site of display and for the reception of guests – was preserved as a space of display rather than self-education or other virtuous hobbies. The small, new flat, which typically accommodated a family in two or three multi-purpose rooms, was designed according to principles of utility. In effect, the design of the apartment was disregarded by its inhabitants. In the view of this apologist for the new Warsaw, this trace of the peasant disposition in new socialist spaces ‘was an unfortunate memory of long-past, unhappy times’.[9] What Komornicki had in mind was not the ‘private’ time of biography but the epochal conception of Marxism in which life was regulated by the metre of progress: in this teleology, peasant life was destined for extinction. Ideologically correct, his article sought to raise a consciousness that would speed its disappearance.

Komornicki’s criticism tapped into deep-seated town/country antipathies in Polish culture. It also anticipated a good number of sociological and anthropological studies made in the decades that followed which sought to understand why newcomers to the city did not avail themselves of the cultural resources to which they now had access, or seem to have been improved by their new surroundings. negatywyAssessing the situation in Nowa Huta in the 1960s, one academic wrote ‘Where the new blocks were inhabited by the families of rural origins, there were frequent problems due to incompetent use of a contemporary flat by the immigrants. It was often the case that the fittings in a flat were devastated (such as water supply and drainage, or gas heaters in bathrooms) due to incorrect use of the equipment (such as drawing water from the radiator), or using bathroom as a place to keep animals’.[10] Internalising the ‘progressive’ policies of the state, much of this sociology eschewed observation in favour of judgment (‘incompetent use’).

Other portraits of the persistence of rural habitus in the city were more sympathetic. They include the social documentaries produced in the second half of the mid 1950s. During the Thaw, film-makers freed themselves from the task of producing propaganda and began to explore the impoverished conditions of everyday life. Known as the Czarna Seria (Black Series), their short films – sometimes involving actors and re-enactments but mostly assuming an observational style – took their viewers to the building sites and workers’ dormitories of Nowa Huta to witness the hooliganism and alcoholism there (‘Miejsce zamieszkania’, dir. Maksymilian Wrocławski, 1957), and the depopulated towns and villages in the Polish countryside (‘Miasteczko’, dir. Krystyna Gryczełowska, 1956). Another significant theme was the on-going housing crisis in Poland where many still lived in ruins ten years after the Second World War had ended. Made in the second wave of these social portraits, ‘Miasto na wyspach’ (‘City of Islands’, dir. Jerzy Dmowski and Bohdan Kosiński, 1958), a 8-minute film made for Wytwórnia Filmów Dokumentalnych, features one of the new clichés of the era, the image of the city as the countryside. New buildings were being constructed in Warsaw in small clusters with vast dusty plains in between. The clearance of the ruins had allowed nature and even small-holdings to occupy the city. Sometimes in Dmowski and Kosiński’s film, this lends itself to picturesque contrasts: a tram crosses a grassy meadow and a tethered cow appears with building site in the background. Other shots are more desperate, showing dilapidated shacks and their inhabitants scratching a meagre living by recycling the debris of the pre-war city. (And Dmowski and Kosiński intercut stills from the crowded streets of the pre-war city, decorated with advertising, to emphasise the contrast between urbanity and rurality). Despite the rhetoric of turning peasants into proletarians, it looked as if the village had come to occupy the city. This was not the romantic image of the village populated with happy peasants but a landscape of desperation. These scenes might also have come from the pages of Żeromski’s The Coming Spring. When the son arrives in Poland – still carrying his now late father’s images of peasant modernity in his mind – his disappointment is palpable: ‘Cezary gazed with cheerless eyes at the miry streets pocked with bottomless potholes; at the houses of all different, heights and colours and degrees outward filthiness; at the pigsties and the puddles, the outbuildings and the charred ruins.’[11]

screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-17-33-22Dmowski and Kosiński were making a point, demanding that the post-stalinist state to make good on its promises of improved housing and welfare for all. This argument was taken further in Architektura, the mouthpiece of the professional association of architects in Poland. In 1963 Jan Minorski published an article entitled which interpreted data about life on the fringes of the city generated by Ekonom. Techn. Rady Naukowej przy PRN. Entitled ‘Architektura samorzutna’ (Spontaneous Architecture), it explored the ways in which improvised homes were made from cheap and often scavenged materials on narrow plots of land overlooked by the planners. Minorski’s portrait of such unsupported and largely illegal attempts to ‘meet the needs of human life’ was surprisingly sympathetic.[12] He had been a loyal champion of socialist realism and then, after 1956, of the modernist revival in Polish architecture. Often represented as antinomies, both shared a confident belief in the civilising mission of architecture. Yet, in this article, he expressed a genuine interest in what Bernard Rudolfsky called ‘architecture without architects’.[13] Minorski provided detailed maps of social relations in these households; sympathetic photographic portraits of the inhabitants of these shacks; and positive descriptions of the the resourcefulness and creativity involved in making their homes and running small business in the suburbs. Perhaps to offset the doubts of his readers, he asserted:

‘This architecture is:

  • spontaneous, the result of lively activities,
  • concrete, arising without a blueprint, variable, ‘tachiste’, according to one’s wishes’

Some of these homes and workshops were the product of urban expansion, sweeping former villages into the orbit of the city. Others were the product of tragedy: Minorski, outlining the lives of these householders, points to the dark catalogue of war and destruction that had necessitated this kind of domestic creativity. Moreover, it is clear – from the descriptions of their households – that they are predominately populated with women (or as Minorski puts it, ‘the grandmother reigns over the hierarchy here’[14]). The gendering of the peasant is, in this case, less a matter of ideology than of tragic fate. But his point is that these homes might also contain lessons for architects and urban planners too: they ‘are subject to constant change. Their spatial development is dynamic.’ ‘In spontaneous construction,’ he continues, ‘you can see that what is good comes from heroic efforts to provide a roof over one’s head. What is evil has its roots in the lack of financial, technical, legal, organisational support by the state.’[15] Perhaps little more than a footnote in the history of Polish architecture and urbanism, Minorski’s article did more than any other representation in the period to fill in the details of the figure of the peasant in the city, albeit on its very fringes. Her appearance here was not a fantasy in gala dress or a crumpled figure in need of improvement but was an attempt to understand her concrete existence.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Włodzimierz Sokorski, ‘O sztukę realizmu socjalistycznego’ in Sztuka w walce o socjalizm (PIW: Warsaw, 1950) 150.

[2] Włodzimierz Sokorski, ‘O własciwy stosunek do sztuki ludowej’ in Polska Sztuka Ludowa (May 1949) 131.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Czesław Miłosz, The Captive Mind (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1985) 67.

[5] Bohdan Rostropowicz, ‘Chłopi będą mieli swoj dom w Warszawie’ in Stolica (?) 15.

[6] Hanna Rechowicz cited by Max Cegielski, Mozaika śladami Rechowiczów (Warsaw: W.A.B., 2011), 164-5.

[7] Stefan Żeromski, The Coming Spring, trans. B. Johnston (Budapest: Central European Press, 2007) 85-88.

[8] Cited in Stolica 45, (1958)

[9] St. Komornicki, ‘Jak urządzić nowe mieszkanie’ in Stolica (1 March 1953) 11.

[10] S. Panek, E. Piasecki, ‘Nowa Huta. Integracja ludności w świetle badań antropologicznych’ in Materiały i prace antropologiczne, 80 (1971) 30 – cited by Ewelina Szpak, ‘’Between Farm and Factory. Peasants in Urban Space in Communist Poland’ in Lud’a Klusáková and Laure Teulières, Frontiers and Identities: Cities in Regions and Nations (Pisa: Pisa University Press, 2008) 248.

[11] Żeromski, Coming Spring, 126.

[12] Jan Minorski ‘Architektura samorzutna’ in Architektura, 4 (1963) 133.

[13] This was a title of an exhibition curated at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1964-5 which surveyed the diverse faces of vernacular building traditions around the world.

[14] Minorski ‘Architektura samorzutna’, 118.

[15] Minorski ‘Architektura samorzutna’ 115.

Hasior’s Dreck

Eastern Europe, Modernism, Uncategorized

 

This essay is a transcript of a talk given in Zakopane in late 2014. It will appear in a book edited by Kola Sliwińska.

 

Władysław Hasior, ‘Yma Súmac’ (1961) Coll: Muzeum Śląski (Katowice)

Władysław Hasior, ‘Yma Súmac’ (1961) Coll: Muzeum Śląski (Katowice)

Junk and trash seemed to rise to the surface of Polish culture in the mid 1950s. Of course, in the aftermath of the catastrophe of the Second World War, the country itself was full of debris. Ruins and bombsites still considerably outnumbered new buildings in Warsaw and elsewhere; and because the Stalinist economy did little to provide new clothes and furnishings for a needy population, the Poles had become adept at the arts of repair and bricolage. Nevertheless, a new kind of trash that one might even be called modern appeared in the People’s Republic of Poland (PRL) during the so called Thaw, the turbulent period of reforms which followed Stalin’s death in 1953. New trash is, of course, close to being an oxymoron. But this trash was new in one important sense: it was the chosen medium of a number of young modernist film makers and artists. After the Stalin years (1949-53) – during which culture had been required to deliver ringing messages of progress to society – artists embraced the opportunity to explore hitherto closed-off zones including those filled with junk.

Władysław Hasior was one of these junk artists. His earliest works embraced the particular kind of primitivism which is offered by the decrepit. Works like his portrait of the Peruvian singer, ‘Yma Súmac’ (1961) and ‘Srebrna maska’ (Silver Mask, 1961) were assembled from broken and exhausted material which would otherwise have been thrown away as trash. Writing in Ty i Ja in 1966, Hanna Kirchner pointed out the value that Hasior found in waste:

 

Hasior is a poet and philosopher of things, exploring the dialectic of their existence in the human world. He forms altars, statues, monuments and shrines with objects that seem to coexist with man, forming his natural surroundings because they are worn and poor. They provide [Hasior’s] masks, and allusions. His compositions are most often anthropomorphic figures wound from wire, moulded with soap, arranged from panes of various kinds of glass. Sometimes a great body is suggested by bread, an anachronistic machine or a cast-iron stove …[1]

 

Others interested in animating trash at the time included the young filmmaker Roman Polański. Before the director achieved international success with his feature films, he made a number of shorts including ‘Gdy spadają anioły’ (When Angels Fall, 1959) and ‘Lampa’ (Lamp, 1959). ‘When Angels Fall’ begins with the journey of an old woman to work along the streets of an empty city, populated with little more than dustbins. She is an attendant in a public toilet, one which is highly ornamented in the Victorian manner. Her clients – drunks and workers – seem to trigger thoughts of her life and loves, presented in flashback. Memory, the anticipation of death, human waste and other themes beloved by Samuel Beckett run through this 21 minute film. In ‘Lampa’, a single scene movie by Polański, a man repairs dolls in his workshop. The camera records his crafts, panning over the china faces and limbs of the figures in his care – all bathed in the warm light of oil lamps. Then time seems to jump forward: the man is older and the workshop is lit by electric light. When the workshop is shuttered at the end of the day, it catches alight (or perhaps is incinerated by the menacing anthropomorphised electrical meter). The dolls are destroyed. Polański’s film seems particularly bleak: there is no catharsis, no redemption.

Z. Beksiński, Dno, photocollage, c. 1958/9 - coll: National Museum in Wroclaw

Z. Beksiński, Dno, photocollage, c. 1958/9 – coll: National Museum in Wroclaw

Artist Zdzisław Beksiński’s early photographs seem to share much in common with Hasior’s art and Polański’s early films. His portraits and nude studies appear distorted or torn, as if the negative has been through some kind of trauma or the portrait has offended its owner. Pathological and even misogynistic images, Beksiński’s subjects in these early works appear defaced as if by some violent act. Other works were organised in sets with three parts, often featuring amateur photographs, reproductions from magazines and text books, damaged negatives and pages from entries into dictionaries. ‘Dno’ (‘Bottom’, 1958/59) for instance, features a nineteenth century studio portrait of young girls and close-up of a tombstone: in between, a column from the page of a dictionary are reproduced marking a descent from ślub (wedding) to śmierć (death).

Trash found its way into Polish theatre at around the same time. Poet Miron Białoszewski established Teatr na Tarczyńskiej (Tarczyński Street Theatre) in his apartment in Warsaw in 1955. Drawing upon a circle of friends in the artistic avant-garde, Białoszewski with Ludmiła Murawska, painter and actress, and Ludwik Hering formed a small company, ‘Teatr Osobny Trzech Osób’ (The Individual Theatre of Three Individuals). They performed fragments from the classical cannon including works by Cyprian Norwid, Juliusz Słowacki, Adam Mickiewicz and William Shakespeare as well as Białoszewski’s own plays. Finding a grotesque character in everyday life, his works drew upon the language and experience of Warsaw’s streets finding absurd proportions in the most ordinary things. What is significant, for this talk at least, is the way in which he dressed his dilapidated flat, with Białoszewski and Murawska producing crude costumes and backdrops by painting cardboard. It also furnished the props. If the drama called for a door or a dog, one was ‘on hand’. A chair could be a character.

Miron Białoszewski and Ludmiła Murawska in Songs for Chair and Voice, Osobny Theatre, Warsaw 1958 (Photo: Marek Piasecki, 1957 in the collection of Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej)

Miron Białoszewski and Ludmiła Murawska in Songs for Chair and Voice, Osobny Theatre, Warsaw 1958 (Photo: Marek Piasecki, 1957 in the collection of Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej)

This sensibility also shadows artist, dramatist and writer Tadeusz Kantor’s 1961 concept of ‘realność najniższej rangi’ (‘the reality of the lowest rank’), a term which he used to describe the power of lowly objects to stimulate the imagination: ‘being, death, love … exist somewhere in a poor corner, a parcel, a stick, a bicycle wheel … bereft of pathos or illusion.’ In his words, ‘refuse, cast-off ends and odds’ were conscripted throughout his career into productions, performances and happenings.[2]

Cover of April 1963 issue of Ty i Ja magazine designed by Roman Cieślewicz

Cover of April 1963 issue of Ty i Ja magazine designed by Roman Cieślewicz

The taste for junk seemed to spread widely in the early 1960s, even becoming something like a popular fashion. This is evident on the pages of Ty i Ja (You and I), a popular magazine launched in 1959 by the Ligia Kobiet (Women’s League), an offshoot of the official Polish United Worker’s Party. Early on, however, its editorship was taken over a group of young writers and designers who shared a taste for the démodé. Printers’ devices, illustrations from nineteenth century school books and studies of natural history were used to ornament the pages of the magazine. In appearance, the magazine was a kind of printed collage in which out-of-date images were folded into the present – interviews with film stars and directors, short stories and reports of new fashions in London and Paris. Its covers – often created by Franciszek Starowieyski and Roman Cieślewicz – were a play on the romantic possibilities of the magazine’s title, but often tended to the eccentric and even absurd.  This graphic style found its way into numerous publications in the period, not least Andrzej Banach’s 1964 monograph on Hasior.[3]

 

Starocie

What significance might we attach to this taste for broken and out-of-date images and things? And what lay behind their appeal? One fact is evident: these things originated in another time. Not antiques or saintly relics, these out-of-date things might be best described by the Polish word ‘starocie’ (lit. ‘old things’). Their primary value lay in the very fact of their survival. This was as much the product of rhetoric as it was a matter of fact: the party-state had gone to great lengths to announce that the Poles were now living in a new epoch. In this way, many of the objects which feature in Hasior’s art were doubly lost.

Home of Hanna and Gabriel Rechowicz from Ty i Ja, Feb. 1963

Home of Hanna and Gabriel Rechowicz from Ty i Ja, Feb. 1963

During the 1960s starocie in PRL was domesticated, literally. There was a marked fashion amongst poets and painters, film makers and academics – the intelligentsia – to furnish their homes with scuffed Biedermeier chairs, collections of vernacular spoons, earthenware jars, dingy seventeenth century portraits and other minor survivors from the past. We know this because each month in the 1960s Ty i Ja featured their homes in a regularly feature called ‘My Home is My Hobby’. Other regular features guiding this taste for the old included the series ‘Kolekcja nie śmietnik’ (‘Collection Not Trash Can’). The aesthetic was so consistent that it is barely worth singling out examples. But perhaps the home of artists Gabriel and Hanna Rechowicz – best known for their contemporary style murals in socmodernist shops and other public buildings – warrants special mention. Their ‘Anty-mieszkanie’ (Anti-apartment) on Lekarska Street in Warsaw, organized around an enormous decorated sleigh from the late nineteenth century, traded the entire apparatus of conventional domestic living for the aestheticism of starocie.[4]

Homes filled with starocie might be what Russian philosopher Mikhail Epshtein, writing in the 1980s, called ‘lyric museums’:

 

What kind of museum is it where ordinary Things are on display, and what right does it have to draw attention to them? … every Thing, no matter how insignificant, can possess a private or lyrical value. The latter value depends on the degree to which a given Thing has been lived and thought through … The purpose of this museum is expose the endlessly diverse and profound significance of Things in human life, their rich figurative and conceptual meaning which is not at all reducible to the utilitarian function.[5]

 

This order of home is a place for the care of things in the final stages of their lives before they are cast into the dump (recall ‘Kolekcja nie śmietnik’). Writing in the Soviet Union in its last years, Epshtein identified curatorial attitudes in the making of these homes. The significance of this care for venerable things is all the more pronounced because the USSR had announced a preference for the future over the past. In fact, this was one of the major ideological planks of the Thaw throughout the Eastern Bloc. One of the signs of destalinisation was the pronounced and loudly-voiced avowal of science and technology. The ‘Leninist way’ – which Stalin, according to Khrushchev and his followers, had abandoned – meant reengaging with the rational and international values of science, technology and engineering. New prospects for Soviet-style socialism were being opened up by computing, abstract art and modern movement architecture. Yet inside intelligentsia homes – quite literally – one might enter into a world fashioned with the material remnants of the past. Like Walter Benjamin’s interpretation of Paul Klee’s figure of Angelus Novus, these citizens of the PRL surely looked on these fragments of history as the remains after an explosion.

There is perhaps little new in this taste (and that is perhaps the point). Nationalist intellectuals had turned their homes into collections of mementoes of the nation in the nineteenth century when the Poles lived as unwilling subjects of foreign empires.[6] But the dominant mood of intellectual life in Poland in the 1950s and 1960s was not national romanticism or even decisive anti-communism. Perhaps if we look for one common thread, we will discover it in the low-key but pervasive existentialism of the age. This was found, for instance, in a marked preference for things as found rather than as they might or even ought to be according to the certitudes of Marxism-Leninism; and in attention to social realities, even when irrational and absurd. It is hardly surprising that the plays of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco were performed on Polish stages during the Thaw to enthusiastic audiences. Beckett’s ‘Fin de partie’ – a play in which two characters live in dustbins – was staged in Kraków’s Theatre 38 in November 1957, just six months after its premier in London and then on Polish television in Stanislaw Hebanowski’s production in 1958.

Ionesco’s ‘Les Chaises’ was performed at the Teatr Dramatyczny in Warsaw in August 1957; a play which ends with an invisible crowd or audience on stage. This is Ionesco’s direction:

 

For the first time human noises seem to be coming from the invisible crowd: snatches of laughter, whisperings, a ‘Ssh!’ or two, little sarcastic coughs; these noises grow louder and louder, only to start fading away again. All this should last just long enough for the real and visible public to go away with this ending firmly fixed in their minds. The curtain falls very slowly.[7]

 

The theatre audience watches and listens mutely to an absent presence, the other audience ‘on’ the stage. Things – the chairs – mark both presence and absence. They are starocie. As such, they need to be seen in terms which had been set by Hannah Arendt in her 1958 book The Human Condition. Of things like starocie, she wrote: ‘it is this durability which gives the things of the world their relative independence from men who produced and use them, their “objectivity” which makes them withstand, “stand against,” and endure, at least for a time, the voracious needs and wants of their living makers and users. From this viewpoint, the things of the world have the function of stabilizing human life, and their objectivity lies in the fact that…men, their ever-changing nature notwithstanding, can retrieve their sameness, that is, their identity, by being related to the same chair and the same table.’[8] Viewed in this way things, starocie marked continuity after catastrophe (of war and of Stalinism) and, conversely, the lack of such ordinary things was the cause of disconnection.

 

Dreck

Władysław Hasior, The Widow, 1957

Władysław Hasior, The Widow, 1957

Despite its existential appeal, starocie does not adequately describe either the form or the distressed condition of many of the works by Hasior, Beksiński and other junk artists of the late 1950s. Marked by abjection and destruction as well as the uncanny effects of animism and anthropomorphism, they offered little solace. A work like Hasior’s ‘The Widow’ (1957), a figure whose roughly-hewn face might well have been fashioned from the butcher’s cleaver which forms her torso, suggests anguish in both theme and appearance.

Władysław Hasior, Grandmother, sculpture, 1960 Muzeum sztuki, Lodz.

Władysław Hasior, Grandmother, 1960 Muzeum sztuki, Lodz.

His ‘Prababka’ (Grandmother’, 1960) has the appearance of a human body which has turned into fat or even shit. Perhaps ‘dreck’ – a word which I have adopted from the writings of Tomasz Kitlinski – might be a better term than starocie to describe the turn to junk.[9] A Yiddish / German word meaning filth or crap, dreck can signify rotting matter but also kitsch. Products can be dreck, as for Berthold Brecht, for instance, were American theatre.[10] And for Hasior and other Polish artists in the Thaw who sculpted or filmed garbage, wounded and broken bodies too could be dreck. Here was an an aesthetic which testified to the dark subject of unheroic and brutal death.

There may be a generational perspective at work here. These artists were teenagers during the Second World War. Hasior was born in 1928; Beksiński in 1929; Polański in 1933; and Cieślewicz in 1930. (That this was – seemingly without exception – a male aesthetic might also give pause for thought too). Whilst Polański’s biography – as a Jewish child in the Kraków Ghetto and then in hiding – is exceptional, the experience of witnessing human corpses and dead animals in the streets during the war was not. Violence constituted a material fact of this generation’s youthful existence. Polański’s film ‘Lampa’ in which dolls are caught in a total inflagration is evidently an allegory for the Second World War and perhaps even the ovens in which the bodies of so many victims of the extermination camps were tossed. This said, I don’t think that it is appropriate to use art to diagnose individual traumas. Art is not a symptom. But it may be productive to reflect on the ways in which the dreck aesthetic of the late 1950s and 1960s might constitute a ‘return of the repressed’ within the public realm of Polish culture.

During the Stalin years, there had been a knot of factors which had restrained clear recall of the traumas of the Second World War. For instance, Socialist Realism – a Soviet import to Poland in the late 1940s – put a tight representational frame around the representation of violent death. In the Soviet Union – where the rules and rituals of the cult had already been drawn up – death had been attached to utopia. Literary scholar Katerina Clark writes ‘In the Stalinist novel, death and token mutilation have a predominately mythic function. When the hero sheds his individualistic self at the moment of passage, he dies an individual and is reborn as a function of the collective.’[11] Numerous canvases in which Soviet heroes die on Nazi gallows or fighting on the battlefield played their part in embroidering the myth of the Great Patriotic War. In the PRL, however, the representation of death was treated rather more coyly. There are relatively few images of violent death during these years, perhaps because the new regime put such a premium on the joyful project of constructing socialism.[12]

At the same time, political imperatives put the representation of the recent past under considerable ideological pressure. Events and even individual memories were reframed to match a historical script that had been written in the Kremlin. Individuals were forced – with threats or coercion – to retract testimonies which they had already given. Eyewitnesses – like the members of Polish Red Cross who had examined the corpses of Polish offices murdered at Katyn – had to retract their wartime affidavits; and violence against the Jews by Poles was placed sous rature by an ideology which trumpeted brotherhood. But things were different in 1956. During the waves of destalinisation which rocked the Bloc in this year, the representation of the recent past was one of the fields in which the party-state offered concessions in order to hold onto power. For example, during the Stalin years the authorities kept a firm grip on the representation of the Warsaw Uprising. The Home Army soldiers who had risen against the German occupation of the city in the summer of 1944 were described as fascists and reactionaries in official accounts of the conflict. But after 1956, films, new books, monuments and memorials marked changed attitudes to what was now called the ‘heroes of the Warsaw’.[13] In fact, the new regime led by Władysław Gomułka sought to tap popular feeling by announcing – also in 1956 – a competition for a new public memorial dedicated to all those who fought for the city including the Home Army. This announcement was amplified by great swells of public opinion. Hundreds of letters were sent to newspapers suggesting not only the ideal form of the memorial (often a triumphal arch or a funeral barrow) and the most suitable site (usually one connected with fighting in the city), but offering reflection about what should be remembered – the outbreak of the war in 1939, the Ghetto uprising of 1943 as well as the events of the summer of 1944. In April 1958 nearly 200 remarkably diverse designs were exhibited to 100,000 visitors in the Zachęta Gallery. Art critic Aleksander Wojciechowski said this ‘is not an “artistic” competition but a national plebiscite’. So great was public interest that discussion of the competition threaten to spin out of Party control. And so, as Olga Grzesiuk Olszewska has shown, a smaller closed competition was announced in 1959, which specifying that the monument be sited in Plac Teatralny.[14] The winning design was a massive figure of a sword-wielding siren, the traditional emblem of the city, sculpted by Marian Konieczny, a young artist from Cracow who had studied at the Repin Institute in Leningrad.

Marian Konieczny, Memorial to the Heroes of Warsaw, installed in Plac Teatralny Warsaw in 1961. Collection: NAC

Marian Konieczny, Memorial to the Heroes of Warsaw, installed in Plac Teatralny Warsaw in 1961. Collection: NAC

Monumental and symbolic, this design was insensitive to the acute historical injuries that the ‘Memorial to the Heroes of Warsaw’ had been originally proposed to heal.

Perhaps the broken bodies, filth and decay of the dreck aesthetic needs to be seen in the context of the short-lived freedoms of the Thaw. Death, carefully managed and allegorized during the Stalin years, was rehabilitated and it could now be represented in its most abject forms, in the decay of the flesh and irrational violence. Artworks which looked on this order of death were created, or in some cases brought out of hiding. The Ogólnopolska Wystawa Młodej Plastyki (The All Poland Exhibition of Young Artists), known to art historians as the Arsenal Exhibition in Warsaw in 1955 is usually understood as a return of modernism in Polish art: it was also an opportunity to explore prohibited themes, not least death. For instance, Waldemar Cwenarski’s canvas ‘Pożoga’ (Conflagration, 1951) – which depicts a horse stamping people beneath its flailing hooves – was exhibited there for the first time; as was Izaak Celnikier, ‘Getta’ (Ghetto, 1949), a Jewish pietà.[15]

Izaak Celnikier, ‘Getta’ (Ghetto, 1949)

Izaak Celnikier, ‘Getta’ (Ghetto, 1949)

When six years later Hasior had his first one man show in the Salon Współczesności in the Foyer of the Jewish Theatre in Warsaw, one critic called found ‘distant echoes of the Arsenal exhumations’ there.[16]

There were many representations of dreck deaths in this period. Perhaps the most emphatic, insistent example was to be found in the cinema the final scene of Wajda’s ‘Ashes and Diamonds’ (1958). Dramatising the final hours and acts of a doomed former Home Army soldier, now in the anti-communist underground, the film is ideologically compliant. But it contains a kind of excessive image of his death. After carrying out his assassination mission despite increasing doubts, Maciek – the Home Army fighter – or as the Stalinists might have put it a ‘fascist assassin’ – is shot and dies slowly alone, digging himself into a rubbish heap. Even in the Thaw, he remains an enemy, but now a pitiable one as a young adherent to the old and doomed ideology of capitalism. But Wajda’s treatment goes far beyond what required politically, even in the turbulent years of the Thaw: this pointlessness of this death is emphasized by the setting, the trash heap.

Viewed in terms of dreck aesthetics, Hasior’s early works seem to take on far darker associations than the later characterization of his work as a kind of PRL pop artist might suggest. Typically, his works combine broken and discarded materials to form bodies which, missing limbs or lacking faces, remain marked by their incompleteness. They seem to give human form to the words of Bruno Schulz, the Jewish novelist who was murdered by a Nazi officer in Drohobycz in 1942. In his 1934 ‘Traktat o manekinach (‘Treatise on TailorsDummies’), the arrogant father of the narrator sets out a vision for ‘a second generation of creatures who stand in open opposition to the present era’: ‘… we shall not demand on either durability or solidity of workmanship: our creations will be temporary, to serve a single occasion. If they are are human beings, we shall give them only one profile, one hand, one leg, the one limb needed to perform their role.’[17] After the Second World War and Stalinism, Hasior’s generation – avid readers (and sometimes illustrators[18]) of Schulz’s works when they were republished in 1957 – perhaps felt as if they were living with the consequences of this vision.[19] Providing none of the solace of starocie, Schulz’s writing also provided uncanny images of matter: ‘There is no dead matter …’ says the father. ‘Its lifelessness is merely an outward show, behind which, unknown forms of life lie hidden’.[20] This was not a claim about the soul but a perspective on the most abject forms of bare life. Some of Hasior’s early works seem approach this condition in which humanity itself is on the edge of slipping into matter. Hasior’s ‘Prababka’ (Grandmother, 1960), a figure slumped in a broken wheelchair, seems more like excreta than a woman. [see figure 7]

Władysław Hasior, ‘Fragment bohatera’ (‘Fragment of a Hero, 1963). Muzeum Narodowe Poznan

Władysław Hasior, ‘Fragment bohatera’ (‘Fragment of a Hero, 1963). Muzeum Narodowe Poznan

In the early 1960s many of Hasior’s works – made with Dreck and representing broken or incomplete bodies – were given themes and titles which suggest lofty themes of transcendence and sacrifice such as ‘Anioł Stróż’ (‘Guardian Angel’, 1964) and ‘Fragment bohatera’ (‘Fragment of a Hero, 1963). Moreover, he increasingly turned to Christian archetypes to lend meaning to his assemblies of junk. Do these titles dip his art in irony? Maybe not. It is probably more accurate to suggest that they pointed to his ambition. Here, perhaps, Hasior departed from his dreck colleagues. So many of the Thaw works which have been discussed in this talk were marked by a disavowal of monumentalism, whether in terms of scale and setting, or the pathos which public art of this kind was and often still is required to deliver. Monuments – as the Heroes of Warsaw competition made clear – had to promise some kind of redemption (just as Socialist Realist representations of death were required to infer rebirth). It seems clear that after the brutality of the Second World War and the hollow triumphalism of the Stalin years, dreck aesthetics provided the means for some kind of reflection on experience without making an accommodation with any kind of historical (or even eschatological) script. However, with such titles, these works point out the direction in which Hasior was to travel as a monument maker after the Thaw. His public monuments from Pomnika Rozstrzelanym Partyzantom (Monument to the Shot Partisans, 1964) at Kuźnice to the Rzeźba Płonące Ptaki (‘Flaming Birds Sculptures’, 1978-80) were created as part of the larger project of managing history in the PRL.[21] Dedicated ‘To those, who fought for the Polishness and freedom of the Pomeranian lands’, Hasior’s roughly-cast birds mounted on rickety cannon carriages at Koszalin was an attempt to monumentalise dreck.

 

[1] Hanna Kirchner, Hasior’ in Ty i Ja (January 1966), p. 10.

[2] Tadeusz Kantor, ‘Reality of the Lowest Rank’ in A Journey Through Other Spaces. Essays and Manifestos, 1944–1990, ed. Michal Kobialka (Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, 1993) 30.

[3] Andrzej Banach, Hasior (Cracow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1964).

[4] Felicja Unichowska, ‘Moje hobby to mieszkanie’ in Ty i Ja (February 1963) 15-18. On Gabriel and Hanna Rechowicz see Klara Czerniewska, Gaber i Pani Fantazja. Surrealizm Stosowany (Warsaw: 40,000 Malarzy, 2014).

[5] Mikhail Epshtein, ‘Things and Words: Towards a Lyrical Museum’ (1988) in Alla Efimova, Lev Manovich, eds., Tekstura: Russian Essays on Visual Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993) 153.

[6] See Beth Holmgren, Rewriting Capitalism. Literature and the Market in Late Tsarist Russia and the Kingdom of Poland (Pittsburg, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998) 167-77.

[7] Eugène Ionesco, Plays: The lesson. The chairs. The bald prima donna. Jacques; or, Obedience (London: Calder, 1958) 84.

[8] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958) 137.

[9] See Tomasz Kitliński, ‘A Brief History of Cleanliness and Abjection in Poland’ in Dream? Democracy! A Philosophy of Horror, Hope & Hospitality in Art & Action (Lublin: Maria Curie-Sklodowska Press, 2014) 189-195.

[10] Cited in Anthony Heilbut, Exiled in paradise: German refugee artists and intellectuals in America, from the 1930s to the present (New York: Viking Press, 1983) 161.

[11] Katerina Clark, The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000) 178.

[12] German corpses appear casually and cruelly accompanied by a dog in Wojciech Fangor’s ‘Wyzwolenie’ (Liberation, 1950) or as cold war martyrs in his ‘Matka Koreanka (‘Korean Mother’, 1951). But these are rare appearances.

[13] Made before the Thaw and released in 1956, Andrzej Wajda’s film ‘Kanal’ depicts the final hours of insurgents in the ruins of the city. The first illustrated popular book on the theme – Jan Grużewski and Stanisław Kopf’s Dni Powstania. Kronika Fotograficzna Walczącej Warszawy (Days of the Uprising. A Photographic Chronicle of Warsaw in Arms) was published by PAX in 1957.

[14] Irena Grzesiuk-Olszewska Polska Rzezba Pomnikowa w Latach 1945-1995 (Warsaw: Neriton, 1995).

[15] Celnikier’s painting raises the question of how and when the Shoah was distinguished as a distinct historical phenomenon within the culture of Polish remembrance – a question which Hasior does not help us answer.

[16] S. Ledochowski, ‘Malarstwo, rzezba, grafika. Rzezba sie nazywa’ in Nowa Kultura, nr. 12 (1961) pp.6-7 cited in Wladyslaw Hasior. Europiejski Rauschenberg? (Kraków: MOCAK, 2014) 198.

[17] Bruno Schulz, Sklepy cynamonowe / Sanatorium pod klepsydrą (Cracow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1985) 61-2.

[18] In 1963 Roman Cieślewicz produced collages for a new edition of Schulz’s Sklepy Cynamonowe employing illustrations from zoological studies and illustrated newspapers reporting war.

[19] In 1957 the Kraków publisher Wydawnictwo Literackie, published an anthology of Schulz’s writings with the title Sklepy cynamonowe. Sanatorium pod Klepsydrą. Kometa with an introduction by Artur Sandauer.

[20] Bruno Schulz, Sklepy cynamonowe / Sanatorium pod klepsydrą (Cracow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1985) 60.

[21] See Marcin Zaremba, Komunizm, legitymizacja, nacjonalizm: nacjonalistyczna legitymizacja władzy komunistycznej w Polsce (Warsaw: Trio 2001).

The Choreography of the Console: The Design of Electronic Environments and their Operators in the Cold War

Cold War, Modernism

This talk was given in Zurich at ETH in autumn 2014.

In the late 1950 and 1960s a new kind of non-human actor appeared on the movie screens and televisions around the world. The console – an electronic panel or unit operated with dials, switches or buttons – appeared in numerous Cold War thrillers and science fiction movies, as well as news reports of the command and control centres managing traffic on the street, power stations and space flights. Elsewhere, television studios were equipped with vision mixers to allow different sources to be edited and combined in real time for live broadcast. For the film makers who recorded it, the console seems to have been a strangely magnetic, and enigmatic object. Immobile and performing seemingly inscrutable tasks in the service of authority, its flashing lights and illuminated dials, oscilloscopes and monitors, the console presented a novel site of man-machine interaction and a new conception of the ‘environment’ as a place for the management of information.

Some of these on-screen consoles were fantasies, while others were in operation. But perhaps the distinction between fact and fiction is not important in the technological imaginary of the post-war decades. What was important is the promise of the future that was being made by these electronic interfaces. The command and the control room of the military intelligence or the multimedia space of the gallery prefigured ordinary environments ‘enclosed by images’.[1] American artist and filmmaker Stan Vanderbeek prophesised the future in these terms when he said:

Holography, 3-d holographic television, environmentalisms – like images that will completely surround us which we can design by ourselves, for ourselves – homeostasis and the balancing of our whole mind and body. These are the futures which I think that artists should talk about and deal with.[2]

Teacher-aided Electronic Learning Links console, designed by Phillips Design Centre, c, 1970

Teacher-aided Electronic Learning Links console, designed by Phillips Design Centre, c, 1970

Vanderbeek was by no means not alone in imagining the future electronic environment. Designers working for Philips, the Dutch electronics company, for instance, conceived the future classroom as a bank of networked consoles. In the company’s 1971 TELL (Teacher-aiding Electronic Learning Links) project, the classroom was to be equipped with a computer, camera and multiple screens ‘so that the teacher can point at the picture on one of his screens and his finger can be seen on the pupil’s monitors’.[3] The TELL system envisaged communication as an action in a closed circuit.

To accentuate the promise of perfect communication and automation, such schemes were almost invariably located in smooth, frictionless environments in which every console was a cased object. Cables were hidden from sight, as if revealing their connection to the rest of the world would disturb their symbolic power. The rooms in which they were located were strikingly placeless too, in the sense that their location played little part in their operations. Through the console, the world could be known and controlled remotely. In fact, these consoles often appear in blind rooms; settings without windows in a conventional sense, because the screen or data panel was itself a kind of portal. They afforded remote viewing. And as Cold War defence arrangements seemed to demonstrate, one environment – even an entire hemisphere – could be controlled from another. In eschewing the existential qualities claimed for place, such settings were what John Harwood calls ‘counter-environments’ (a term he adopts from Marshall McLuhan). A counter environment is, he writes, ‘a designed space that is closed off from its surroundings and only linked to like spaces via specific media (e.g., real-time computing) and … the potential for the control of external environments via an independently conceived logical system..’[4] Harwood’s term perhaps best lends itself to sites of concentrated power. This was, after all, an age overshadowed by the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. Radar stations on both sides of the Cold War divide and staffed with operators scanning the air for signs of military action, were always on; always ready to respond to the threat of attack.

The Domestic Information Machine, E Bogdanov, V Paperny, V Revzin, A Riabushin and A Sergeev, 1972 – image courtesy of Tom Cubbin

The Domestic Information Machine, E Bogdanov, V Paperny, V Revzin, A Riabushin and A Sergeev, 1972 – image courtesy of Tom Cubbin

But counter-environments could also promise liberty too. The house of the future – a cliché of the era in the East and in the West – invariably featured computerized domestic arrangements. Tom Cubbin, for instance, has drawn our attention to the Domestic Information Machine which was conceived and tested in Soviet Union at the end of the 1960s. Designers working for VNIITE (All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Industrial Design / Vsesoiuznyi nauchnoissledovatel’skii institut tekhnicheskoi estetiki) imagined the the home as a point in a vast communications network which would connect its users with information. A 1969 report issued by the scheme’s creators, stressed its benefits of information over the passive effects of television:

Such an information service would differ substantially from that which exists today. Currently, the media only transmit practically one type of information which fulfills the basic needs of cultural relaxation and recreation. Mental labour requires the individualisation of information. In the future this will become possible and will lead to a significant shift in the cultural and spiritual development of man.[5]

Underlying the thinking of the Domestic Information Machine’s creators was a cybernetic conception of information in which its users would be able to influence and contribute knowledge to the network. Similarly, the NER Group (New Element of the Urban Environment/Novye element rasseleniia) – also active in the Soviet Union in the second half of the 1960s – conceived the future home not only as a networked one but also the engine for the production of a new kind of kind of Soviet citizen. In this setting, the householder would become something like an ‘operator’ and so the differences between work and leisure or the factory and home could be diminished (thereby bringing the nirvana of communism ever closer). NER wrote in 1965:

The working day can be reduced through the extraordinary growth in labor productivity, which in turn can be attributed to electrification, automation, and efficient production procedures. As this change takes place, the proportion of work time to free time changes radically. For the first time in the history of man, leisure time will exceed work time. The problem becomes ‘how to reduce to the minimum the time required for socially necessary work.’ If we consider the demands that are apt to be made in various fields through the recombination of various kinds of labor, we can estimate that an individual’s work time will tend to average approximately four hours per day.[6]

A promise to get rid of drudgery was folded into the smooth casing of the console whether it was located in the factory or the home .. or everywhere as Richard Brautigan’s 1967 poem, ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’ seems to suggest:

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.[7]

Echoing Marx’s pastoral impression of Communism,[8] Brautigan augured a future utopia in which all toil, all want and even all technology would eventually wither away.

 

The pushing of the button

Brautigan limned a vision found on both sides of the East/West divide during the 1960s; namely, that production in the future would involve progressively less human labour. Automation would, according to its champions, eliminate drudgery and error. The role of the human in future manufacturing, agricultural and transport systems would be one of an overseer. This image of the fallible human being replaced by the efficient machines was the subject of numerous fantasies in the 1960s, albeit ones which were often shot through with existential anxiety. One recurring trope in science fiction of the period was that of the operator asleep at the console. In Ikarie XB-1, a Czechoslovak sci-fi film directed by Jindřich Polak in 1963, for instance, the crew are rendered unconscious as an effect of passing through a radiation cloud. To ensure that the mission continues, the computer oversees an ‘unmanned shift’, before the crew revive. This minor drama might well be read as an allegory. Many writers including, famously, Norbert Wiener, Herbert Marcuse, Alvin Toffler and Stanisław Lem reflected on the twin threat and promise of automation. Each asked, in various ways, whether the console was the extension of humankind (‘the humanism of control’) or a step in the progressive marginalization of the human agent? In a 1960 essay ‘Some Moral and Technical Consequences of Automation’ Wiener, for instance, reflected on the threat to humanity posed by cybernetic machines: ‘It is quite in the cards that learning machines will be used to program the pushing of the button in a new pushbutton war’.[9] In this scenario, the thinking machine commands the console; in other words, it commands itself.

Similar questions were asked in Eastern Europe in the late 1950s and 1960s too, albeit with different emphases. After Stalin’s death, the matter of human control and agency was particularly pressing. Science was loudly proclaimed by post-Stalinist regimes as the harbinger of a new rationalism after the irrationalism and violence of Stalinism, as well as being the solution to its considerable economic failures of the command economy. As Slava Gerovitch outlines in his study of Soviet cybernetics, the computer was adopted as a ‘paragon of rationality’.[10] A new rationalism guided by the innate logic of science and technology would revive the socialist project. In his attempt to harness science, Khrushchev was obliged to accommodate a degree of debate and even dispute about the effects of thinking machines that would not have been countenanced during the Stalin years. For instance, Academician A. Kolmogorov writing in Izvestia in 1962 suggested that thinking and feeling machines would ‘surpass man in his development’ in the future. Evolution suggested that perfect machines would, one day, be able to build their own progeny without human aid. B Byalik responded in Literaturnaya Gazeta in May 1962 in an article with a title which asked ‘Comrades, Is This Serious?’ In turn, Academician Sobolev responded in the same journal: ‘Yes, it is very serious! … In my view the cybernetic machines are people of the future. These people will probably be much more accomplished than we, the present people.’[11]

Elsewhere in the Bloc, others – some of whom had been vocal and brave critics of Stalinism during the turbulent period which followed Khrushchev’s ‘Secret Speech’ (1956) revelations about his predecessor’s brutality known as ‘the Thaw’ – were anxious that science and technology itself would deprive individuals of agency. These, for instance, are the words of Leszek Kołakowski, one of the moving forces of Thaw criticism in the People’s Republic of Poland: ‘We observe … the astonishing speed with which the new mythologies displace the old ones. In the intellectual life of a society in which the mechanism of traditional faith has become corroded, new myths proliferate with the greatest ease, even though they may originate in technical advances or scientific discoveries. Thousands of people fondly imagine that the friendly inhabitants of other planets will one day solve the problems from which humans cannot extricate themselves. For others the words ‘cybernetics’ embodies the hope of resolving all social conflicts.’[12]

Designing the operator

After this brief and ranging survey of the settings in which the console was imagined and occasionally employed in the 1960s, let’s look a little closer at the actions of its operator. How should the operator interact with the console? What was the script or notation for these kinds of interactions? It was clear to many commentators that the design of the console inferred the design of the operator: a new set of manual, metacarpal skills were required to operate it. As such, the console was the subject of considerable new research into man-machine interactions – not least that conducted within the sphere of ergonomics, then still a relatively young discipline which set out to measure the body and its capacities. This data could then be used to design more effective and efficient tools for the factory, the office, the kitchen or other sites of human action. Despite its peaceful applications, as a discipline, ergonomics owed much to military research. Henry Dreyfuss, the American industrial designer and pioneer of ergonomics, traced his engagement with the field back to a military commission:

Shortly after the war, our office was working on the interior of a heavy tank for the Army. We had tacked a huge, life-size drawing of the tank driver’s compartment on the wall. The driver’s figure had been indicated with a thick black pencil line and we had been jotting odds and ends of dimensional data on him as we dug the data out of our files. Surrounded by arcs and rectangles, he looked something like one of the famous dimensional studies of Leonardo. Suddenly, it dawned on us that the drawing on the wall was more than a study of the tank driver’s compartment; without being aware of it, we had been putting together a dimensional chart of the average adult American male.[13]

Henry Dreyfuss, The Measure of Man. Human Factors in Design, 1960

Henry Dreyfuss, The Measure of Man. Human Factors in Design, 1960

In his landmark text on ergonomics, The Measure of Man (1959), the American designer stressed the humanism of the endeavour: anthropometric data should be used to eliminate discomfort and mitigate against the fatigue of the operator. Nevertheless, in its attention to thresholds and limits, design was being used to contain and control behaviour. In the ergonomic imaginary, the machine had to become more orientated to the human and, conversely, the human had to become more machine-like. Italian designer Ettore Sottsass admitted as much, when reflecting on his design of the Elea 9003 mainframe computer for Olivetti; ‘one ends up conditioning the man who is working, not only his direct physical relationship with the instrument, but also his very much more penetrating relationship with the whole act of work’.[14]

Aiming to reduce distraction, error, friction, discomfort, noise, ergonomics was preoccupied with interfaces, the contact zone between man and machine, and above all, with the effectiveness of these interactions. This was not the efficiency of the fulcrum or the pulley converting muscle power into force, but that of speed and precision. Buttons, toggles, keys, switches, controls had to be designed to minimise human error; and screens, gauges, dials and signals should be transparent and easily read with a sweep of the eye. The ideal console should explain its operations by means of integrated design by employing simple text, pictograms, and symbols.

Tomas Maldonado / Gui Bonsieppe, data processing symbols for Olivetti, 1961

Tomas Maldonado / Gui Bonsieppe, data processing symbols for Olivetti, 1961

In the case of the ELEA 9003, the first computer produced by the Olivetti company from 1959, for instance, designer Tomás Maldonado developed an new symbol system for the console. Maldonado’s design did away with the Italian instructions which accompanied the design in favour of sign system that could be easily assimilated by operator, whatever his or her mother tongue. Here the ‘noise’ of linguistic difference was replaced by the smoothing effects of the pictogram. The operator learned this machine language in order to better integrate his or her actions with those of the machine. Keying in instructions in response to data processed by the computer, the operator of the ELEA 9003 provided an image of cybernetic harmony.

Andrzej Pawlowski, ergonomic tests for switches and buttons, Poland, mid 1960s

Andrzej Pawlowski, ergonomic tests for switches and buttons, Poland, mid 1960s

Similarly, pioneer of ergonomics in the People’s Republic of Poland, Andrzej Pawłowski conceptualised his work less as the production of buttons and switches than as the design of gestures.[15] In his experiments conducted on Poland in the 1960s, he developed a language of man-machine encounters – a kind of notation system indicating direction of movement, the type of grip or depression and the force required. He too claimed the protection of the human operator as his purpose:

Through creativity in the industrial field, we come to understand the most rational conditions for the protection of the biological and psychological existence of the human being, as well as the development of culture in industrial civilizations, the dynamics of which have become the cause of a dangerous loss of balance between civilization and the culture of its exploitation.[16]

This kind of design humanism notwithstanding, underlying such schemes was a kind of design linguisticism extrapolated from communication theory; namely, that a universal language of operating gestures could be deduced and deployed in the service of progress. Perhaps this fantasy took (and still takes) its ultimate form in the illusion of direct manipulation of data. The light pen famously designed by Ivan Sutherland at MIT in 1966 was a precursor of the touch-screen developed in the mid 1970s. Its invention might well be taken as a kind of culmination of the ergonomic project, one in which the apparatus disappears and the body of operator engages as directly and completely with data as possible. The achievement of Sutherland and others was to suggest the means for a return to what had long been claimed as the origins of language in ‘natural’ gestures.[17] Nicolas Negroponte suggested something similar when he speculated on the democratic effects of the assimilation of the computer in the studios of architects:

With direct, fluid and natural man-machine discourse, two former barriers between architects and computing machines would be removed. First, the designers, using computer-aided design hardware, would not have to be specialists. With natural communication, the ‘this is what I want to do’ and ‘can you do it’ gap could be bridged. The design task would no longer be described to a ‘knobs and dials’ person to be executed in his secret vernacular. Instead, with simple negotiations, the job would be formulated and executed in the designer’s own idiom. As a result a vibrant stream of ideas could be directly channelled from the designer to the machine and back.[18]

Ergonomics also reproduced the modernist myth of the neutrality of technology. In such anthropometric schemes, the worker never resists, never withdraws his or her labour. And in concentrating on the gesture, another kind of radical decontextualisation occurred too. What, we might ask, were all these hands doing? What were the effects of these switches and buttons on the world?

William Allan Fetter, ‘Boeing Man’, 1966-67.

William Allan Fetter, ‘Boeing Man’, 1966-67.

Here one might consider the first three-dimensional figure of a man drawn by a computer, William Allan Fetter’s ‘Boeing Man’ (1966-67). Often claimed – not least by Fetter himself – as a landmark work in the history of computer art, he created wireframe drawings of a seated figure reaching and stretching.[19] Supervisor of Advanced Design Graphics at the Wichita branch of the Military Aircraft Systems Division of Boeing, Fetter produced the line-figure to simulate the range of upper-body movements of the pilot in the cockpit of the company’s civilian and military aeroplanes. The data was gathered to improve the layout of the instruments in the cockpit. Fetter’s images were widely reproduced – usually in versions which contained few or no impression of the cockpit or its instruments (a which perhaps this explains their easy adoption as ‘computer art’).[20]

The humanistic rhetoric espoused by Dreyfuss and other champions of ergonomics tended to obscure the science’s origins and present uses in military research, as well as its fundamentally alienating effects. Few paid much attention to these characteristics, as Maldonado and Gui Bonsiepe pointed out in 1964:

Without doubt the empirical data obtained from investigations of military equipment possess a prototype value for all fields, and even for such fields which are completely removed from military equipment. On the other hand, constant occupation with such issues has no doubt result in a certain one-sidedness in the ergonomist – that particular tendency towards a too abstract version of the human operator.[21]

Bone Generators

Lee Harrison III, operating the Bone Generator / ANIMAC, Denver 1962

Lee Harrison III, operating the Bone Generator / ANIMAC, Denver 1962

At a time when commentators – in the East and in the West – were imagining human redundancy brought about by intelligent and self-replicating machines, it is striking that dance formed a particularly rich and animated zone for imagining new human-machine interactions. Let me give some examples: for instance, American programmer, Lee Harrison III, was interested in how to animate dance. In the early 1960s, he rigged up a body suit with potentiometers and created the first working motion capture rig animating movement in real-time on his CRT screen. He made several short films with this system, called ANIMAC (or sometimes the ‘Bone Generator and Skin Scanner’).[22] Harrison – whose work came to play an important role in computer animation – seemed to be investigating the ergonomics of dance. Similarly, A. Michael Noll, a computer programmer based at Bell Laboratories in the USA developed a programme to produced real-time notation for dance in 1967-8. Noll imagined that dancers could wear bright lights on their joints (much in the manner of the time and motion studies developed by figures like Frederick Winslow Taylor and Frank Gilbreth in the USA before the First World War and Aleksei Gastev in Soviet Union in the 1920s). Images of the motion of the dancers could be captured and analysed by a computer, and then be translated into accurate dance notation: ‘At the completion of the ballet,’ he claimed, ‘all the movements of the dancers are stored within the computer in digital form. These movements could then be automatically translated by the computer into any desired form of dance notation.’[23] Noll also imagined that the choreographer could save the time and cost of working with a ballet company in preparation of a new performance, by composing directly with the stick figures in his programme. For Noll, ballet represented a set of programming challenges. The difficulties of being able to programme the movement of a number of interactive figures in space over time presented the kind of complex task that proved the power of computers.

Finnish pioneer of electronic and computer music (as well as robotics and artificial intelligence) Erkki Kurenniemi seemed to be interested in a more dynamic and ultimately more cybernetic conception of the body electric. In his DIMI Ballet (1971), he employed one of his own creations, the Dimi-0 optical video synthesiser (which Kurenniemi also called a ‘Video Organ’). The instrument – combining an electronic organ and a computer – generated musical sounds in which were rendered as graphic devices indicating pitch and duration on the monitor. As data, these graphics – and their audio effects – could be altered in real time by means of the computer. With the addition of a video camera, the device could react to whatever appeared on screen. Kurenniemi choose to present his device as a means for the production of a ‘ballet’ in which a dancer could alter the pitch and duration of the music by her movement. Kurenniemi DIMI Ballet’s suggests a kind of cybernetic conception of dance. Combined in a recursive relationship, the music was generated by the movement of the dancer and, conversely, her movement influenced the tonality and timbre of the electronic music.

Nicolas Schöffer was the author of perhaps the most ambitious cybernetic dance works of the period, ‘Kyldex 1’ (Kybernetic Lumino Experiment 1), a ballet that he created with composer Pierre Henry and choreographer Alwin Nikolai for the Hamburg State opera in 1973. Five cybernetic sculptures were prepared by Schöffer to ‘dance’ alongside and members of the company including the principal dancers, Carolyn Carlson and Emery Hermans. The sculptures featured sound sensors which reacted to Henry’s music, and the stage lighting. Revolving mirrors on the sculptures amplified the effect. The dancers were captured on close circuit cameras, appearing simultaneously on the theatre’s 200m2 screen at the back of the stage. This mirror effect turned the dancer and her image into echoes of one another. One member of the audience was rigged to a heart monitor so that his pulse could provide a kind of rhythmic beat for the dancers.

Announced as a ‘Simultankonzert’, the performance was an elaborate version of the kind of spectacular events in which Schöffer had orchestrated from the late 1950s in which dancers shared the stage with his cybernetic sculptures. Maurice Béjart choreographed dancers to perform with Schöffer’s ‘CYSP 1’ (Cybernetic Spatiodynamic 1), a mobile sculpture equipped with electric cells and a sound sensor which could respond to changing color, light intensity and sound, for the Festival D’Avant Garde in Marseille in 1956. In Hamburg, Schöffer updated his ideas, by drawing the audience into the act of co-creation (‘Create the Creation’ announced the poster). By raising coloured paddles, each viewer seated in the Staatsoper could vote whether the scene should continue or not; whether to speed up or slow down a dance; or even to end the piece. Red circles signalled stop; green wedges indicated faster and blue diamonds, slower; yellow arrows meant repeat; and white squares were a request for explanation. Schöffer would periodically take to the stage to lead the audience in discussion. Here the logic of feedback was given a democratic gloss. Unsurprisingly, some of the fifteen evenings were very short, others long: all were chaotic and noisy affairs, much to Schöffer’s apparent pleasure (he called it ‘eine gloriose Ungewißheit’[24]). In effect, the console from which all the electronic elements of the performance might have otherwise been controlled, had been abandoned in favour of an illusion of participation. Its traces remained in the coloured signs, with forms echoing the graphic systems employed as the interface of consoles. To maintain the illusion, Kyldex – with its voguish counter-cultural associations of participatory democracy – required that the controls for these electronic instruments remain backstage.

In this regard, parallels can be drawn to the environments created by the well known Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT) group, the alliance of artist and engineers formed by a research scientist at the Bell Labs, Billy Klüver, engineer Fred Waldhauer and artists Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Whitman and in 1966. Founded to provide artists with access to new technology and engineering expertise, by 1968 EAT had over six thousand members and chapters in many major American cities. (Fetter, the author of the Boeing Man wireframes, was one of the founders of the NorthWest chapter).

Interior of the Pepsi Pavilion at the Osaka World’s Fair in 1970

Interior of the Pepsi Pavilion at the Osaka World’s Fair in 1970

The highpoint was its contribution to the Osaka World’s Fair in 1970. EAT artists and engineers were commissioned by the Pepsi company to create a pavilion which was full of immersive environments which allowed ostensibly for a kind of playful engagement with new, interactive artworks. Eschewing any kind of message (commercial or otherwise), the pavilion promised each visitor an unique individual experience: each person would direct himself or herself toward sounds, lights or what ever else might draw their attention. The pavilion was an environment in the sense used by artist Allan Kaprow a decade earlier, a space which entangled spectators in multisensory experiences.[25] Klüver recalled:

The initial concern of the artists who designed the Pavilion was that the quality of the experience of the visitor should involve choice, responsibility, freedom and participation. The Pavilion would not tell a story or guide the visitor through a didactic, authoritarian experience. The visitor would be encouraged as an individual to explore the environment and compose his own experience. As a work of art, the Pavilion and its operation would be an open-ended situation, an experiment in the scientific sense of the word.[26]

Accordingly, artist Robert Whitman – working in conjunction with engineer John Forkner – using mirrors and reflectors to produce three-dimensional ‘real’ reflections for instance. Visitors could play with their own image; a ludic form of feedback. Similarly, the floor was covered with different materials such as grass (like Brautigan’s cybernetic meadow) and gravel, yet the sounds in the headphones worn by visitors confounded the sensations underfoot.

Klüver’s emphasis on the freedom of the individual to explore an open-ended artwork was sincere but somewhat exaggerated. The EAT artists and engineers sat behind a console in the pavilion monitoring and managing the experience of the visitor. In the basement, banks of tape decks supplying the underfoot sounds were controlled by programs on punched-paper tape. The team had built an environment over which they could exert extensive control. The console was rarely recorded in the streams of publicity produced for the Pepsi Pavilion. It was, of course, far less spectacular than any other part of the pavilion but it also disturbed the group’s self-image as anti-authoritarian force. EAT was accused of naivety by its politically-minded critics. Max Kozloff writing in ArtForum in 1971 accused the group of making a fetish of technological progress and for being in ‘service’ to service to the ‘violence industries’ which were profiting from the manufacture of weapons being sold to the US military to prosecute the war in Vietnam.[27] His purpose was to stress the politics of actions and technologies which EAT artists liked to imagine as being neutral.

Dark Consoles

ARGO Group, Sound and Color installation at Chemistry '70, Sokoniki Park in Moscow in 1970.

ARGO Group, Sound and Color installation at Chemistry ’70, Sokoniki Park in Moscow in 1970.

So where might we find a self-conscious politics of the console?[28] I’d like to suggest that we might look to Eastern Europe at around the same time. Just as in the West, there were a number of close alliances between art and science in the Eastern Bloc from the mid 1960s. Abstract artists and experimental film-makers could enjoy relative freedom and access to technology if they characterized their work as design or research. In the Soviet Union, for instance, the ARGO group (Russian abbreviation for Author Working Group) formed in 1970 by Nonna Goriunova, Valerii Osipov, and Francisco Infante to create artificial immersive environments. It set out to realise the kinds of multimedia gesamtkunstwerken which appealed to EAT’s members. Infante recalled ‘The combined forces of ARGO’s engineers and artists were also utilized for the Sound and Color installation which I designed for the Chemistry ’70 International Exhibition held at Sokoniki Park in Moscow in 1970. The group joined forces with the electronic music studio attached to the Skriabin Museum …. Everything in Sound and Color was in motion: the constructions, the color, the sound, and even the smells.’[29] And like EAT, ARGO’s artists were largely indifferent to (or unable to reflect on) the ideological effects of their creations.

Others – elsewhere in the Bloc – were more critical. In 1970 Warsztat Formy Filmowej (Workshop of Film Form) was established as a section of a science club at the Łódź Television, Film and Theatre School in the People’s Republic of Poland.[30] Critical of the teaching programme of the School and, at the same time, drawing resources from it (including 35mm film stock, editing tables, video cameras and monitors), the Workshop belonged to the ’experimental zone’ which had been licensed by the scientism of the Khrushchev Thaw just over a decade earlier. The Workshop’s members were, as one Paweł Kwiek recalls, ‘scientifically minded’, reading widely in psychology and cybernetics.[31] Working with film, photography and, within a few years, video, they set out to explore the practices of the ‘operator’ rather than the artist. Many of the films created by the Workshop’s members have the procedural, though often improvised, character of a test: what will be the effect of this action in these conditions? Objectivity was set as an ideal: ‘A documentary film’s aim is to provide the truth about man’, wrote Kwiek in 1974 for instance, ‘both for the sake of Art as well as from a scientific point of view. So far, however, it has not been possible to prevent the distortion of the truth, which results from (the subjectivity of the creator).’ Direct forms of image making like the camera could, he thought then, diminish such distortions: ‘We can conclude’, he continued, ‘that the truth we receive from man is based on direct contact with him, regardless of what he would like to show himself or in what fashion he would like to be perceived …’.[32] This was a statement which might have come off the pages of an ergonomic manual.

One approach to direct forms of image making was to combine medium and body (resulting in what member Józef Robakowski called ‘biological-mechanical records’). In an early ‘test’ film, ‘Prostokąt dynamiczny’ (Dynamic Rectangle, 1971), he recorded his attempts to match the insistent, mechanical rhythm of a piece of music created by Eugeniusz Rudnik in the Experimental studio of Polish Radio. The on-screen image of a pulsing and mutating red rectangle was achieved by Robakowski opening and closing a diaphragm manually in front of the 35mm camera as he listened to the music. The piece is never quite in sync as the image (created by the live movements of the artist) fails to accurately match the sound (pre-recorded music). Knowing that behind the image there is a body falling short of the measure of the machine lends poignancy to Robakowski’s ‘test’.

‘Video C’ (1975) by Paweł Kwiek made in the studios of Polish TV

‘Video C’ (1975) by Paweł Kwiek made in the studios of Polish TV

Similarly, ‘Video C’ (1975) by Paweł Kwiek, made when the members of the Workshop were given access to a television studio, records the hands of an operator (Kwiek himself) manipulating the faders and buttons of a vision mixer, a device used to switch between video sources in a TV studio or to add graphic effects to the picture. The operator appears to be using his fingers to move a triangular cursor around the TV screen. Sometimes it seems to hover, as if trying to touch the on-screen hand or to trace the line of the operator’s arm in space: sometimes the on-screen hand responds, appearing to palm the cursor back or to map its three points with a pinch of the fingers. Kwiek explained his interest in this impossible union thus ‘I construct such sets where the observed reality is the human being, for whom, in turn, the image of reality is his own constructed image.’[33] In this mise-en-abyme, what distinguished a human being from his or her electronic image dissolved.

Parallels can be drawn between the Workshop of the Film Form and the output of the Béla Balazs Film Studio (BBS) in Hungary. Established in 1959 and enjoying official support from the early 1960s, BBS was relatively autonomous zone in which film makers could experiment with many different genres from social documentary to feature-length experimental films, with the benefit of professional crews and cameras. Censorship of the studio’s output was rare (though the film makers could not effect the distribution of their ambitious films). At the end of the 1960s the Studio opened its doors to artists, musicians, theatre professionals, writers and sociologists. A young artist and writer Gábor Bódy – inspired by his readings of structuralism – was invited in 1973 to commission a series of films exploring the ‘Language of Film’. The included neo-avant-garde artists Tamás St. Auby who made ‘Kentaur (‘Centaur’) and Miklós Erdély who made ‘Partita’.

Bódy’s own contribution to the series was ‘Négy Bagatell’ (‘Four Bagatelles’), a non-narrative film made by modifying or adapting existing films: archive footage of two peasants from Transylvania dancing is, for instance, augmented by a crosshair moving across the frame; while a sequence showing a ballet dancer is framed by an iris which opens and closes to capture her movements. In both cases, the naturalism of the documentary film is undermined by a set of technical operations which alert the viewer of the activities of an unseen operator. The fourth ‘bagatelle’ in the quartet which forms the film puts the operator’s hands (Bódy’s own) before a screen which is being filmed by a video camera. The result is another mise en abyme in which both hand and screen repeat and recede into infinity.

Bódy’s film – like those of the Workshop of Film Form – is usually discussed in terms of the hold of semiotics and structuralism on neo-avant-garde film in Eastern Europe. But, in pointing to the disappearance of the human actor under the pressure of the instrument, perhaps it is possible to detect a critique of technology being made too. There is little of the heady pleasure promised by EAT or Schöffer’s illusions of participation. Here, the camera and the monitor infer surveillance, and the console suggests command and control of the individual who uses it. In other words, these films were self-experiments in which their maker were both performers and observers at the same time. In closed circuits such as this, self-portrayal becomes a form of self-observation. This is not the euphoric liberation of heighted sensation suggested by, but a much darker conception of the cybernetic concept of feedback. In the case of the films made by Workshop of the Film Form, one might also detect a kind of pathetic quality in human gestures too: Robakowski’s body fails to fall in line with the rhythm of the machine; and Kwiek’s ‘Video C’ attempts an impossible act (one kind of immaterial pointer, a cursor, attempts to touch another, a human finger).

One should be careful about distinguishing the works of these young artist/operators in Eastern Europe from those of others elsewhere in the world in the early 1970s. After all, one of the effects of the Cold War competition was that of the mirror: East and West came to look more and more alike. (And the spread of consoles is one symptom of that fact). Moreover, many artists in the West – including, most famously, Joan Jonas, Vito Acconci and Bruce Nauman – also turned to the mirror effects afforded by video to split the subject. Rosalind Krauss has identified a degree of schizophrenia in their live gallery installations: ‘The medium of video art is the psychological condition of the self split and doubled by the mirror reflection of synchronous feedback.’[34] Nevertheless, in a setting where the state was increasingly using security services to monitor the people, self-observation surely had different and distinct meanings.

[1] This is Beatriz Colomina’s phrase – see her ‘Enclosed by Images: The Eameses’ Multimedia Architecture’ in Grey Room, no. 2 (Winter 2001) 6-29.

[2] Stan Vanderbeek, speaking Stan VanDerBeek: The Computer Generation, Film
Camera Three Productions directed by John Musilli and written by Stephan Chodorov, 1972.

[3] See Richard Fifield, ‘Audio-visual evolution or revolution’ in New Scientist (29 July 1971) 277.

[4] John Harwood, ‘The White Room: Eliot Noyes and the Logic of the Information Age Interior’ in Grey Room 12 (Summer 2003) 5-31

[5] A 1969 report written by G. Liubimova cited (and translated) by Tom Cubbin, From Technocracy to Techno-Utopia: Futurology and the Soviet Home at VNIITE1964-1974 (RCA/V&A History of Design MA Dissertation, 2012) 80-81.

[6] Alexei Gutnov, et al., The Ideal Communist City, trans. Renee Neu Watkins (New York: George Braziller 1971).

[7] Richard Brautigan, All Watched Over by Machines of Living Grace (‪Communication Company, 1967)

[8] … ‘while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic’ Karl Marx, The German Ideology (1845) available on line – https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm – accessed 1 May 2015.

[9] Norbert Wiener writing in Science, vol. 131, no. 3410 (6 May 1960), p. 1356.

[10] Slava Gerovitch From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics (Boston, MA: MIT, 2004) 161

[11] This exchange is recorded by Willis H. Ware and Wade B. Holland in Soviet Cybernetics Technology: I. Soviet Cybernetics, 1959-1962 (Rand Corporation Report, 1963) 11.

[12] Leszek Kołakowski, ‘The Priest and the Jester’, 1959, 57

[13] Henry Dreyfuss, The Measure of Man (1959) 4.

[14] Ettore Sottsass cited in Sparke, Ettore Sotssas Jnr (London: Design Council, 1982) 63

[15] Andrzej Pawłowski, Inicjacje. O sztuce, projektowaniu i kształceniu projektantów Biblioteka wzornictwa 6’87 (Warsaw: IWP, 1987).

[16] A. Pawłowski. ‘Cel i założenia Wydziału Form Przemysłowych’ [The aim and assumptions of the Industrial Design Department]. Biuletyn 1965, Industrial Design Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, 1965.

[17] On Vico’s claims for the gesture, for instance, see Adam Kendon, Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance (Cambridge: CUP, 2004) 36.

[18] Nicholas Negroponte, The Architecture Machine (Boston, MA: MIT 1970) 9.

[19] ‘My conviction about the possible change in some creative processes brought about by the computer is that speculation in this matter is valuable so long as it is coupled with a conscious effort to shape the technology toward meeting basic human goals – including human creativity. I feel it is not completely a question of what the computer will do TO us, but a determination ofwhat we will best have the computer do FOR us. Just as important is an assurance that a necessarily diverse group is in a position to make these basic decisions.’ William Fetter, ‘Computer Graphics at Boeing’ in Print Magazine, XX:VI (November-December 1966) 32.

[20] Gustav Metzger, ‘Automata in History’, Studio International (1969) 107-9.

[21] Maldonado and Gui Bonsiepe, ‘Wissenschaft und Gestaltung’ in Ulm, 10/11 (1964) 10–29

[22] See Margaret Morse, Virtualities: television, media art, and cyberculture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998) 75.

[23] A. Michael Noll, ‘Choreography and Computers’ in Dance Magazine, Vol. XXXXI, No. 1, (January 1967) 43-45.

[24] ‘Kyldex: Dampf auf Zuschauer-Kommando’ in Der Spiegel (June 1973) 107.

[25] Allan Kaprow, Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life, ed. Jeff Kelley (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003).

[26] Billy Klüver, Pavilion by Experiments in Art and Technology (New York: EP Dutton, 1972) xi

[27] Max Kozloff, ‘The Multi-million Dollar Art Boondoggle’ in Artforum 10, no. 2 (October 1971) 72-6.

[28] One answer to this question is to be found in the arguments made for the democratisation of computers by figures like Ted Nelson in his book Computer Lib (1974) or the magazine, Radical Software (est. 1970) in the USA.

[29] Francisco Infante ‘Artificially Created Spaces: The Projects and Realizations of the ARGO Group’ in The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts, Vol. 5, (summer 1987) 116.

[30] See see Łukasz Ronduda, Polish Art of the 1970s (Jelenia Góra / Warsaw: Polski Western / CCA Ujazdowski Castle, 2009) 300-14.

[31] Kwiek in conversation with the author, summer 2013.

[32] Paweł Kwiek, Dokument obiektywny o człowieku [Objective Document About Man], 1976 unpublished mss, Centre for Contemporary Art., Ujzadowskie Castle, CSW Archive.

[33] Paweł Kwiek cited by Ryszard Kluszczyński, ed., Warsztat Formy Filmowej (Warsaw: Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, 2000) 71.

[34] Rosalind Krauss, ‘The Post-medium Condition’ in Perpetual Inventory (Boston MA: MIT Press, 2010) 10

Staging for the End of History: Avant-garde Visions at the Beginning and the End of Communism in Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe, Modernism
Cover of Výtvarné Uměni, issue 8-9, 1967.

1. Cover of Výtvarné Uměni, issue 8-9, 1967.

In 1967 Stanislav Kolibal, the Czech artist, was commissioned to design the August-September cover of Výtvarné Uměni (Fine Arts) (fig 1). This was to be a special issue of the periodical, commemorating – like many other magazines and newspapers published in the Eastern Bloc that autumn – the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution. He adapted a 1919 photograph of Tatlin at work with two assistants on the timber model of the ‘Monument to the Third International’ (1919-1925). Erasing the background and with the image blending from black to red like a split-colour screenprint, Kolibal turned this historic image into a symbol of unfulfilled aspiration. In a year of booming triumphs (including the opening of the Ostankino Tower, the world’s tallest building serving the world’s largest broadcasting complex, and the massive hydroelectric plant in Bratsk, in south-eastern Siberia), Kolibal’s design seemed to point to incompleteness, perhaps provocatively.

This appearance of Tatlin’s Tower on the cover of this magazine was, of course, just one minor and forgotten episode in the afterlife of this mythical structure. As Svetlana Boym has charted, the ‘Monument to the Third International’ has moved through history in an ‘off-modern’ fashion, not on the straight tracks of progress but in the diagonal, serpentine moves of the knight on the chess board (an idea which she derives from the writings of Viktor Shklovsky).[1] It was paraded, as a large model, through the streets of the Petrograd in the early 1920s; its spiral was straightened out and capped with Lenin when Stalin planned what she calls ‘the revolutionary building par excellence’, Boris Iofan’s Palace of Soviets;[2] it reappeared in numerous reconstructions in exhibitions around the world – in Stockholm in 1968, in London in 1971, in Paris in 1979 and elsewhere; and then it returned to Russia when sots-artists adopted the spiral structure to reflect on the folds in Soviet history. The Soviet Union, the social experiment to which Tatlin’s Tower is so closely tied may be over, but, for Boym, it still has an unpredictable, even adventurous, future. The ‘off-modern perspective,’ she writes, ‘allows us to frame utopian projects as dialectical ruins – not to discard or to frame them but rather to confront and incorporate them into our own fleeting present.’[3]

Other fantastic visions produced by the Soviet avant-garde have formed different constellations across time and geography. Iakov Chernikov’s machine-inspired architectural schemes were summoned up in the 1960s on both sides of what was once called the Iron Curtain. Peter Cook of the Archigram group in the United Kingdom, for instance, republished the Soviet architect’s works regularly in his books.[4] Chernikov’s 1931 portfolio Construction of Architectural and Machine Forms (Konstruktsiya arkhitecturykh i mashinnyk form) presented stirring images of architecture in movement, as well as a ‘rational’ logic for the design of forms appropriate to the new revolutionary era. Cranes, gantries and rails as well as machine parts, suggested the means by which architecture could escape its static condition. Thirty years later, the same desire for architectural motion was directed by Archigram into its ‘plug-in’ and ‘walking cities’.[5] At the same time in Czechslovakia, Jiři Hrůza argued – perhaps boldly – his 1967 book The Utopian City (Město Utopistů), surveying many speculative projects including those designed by Ivan Leonidov and Chernikov in the 1920s as well as those of his contemporaries such as Karel Honzík, the future could operate as a critique of the present: ‘Just as we can find in the concepts of utopian architectural avant-garde both audacious and prescient anticipations of the future, we can also find escapism from the coarse and prosaic reality of life, an ideal dream formed in disillusionment with the present …‘.[6] Another constellation was formed when the fashion for Deconstruction in architecture emerged in the 1980s: the movement’s champions sought forebears in the Soviet avant-garde. ‘Deconstructivist Architecture’, the landmark 1988 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York put the largely unbuilt visions of seven European and American architects (Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhaas, Peter Eisenman, Zaha Hadid, Bernard Tschumi, and the firm Coop Himmelb(l)au) in the company of sketches and drawings by those members of the Soviet avant-garde, Ivan Leonidov, El Lissitzky and Chernikov, whose work seemed to trouble the ‘structural order … of stability, unity and harmony’.[7] Their designs on paper were adopted as precedents for ‘…provocative architectural design which appears to take structure apart – whether it be the simple breaking of an object or (its) complex dissimulation into a collage of traces.’[8] However, it seems clear in retrospect that the Soviet avant-garde provided less a model for a radical interrogation of convention than a clutch of techniques for fragmenting and torquing space. In fact, the connection turned out to be just as tenuous as the movement’s engagement with Jacques Derrida’s philosophy from which it borrowed its name.

Never constructed, Tatlin’s Tower and Chernikov’s architectural fantasies belong, it seems, to an immaterial and somewhat mythic wing of art and architecture which has been written into history by seizing the imagination of architects, filmmakers and artists, as well as historians and curators, particularly in the West. This engagement with the Soviet past has never been disinterested. Éva Forgács has, for instance, argued that the category of Eastern European modernism was invented by the New Left in the West, charting events like London’s Hayward Gallery exhibition, Art in Revolution, organised with the support of the Soviet Ministry of Culture in 1971, as a kind of hopeful act of wish-fulfilment, particularly after 1968. Such exhibitions sought to reforge the broken link between revolutionary aesthetics and revolutionary politics.[9]

The merits of Forgács’s argument notwithstanding, what kind of assessment should be made of the afterlives of Soviet architectural experiments in what might seem to be a far less auspicious setting, namely that of the people’s republics of Eastern Europe? Here, particularly after 1968, the meanings allocated to Soviet culture by the intelligentsia were increasingly negative, yet the engagement with the Soviet avant-garde was, as I will show, often expert and sometimes profound. Researchers from Central Europe did much to excavate the art history of the Soviet avant-garde. Keen consumers of this scholarship, artists and architects from the Bloc were drawn to the models of practice and artistic languages that this intellectual archaeology provided. But what motivated impelled these revivals? Should we adopt Boym’s concept of the off-modern ‘architecture of adventure’ to make sense of these appearances? Or perhaps we might see these afterimages of constructivism and other unfinished Soviet experiments in darker terms as hauntings, a conceptualization of the past which affords agency to the dead. In 1994 Derrida invented a playful pun, ‘hauntology’, to reflect on the ways in which Marxism would haunt the world, and perhaps the left-wing intelligentsia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unsurprisingly, for philosopher-prophet of Deconstruction, a return is always its opposite, a new event:

Repetition and first time: this is perhaps the question of the event as question of the ghost. What is a ghost? What is the effectivity or the presence of a spectre, that is, of what seems to remain as ineffective, virtual, insubstantial as a simulacrum? Is there there, between the thing itself and its simulacrum, an opposition that holds up? Repetition and first time, but also repetition and last time, since the singularity of any first time makes of it also a last time. Each time it is the event itself, a first time is a last time. Altogether other. Staging for the end of history. Let us call it a hauntology.[10]

In what follows, I would like to adapt Derrida’s question – if not his method – to ask: what was the effectivity of the spectres of the Soviet avant-garde in Eastern Europe under communist rule? And, in particular, what kind of ghostly role did they play at its end in Eastern Europe? How was the revolutionary culture which formed at its beginning summoned at its end?

Thaw Ghosts

Of course, the Soviet imaginary was already full of its own ghosts. After his death in January 1924, Lenin was regularly conjured up by those who claimed to be his successors. The ‘Leninist spirit’ was invoked at every crisis in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc as a kind of energizing, restorative force. After the disaster of Stalinism, for instance, loyal Soviet citizens were encouraged to ‘return to Leninism’ and the policies of Perestroika and Glasnost channelled the Bolshevik leader, at least according to their authors in the Kremlin. Lenin was even issued a subpoena in Prague in 1968 as Warsaw Pact tanks rolled into the city: sardonic graffiti appealed on the city’s walls calling for the Bolshevik leader – ‘Wake up Lenin, Brezhnev’s gone mad.’[11] Gallows humour to be sure, but idea that Lenin was only sleeping was not, however, an entirely ironic one. When the Bolshevik leader died in 1924, a scheme was hatched by the faithful to ensure that he would be brought back to life one day. Embalming his body was just the first step in a complete programme of rejuvenation: ‘Our duty, our task, consists in bringing back to life all who have died …’.[12] The Bolshevik project sought, as Nina Tumarkin describes, to abolish death. Lenin’s tomb would be the symbol of this great programme of salvation. It was built in the form of three great cubes, following the teachings of Kazimir Malevich: ‘The cube is no longer a geometric body’ he announced. ‘It is a new object with which we try to portray eternity, to create a new set of circumstances, with which we can maintain Lenin’s eternal life’.[13]

Malevich was – in turn – a spectral presence in the communist world long after his death in 1935. Artists, writers, architects and poets in Eastern Europe felt compelled to search for and discover the Suprematist artist particularly after Stalinism. Malevich’s art flickered between visibility and obscurity, and myth and experience. It was known but rarely seen. For instance, one of the pioneering scholars of Soviet modernism, Szymon Bojko, a Pole, recalled his visits in the late 1950s and early 1960s to seek out his art – which he knew in reproduction in the avant-garde press in inter-war Poland – but then hidden in the stores of the Russian Museum in Leningrad. His fluent Russian, official invitations from the USSR Fine Arts Association and high-ranking status as a Central Committee member from a fraternal nation did little to improve his chances of seeing these suppressed works, such was the extent of the ‘embarrassment’ and ‘fear’ attached to Malevich’s art.[14]

Even though a posthumous injunction was placed on his art, Malevich could still be invoked. During the Zhdanovshchina in Poland, Polish modernist architects Helena and Szymon Syrkus – figures of considerable authority in the pre-war avant-garde – found that their friendship with the Suprematist artist twenty years earlier could be turned into a threatening indictment. Reflecting on their 1947 schemes for the Koło Housing Estate in Warsaw, Jan Minorski, an architect working in the Institute of Urbanism and Architecture, attacked the Syrkuses: ‘These architects often stress that their teacher was Malevich, who stressed the “tension” between solid forms and those of Suprematism. But why refer to a prophet if, in the new reality, the former “master” has nothing to say? This is poor advisor without authority! If Lachert’s work [a modernist architect – DC] is not understandable, how much more so is the work of the Syrkuses. Their forms, one must say, disturb the viewer.’[15] This was June 1949 but Minorski had already fully absorbed Soviet techniques of character assassination. Helena Syrkus had too: taking the stage at the international gathering of modernist architects, CIAM 7 (Congrès internationaux d’architecture modern), in Bergamo later in the summer of the same year, famously she gave her audience a public demonstration of the Soviet mania for ‘samokrytyka’, a public confession of the ‘errors’ in one’s earlier thinking or actions.[16] She argued that the kind of technological invention and abstract volumes which the CIAM members in the audience were committed, and that she herself had promoted so vigorously until recently, were already outmoded in the age of Soviet progress.

Malevich was ‘rehabilitated’ in Poland during the Thaw. The art press – enjoying a new found tolerance of abstract art – reproduced images of his architectons and the ‘Black Square’ (1913) copied from the pages of pre-war avant-garde periodicals.[17] These wan images were animated by memories of the artist’s month-long visit to Warsaw in 1927 from surviving members of the pre-war avant-garde, Henryk Stażewski and Jonasz Stern.[18] And when modernist Polish poet Julian Przyboś curated an exhibition of ‘Précurseurs de l’art abstrait en Pologne’ at the Galerie Denise René in Paris in 1957, he included works by Malevich, a gesture which claimed the artist as Pole (identified as Kazimierz Malewicz) and, more importantly, reconnected Warsaw with the twin capitals of pre-war modernism, Paris and Moscow. As the two works by Malevich which had been given to the Syrkuses after his exhibition in Berlin in 1927 – a suprematist composition on canvas and a maquette of an architecton – were lost (stolen from their studio in the winter of 1945), Przyboś had to borrow two canvases from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.[19]

The Czechoslovak engagement with Malevich runs on parallel tracks, even if the effects of the Thaw were felt there later than in Poland. Artists were drawn to his non-objective world from the late 1950s. In 1959 writer and collage-artist Jiří Kolář created a concrete poem dedicated to the artist,Pocta Kazimíru Malevičoviin which, according to Raoul-Jean Moulin ‘a page was torn in a gesture symbolizing the repudiation of the traditional painter.’[20] Six years later Kolář’s compatriot, composer Rudolf Komorous, created the first piece of electronic music in the country. Entitled ‘Malevich’s Grave’ (Náhrobek Malevičův), the piece eschewed melody, perhaps deriving its long tones and occasional pulses from the artist’s floating geometric masses and lines. In 1968 artist Stanislav Zippe of the Synteza group used a recording of Komorous’ ‘Malevich’s Grave’ to lend synaesthesic effects to one of his kinetic artworks, ‘Transformation’ (Proměna). Installed in the exhibition hall of the Music Theatre (Divadlo hudby) in Prague, the piece featured four white square surfaces placed on the ground and lit with lamps. A central light overhead changed colour whilst four light sources closer to the squares gained and reduced in brightness.

It is perhaps not surprising that Malevich was the first figure of the Soviet avant-garde to be excavated so thoroughly (in the West too[21]). Suprematism lent itself to these kinds of modern séances, bringing a measure of mysticism to an environment which was, by dint of official ideology, now to be organized by rational principles. In 1956 the Bloc had been signed up by Nikolai Bulganin in the Kremlin to Scientific-Technological Revolution. This was to be a new rational programme which would put Eastern Bloc societies, after Stalin, back on the path to full-blown communism. Yet, what is striking about the way in which the embrace of science contained a cosmic or even a spiritual aspect, even in the heart of the empire. Dvizhenie (Movement) – a group founded in Moscow art schools in the early 1960s by a group of seven young artists including Francisco Infante and Lev Nussberg – included the most eager acolytes of Malevich. Ambitious and resourceful, Nussberg and Infante developed a sophisticated practice from their still incomplete understanding of the activities of the Soviet avant-garde in the early 1920s. A fascination in infinite forms, derived from geometry, was combined, for instance, with a shrewd understanding that the emerging design and technology infrastructure of the Scientific-Technological Revolution presented new opportunities for modern art. Exhibited in public institutions like the Kurchatov Institute for Atomic Energy and the Institute of High Temperatures in Moscow, their abstract works could be characterized as research. This was not a matter of rhetorical camouflage: science seemed to be offering novel materials for the production of a new order of synthetic art. Nussberg wrote:

The synthesis of different technical means and art forms is [an] important side of our searches. An artist must take all the basic means that exist in nature-light-color, sound, movement (not just in time and space), scents, changing temperatures, gases and liquids, optical effects, electromagnetic fields .. .., etc. All depends on the creative fire of the individual.[22]

This sense of excitement is captured in early works like Infante’s 1963 ‘Space-Movement-Infinity’, an exercise in geometry in which a series of two-dimensional crystal forms are overlaid. Turning in an infinite space, they seem to recede to a luminous red point. Subtitled ‘Design for a Kinetic Object’, Infante developed his ‘design’ into a sculpture fashioned from revolving cubes illuminated with small lights. Whilst such schemes – ostensibly – might be presented as models or prototypes for some unspecified public art, they are better understood as explorations into what Malevich had famously called the non-objective world in 1916.[23] Their philosophy of art combined a ‘politically correct’ enthusiasm for Soviet science with an illicit interest in metaphysics. Space exploration had opened – at least in the minds of young artists – a perspective on the infinite. The group’s 1966 manifesto, broadcasting their commitment to Kineticism, announced the dawn of a new sensibility:

We are pioneers.

We unite the WORLD to KINETICISM

TODAY’S man is torn apart, sick. “Man, are you not tired of destruction?”

TODAY’S child is already the cosmic generation.

The stars have come nearer. Then let ART draw people together through the breath of the stars![24]

Formally, many of the group’s artworks eschewed the dynamic and dissonant forms favoured by the Soviet avant-garde (typified by Lissitzky’s ‘Red Wedge’, 1920). Symmetry and balance pointed to a hidden order in the universe. Nussberg wrote ‘It is more rational to try with the help of absolute regularity – symmetry (asymmetry belongs here as well, it is a symmetry of a higher order, only more universal and more hidden!) to shape all the richness of the human spirit.’[25]

Whilst abstract art remained a matter of considerable controversy in the Soviet Union throughout the 1960s, Dvizhenie operated with official imprimatur, only occasionally falling foul of its patrons in the party-state. The group’s chief ideologue, Lev Nussberg, was a well-connected and skilful operator, adept at persuading the Soviet authorities to support the group’s projects. In the late 1960s, Dvizhenie’s works travelled abroad, first in the Eastern Bloc and then in Western Germany.[26] They were widely reported in the international press too, providing vivid evidence of the creativity of Soviet culture after its apparent ossification during the Stalin years.

Back to the Future

To find examples where Soviet avant-garde and politics intersect critically we have to look to the late 1960s or, more precisely, the anniversary of the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution in the autumn of 1967. This event – as I’ve noted above – was embraced by communist authorities across the Bloc as a way of asserting the authority of the Soviet Union as the leading force in world history. Throughout the 1960s, the impending anniversary formed an important, magnetic point on the horizon. Numerous Soviet achievements in the fields of science, engineering and technology were timed for completion in 1967. The ‘eternal’ figure of Lenin was central to these anniversary events too. A new print of Eisenstein’s film ‘October’ (1927) was reissued with many of the cuts made during the Stalin years restored and a new soundtrack composed by Dmitry Shostakovich (op. 131, ‘October – a symphonic poem in C minor’).

Lev Nussberg’s design for a son et lumiere spectacle at the Finland Station, Leningrad, organized as part of the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution, 1967

2. Lev Nussberg’s design for a son et lumiere spectacle at the Finland Station, Leningrad, organized as part of the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution, 1967

The film played an ambassadorial role, travelling around the world. Similarly, Dvizhenie – the group of young artists who had been such keen enthusiasts for Malevich’s art – orchestrated an electric tribute to Lenin in Leningrad (fig 2). Four enormous screens were placed around the monument to the Bolshevik leader outside the Finland Station, the historic site of his return to Russia in 1917. Historic film footage as well as Soviet movies dramatising the revolution were projected onto three screens whilst three beams of colour brought a suggestion of movement to Lenin’s looming silhouette on the fourth. A sound collage of music, poems and Lenin’s speeches filled the air.

The festive rediscovery of the ‘spirit of October’ was also stage-managed across the Bloc. Numerous exhibitions were organized and publications issued with official imprimatur. The August and September 1967 issue of Výtvarné Umění – with Kolibal’s cover – was dedicated to the Soviet avant-garde, much of the content drawn from research which had been conducted in Soviet archives and collections by Miroslav Lamač and Jiří Padrta since the early 1960s.[27] It was a remarkably rich visual and textual archive: alongside numerous high quality images of works by Gabo, El Lissitzky and others, it featured translations of historic documents such as extracts of Malevich’s 1919 book On New Systems in Art (O Novykh Sistemakh Visk) and Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner’s 1920 ‘Realist Manifesto’ (Realisticheskii manifest). (The only engagement with the Soviet present in this issue was a lengthy section on the Dvizhenie group including a translation of the group’s 1966 manifesto).

‘New Art at the Time of the October Revolution’ exhibition, Współczesna Gallery, Warsaw, November 1967- during installation.

3. ‘New Art at the Time of the October Revolution’ exhibition, Współczesna Gallery, Warsaw, November 1967- during installation.

In Warsaw, the Współczesna Gallery under director Janusz Bogucki opened a show on 8th November 1967 (the fiftieth anniversary in the Gregorian Calendar) entitled ‘New Art at the Time of the October Revolution’ (‘Nowa sztuka czasów Rewolucji Październikowej’) (fig 3). The interior of the gallery was organised as ‘agit-tram’ to represent the propaganda work of the avant-garde during the Civil War period. The artworks included prints, architectural models, books and magazines, as well as ceramics produced by the Soviet artists, many of which were drawn from the collection of Szymon Bojko. Efsir Shub’s ‘The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty’ (1927) and Sergei Eisenstein’s ‘Strike’ (1925) were screened and pre-war leftist artists, including Futurist poet and gulag-survivor Anatol Stern, were invited to speak in the gallery. Similarly, in Budapest students from the Faculty of Architecture at Budapest Technical University operated a semi-official gallery (i.e., tolerated, meaning uncensored and unfunded) in their student centre at ut. Bercsenyi 28-30. One 1968 show, curated by Tihamér Gyarmathy, an abstract painter whose career began before the Second World War, explored the heritage of the Soviet avant-garde.[28] Copies of works by Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky and Tatlin were put on display.

On one hand, these investigations into the history of the avant-garde enjoyed official imprimatur and, as such, belong to a history of rehabilitation of inter-war modernism which can be traced back to the Khrushchev Thaw. As Susan Reid has noted of the Soviet context: ‘Under the protection of the regime-led reorientation of archive, practitioners and historians particularly rehabilitated Constructivism and other modernist tendencies in disgrace since the early thirties, retrieving them as instructive precedents for contemporary architectural and design tasks …’.[29] On the other, the concept of revolution appears to have been a matter of some concern to the Polish authorities and perhaps others around the Bloc in 1967 and 1968. The original title planned for the anniversary exhibition in the Współczesna Gallery in Warsaw, ‘Avant-garde and Revolution’ (Awangarda i rewolucja) was, seemingly, too inflammatory, too prospective. Officials working for the state press agency, MPiK ‘Ruch’, which provided the space for the Gallery in the Great Theatre (Wielki Teatr), demanded the unmistakably retrospective title ‘New Art of the Time of the October Revolution.’[30]

What triggered this anxious reaction on the part of the Polish authorities remains obscure. But the answer may be found in the emergence of the New Left – often student radicals – across the People’s Republics. Critical voices in Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Prague Spring and Hungary were becoming increasingly bold making ‘revolutionary’ demands: famously Milan Kundera, for instance, took to the stage at the Writers Congress in June 1967 demanding freedom of speech and denouncing the ‘degeneration’ of socialism under Soviet rule of Czechoslovakia.[31] In spring 1968 in Hungary, the state rounded up and prosecuted radical socialists – many children of prominent communists – for conspiracy. Their crimes were negligible: inserting leaflets denouncing ‘the red bourgeoisie’ in Hungary and the Soviet Union into library books; and attempting to make contacts with hard-liners in Albania and China (lending the accused the badge of Maoism). Nevertheless, some fifty were put on trial and some imprisoned.[32]

4. Scene from ‘The Agitators’ (Agitatorok), directed by Dezső Magyar, 1969-70.

4. Scene from ‘The Agitators’ (Agitatorok), directed by Dezső Magyar, 1969-70.

By a curious turn of events, some of the Hungarian radicals in the dock in 1968 stood before the camera in 1969 as actors when the Béla Balázs Studio commissioned director Dezső Magyar to make ‘The Agitators’ (Agitatorok), an experimental feature film marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Hungarian Soviet Republic (fig 4). Magyar and Gábor Bódy adapted Ervin Sinkó’s novel The Optimists (Optimistak) by combining it with other historical and contemporary sources. In the manner of Godard’s film ‘La Chinoise’, the student actors ‘ventriloquise’ the words of György Lukács as well as Mao and Che, and the soundtrack includes music by the Rolling Stones. By folding past and present together, this cinematic portrait of Hungary’s short-lived 1919 commune asked what happened to the ‘spirit of revolution’ in Eastern Europe after the repression of the Prague Spring and Kádárism.

‘The Agitators’ is also reminder of the fact that the rediscovery of the Soviet avant-garde took place alongside that of ‘local’ constructivists like the Blok group in Poland and Lajos Kassák, the Hungarian activist.[33] The fact that ‘living’ connections to the avant-garde could be established in the late 1960s and early 1970s was significant. In Hungary, for instance, artist, poet and activist Kassák carried a particular kind of moral authority. In 1967, in the final year of his life, his Képarchitektúra (‘Picture Architecture’) works of the late 1910s and 1920s were exhibited in the Adolf Fényes Hall in Budapest (another ‘tolerated’ zone). These abstract schemes – based on the dynamic organization of geometric shapes and volumes – eschewed conventional and immediate architectural concerns in favour of a universal architectural language, perhaps belonging to the future. In his manifesto-like statement of 1922, Kassák announced:

Képarchitektúra rejects all schools – including the schooling of ourselves.

Képarchitektúra does not confine itself to particular materials and particular means; like Merz-art it regards all kinds of materials and means as useful to express itself.

Képarchitektúra does not dabble in psychology.

Képarchitektúra does not want anything.

Képarchitektúra wants everything ….[34]

The majority of the visitors to the Adolf Fényes Hall in 1967 saw these works for the first time. (‘This’, wrote Kassák, ‘will be the first introduction of constructivism. The gate has opened, and I am walking through it’[35]). This added to his myth as what Forgács has called ‘an anti-authoritarian authority’:[36] a poet, artist and activist, he began his career before the First World War and died in 1967. He was opposed to the bourgeois culture of the Dual Monarchy and antagonistic to György Lukács’s Nyugat progressives; an active figure during the Commune in 1919 who was said to have resisted the instrumentalisation of his art as propaganda;[37] harassed by the Police in Hungary in the 1930s and the new regime which took hold in Hungary in 1949. Paradoxically perhaps, Kassák – the polemical and abrasive writer and artist associated with montage and other fragmented aesthetics – offered some kind of continuity in a broken chain of catastrophes in Hungary in the twentieth century. At the end of his life Kassák was adopted by the emerging neo-avant-garde as the symbol of intellectual independence (despite being awarded the Kossuth Prize). Often it was Kassák’s positions in relation to power which drew his adherents but some were drawn to his art as well. In 1973, for instance, neo-avant-garde artist and film-maker Dóra Maurer printed three issues of Ma, the first of which not only adopted the title but also the layout of Kassák’s avant-garde magazine (1916-1925).

Reclaiming the Past

The generation of artists and architects who had engaged with Soviet Suprematism and Constructivism after the Thaw did so in order to reflect on the future, perhaps optimistically. Another order of schemes emerged across the Eastern Bloc in the 1970s and 1980s which were concerned with the past. This was evident within the phenomenon of ‘paper architecture’, fantastic schemes designed by architects, often as entries in international competitions.[38] Russian architect Yuri Avvakumov made models which invoked the tribunes and propaganda structures designed by Gustav Klutsis and El Lissitzky at the end of the Soviet Union; whilst his compatriots Dmitry Bush and Dmitry Podyapolsky imagined a mirror structure in the centre of a teaming megalopolis as a white square. Their 1986 drawing carried the evocative and unmistakable title ‘The Cube of Infinity.’ Widely exhibited and published, the schemes were firmly associated with Soviet Russia, with Avvakumov reintroducing the term for the title of an exhibition in Moscow in the offices of a literary magazine, Jonost (Youth), in 1984.[39] But the phenomenon predated its Avvakumov’s act of nomination. Artists and architects associated with the Tallinn School produced an exceptional body of paper architectural schemes through the course of the 1970s which often used the vocabularies of Constructivism and Suprematism somewhat ironically: Leonhard Lapin designed, for instance, an ‘Anti-International Monument. Tower (Stable) For Artist Valdur Ohakas’ Donkey’ in 1974, alluding perhaps to the primitive techniques employed in the construction of the first Soviet monuments.[40] Moreover, the phenomenon of Paper Architecture was spread more widely across the Bloc than is generally recognized: young Czech architects Lukas Velíšek, Martin Suchánek and Michal Šourek, also revisited Tatlin’s Tower in a scheme in the early 1980s which envisaged this symbol of ‘permanent revolution’ as a metaphor for a human life, one which necessarily results in death. Their tower was organized as a kind of instrument for recycling the remains of dead buildings. Perhaps it is easy to read such schemes with the hindsight of history, nevertheless, it seems that these paper projects often took pastness, entropy and breakdown as their themes.

5. Gábor Bachman, Miklós Haraszti, György Konrád and László Rajk, The Striker’s House, entry into the Bulwark of Resistance competition, Japan Architect, 1986.

5. Gábor Bachman, Miklós Haraszti, György Konrád and László Rajk, The Striker’s House, entry into the Bulwark of Resistance competition, Japan Architect, 1986.

One scheme produced in Hungary in 1985, ‘The Striker’s House’, stands out. Created in response to a competition announced in Japan Architect with superstar architect Tadao Ando as the judge, ‘The Striker’s House’ is an unorthodox axonometric drawing combining photographic elements and dynamic arrangements of lettering (fig 5). The house is an angular structure formed of black and red ‘wedges’ arranged on a structure fashioned from what seem to be industrial materials. Revolving on a locomotive turntable, it is an agit-train wagon as if designed by a latter-day Constructivist. Train tracks radiate in all directions and the railway shed is filled with posts and banners dressed with slogans to motivate the striker. Perhaps these are the tools of the commissar or the activist, ready to travel wherever he or she is needed.

‘The Striker’s House’ was the invention of a remarkable quartet of intellectuals who combined New Left and neo-avant-garde pedigrees. They were artist Gábor Bachman and architect László Rajk, the son of the victim of the first show trial in Hungary in 1949, László Rajk snr. A samizdat publisher and distributor, Rajk designed covers for books published by AB Kiadó (AB Press) – including Tibor Méray’s notes on the trial of Imre Nagy, Why Did They Have to Die? (Miért kellett meghalniuk, 1982) and reports of strikes in Poland, Radom-URSUS 1976 (1983). He also illustrated György Dalos’s 1985, a samizdat extension of Orwell’s dystopian novel, imagining the death of Big Brother and the end of his authoritarian rule.[41] Rajk and Bachman had founded their creative partnership in 1981, designing interiors and film sets, often in a modish neo-constructivist style. In fact, Rajk had been involved in publishing Soviet designs even earlier, lending materials which he had sourced as a student in Canada, for an issue of the semi-official periodical, Bercsényi 28-30, published in 1977 by students of the architecture faculty at the Technical University. In conceiving ‘The Striker’s House’, they were joined by the dissident writers György Konrád and Miklós Haraszti whose books had indicted the communist state for its betrayal of socialism. Haraszti, a former Maoist, for instance, had written Darabbér (which appeared in English as A Worker in a Worker’s State[42]), a book about the exploitative use of piece rates in Hungarian factories in 1973. Circulated as samizdat in just eleven copies, he was arrested and charged with incitement against the state. In jail, he went on hunger strike and had to be force-fed.

‘The Striker’s House’ was a memorial work, commemorating the wave of strikes in Poland in 1979 which had led to the Gdansk Accords between the state and the Solidarity Trade Union.

What we discussed with Konrád and Haraszti, and then finally decided on was the idea that the strike is the extreme extreme of peaceful resistance. It is not only peaceful but you put yourself and your family in danger. It is like standing in front of the guns naked. The resistance is your own self-sacrifice. This is what we want to demonstrate with a house which first loses its exterior and finally stands naked.[43]

This theme – even though expressed in a coded fashion – was sufficient to make this drawing a threatening object in 1985 (by which time Solidarity had been forced underground). As a result, its authors were only able to send it to Japan with the help of a friendly contact in the American embassy in Budapest. This was, in effect, samizdat architectural design.

One reading of ‘The Striker’s House’ scheme is to see it as an ironic object, commemorating anti-Soviet politics in a proto-Soviet style. But its Leftism should not be read as dissimulation. Perhaps this image is evidence both a kind of nostalgia for revolutionary politics, as well a note of envy on the part of these Hungarian writers and artists for the alliance between the workers – expressed here in the leftist iconography of industrial civilization – and the intelligentsia which had given Solidarity such force in Poland. This is something that Konrád and Iván Szelényi had argued for in their Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power, written in the summer of 1973 and published in samizdat.[44] On its pages, we find another expression of the desire of Hungarian intellectuals on the Left to be ‘anti-authoritarian authorities’.

‘The Striker’s House’ was not built: it was paper architecture after all. But, remarkably, it was given material form as the subject of an 1985 film made by Bachman and shot in the industrial ruins of the gas plant near the Óbuda district of the capital. This facility had been closed down in the previous year. Shot illegally on video with Gábor Bódy (an artist, film-director and an actor who had written the screenplay for ‘The Agitators’), the film records ‘The Striker’s Home’ being pushed on rails by a group of men into the decaying factory. Like the demonstrations from the 1920s during which Tatlin’s Tower had been wheeled through the streets of Petrograd, this object of the machine age is moved by human power. The structure is decorated with the slogan ‘Munka és Tett’ (Work and Action), a combination of the title of two journals published by Kassák in the 1910s and 20s. The block lettering makes the connection explicit. One of the figures delivers a speech with a megaphone, accompanied by workers beating and welding. Like a concert of industrial sounds played out in this industrial ruins, Bachman seems to forge a link with then fashionable style of Industrial Music (created by Einsturzende Neubauten and others). Delivered in the hectoring tones of a commissar, this monologue sounds like an absurd manifesto. Philosophic and poetic at the same time, it points to the uselessness of art. ‘The aim of art is to describe what cannot be described … Increasingly decaying into irrationalism … Hunger is not the only reason for our insomnia … It is impossible to fill even only one hour of my existence with that, I want someone to cut my throat with a sharp stone!’ Bachman’s film took its title, ‘The Construction of Nothing’ and commissar’s sloganeering from a text by János Megyik, an émigré Hungarian artist living in Vienna.[45] Absurdity and irrationalism conjoin with these images of ruination to point to the utter exhaustion of utopianism. ‘The Striker’s House’ – in this second iteration – was a symbol of entropy.

‘The Striker’s House’ was a self-conscious attempt to form a loop between the start and the end of the Soviet system. It was after all, an expression of anti-Soviet sentiment by some of its most active opponents. But it did not actually mark the end. That role was, perhaps, played by another design by Bachman and Rajk four years later. In 1989 they were commissioned to design the setting for one of the milestone events at the end of communist rule in Eastern Europe, the reburial of Prime Minister Imre Nagy and the leadership of the 1956 Uprising. Nagy and his colleagues had been executed two years after the suppression of the Uprising, their bodies buried – face down and bound – in unmarked grave. The question of how to remember the Uprising and its victims was one of the tensions between official and dissenting culture in Hungary in the 1980s. In 1988 the state made a concession by establishing a Committee for Historical Justice (Történelmi Igazságtétel Bizottság) which began a process of reassessing the show trials and the cases of those executed after 1956. Within a year the state had ‘agreed to the reburial of those executed on 16 June 1958’, the date of Nagy’s death.
 That event – which took place in June 1989 – became a milestone in Hungary’s transition to a new, more democratic regime.

6. Gábor Bachman and László Rajk, decorations for the reburial of Imre Nagy and his associates, Műcsarnok Gallery, Budapest, 16 June 1989.

6. Gábor Bachman and László Rajk, decorations for the reburial of Imre Nagy and his associates, Műcsarnok Gallery, Budapest, 16 June 1989.

The ceremony took place in Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere) in the centre of Budapest. Six coffins – placed different wedge-shaped, angular forms – were organized in ranks in front of the Műcsarnok, a neo-classical art gallery (fig 6). Five contained remains of the leaders of the Uprising, whilst the sixth remained empty to symbolise more than 300 others who were executed. Bachman and Rajk designed symbolic objects which narrated the Hungarian experience of communist rule. The slanted rostrum echoed the propaganda structures designed by Gustav Klutsis and El Lissitzky in the 1920s but now had the appearance of age, seemingly rusty. It supported an angular ‘white wedge’ featuring a burned-out circular form, reminiscent of the Hungarian flags which were stripped of their communist insignia during the 1956 Uprising. These were not the only historical allusions. László Rajk – Rajk’s own father – had been the victim of a show trial in 1949 and had been reburied as a hero during the short Nagy government in October 1956. His catafalque been displayed outside the Kossuth Mausoleum before his remains were buried in the Kerepesi Cemetery. The theatrical treatment of the setting in 1989 had other historical echoes. Dressed in black and white linen for the event, the Műcsarnok overlooks Heroes Square. During the Commune in 1919, the national figures on the Millennium Monument of 1900 (which lend the square its name) were also covered in red fabric and a temporary statue of Karl Marx embracing the workers was erected. For an event marking the end of communist rule, the reburial of the victims of 1956 was suffused with traces of its beginning, namely the Commune. The event was intended by the authorities to be an act of atonement: Bachman and Rajk’s design sought to lay much more to rest.

The diverse encounters of Eastern European intellectuals with the Soviet avant-garde never cohered into a orderly body of knowledge or a coherent historical project. Images of abstract art and fantastic architectural schemes were summoned up, often at moments of political tension, because they provided the means to reflect on revolution. Copies or facsimiles of original Soviet works, these were invariably short-lived apparitions. Moreover, the interest was a somewhat specialist taste on the part of some Eastern European intellectuals. This, as I have suggested, was threaded with a latent concern about their own role in relation to power. Here, perhaps, another important difference with the rediscovery of the Soviet avant-garde in the West can be drawn. Constructivism and Suprematism were the subject of considerable market interest in the 1970s and 1980s as well as ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions like the Paris-Moscow 1900-1930’ curated by Pontus Hulton at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1979. Only in the final years the communist rule in Eastern Europe was something similar attempted. In 1987 the Műcsarnok Gallery in Budapest (which had lent its entrance to the ceremony for the reburial of Nagy and the other victims of 1956) mounted ‘Art and Revolution: Soviet Art, 1910-1932’ (Muvészet és forradalom: Orosz-Szovjet muvészet, 1910-1932) with the support of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A pioneering and extensive review of the Soviet avant-garde featuring original artworks by Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, Malevich, Kandinsky, Tatlin, Rodchenko and others from Soviet collections, the response of the public to the show was muted. Art critic and curator Katalin Keserü recalls an ‘almost ghostly visit paid by János Kádár on New Year’s Day 1987.’ What the secretary of the communist party and prime minister who had been given the reigns of power after the Soviet repression of the Uprising in 1956 thought of the exhibits is not known. ‘Most probably he had expected to see a social realist exhibition’, speculates Keserü, ‘but it is to his credit that he thoroughly examined the entire show, presenting the work of the avant-garde leading forward to that of Stalinism’.[46] Perhaps the Kremlin’s long-serving and loyal retainer was haunted by a sense of what-might-have-been.

[1] Svetlana Boym, Architecture of the Off-Modern (New York: Princeton University Press, 2008).

[2] Ibid, 14.

[3] Ibid, 36. See also Nathalie Leleu, ‘Mettre le regard sous le contrôle du toucher – Répliques, copies et reconstitutions au XXe siècle: Les tentations de l’historien de l’art’ in Les Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne, no.93, (autumn 2005) pp.84–10

[4] Peter Cook, Architecture: action and plan (London: Studio Vista, 1967).

[5] See Simon Sadler, Archigram: Architecture without Architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005).

[6] Jiři Hrůza, Město Utopistů (Prague: Československý spisovatel,1967) 163.

[7] Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley, Deconstructivist Architecture, exh. cat., (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1988) 133

[8] Ibid, 11.

[9] Éva Forgács, ‘How the New Left Invented East-European Art’ in Centropa, 3:2 (2003) 97-100.

[10] Jacques Derrida, ‪Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International translated by Peggy Kamuf (London: Routledge, 1994) 10

[11] Galia Golan, ‪Reform Rule in Czechoslovakia: The Dubček Era, 1968-1969 (‪London: CUP, 1973) 244.

[12] Malevich cited in Karen L. Ryan, ‪Stalin in Russian Satire, 1917–1991, (‪Madison, Wis,: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009) 159.

[13] Nina Tumarkin, Lenin Lives!: The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia (Cambridge, MA: ‪Harvard University Press, 1997) 190.

[14] See Szymon Bojko, ‘Kazimierz Malewicz – bohater tragiczny?’ in Obieg (May 2009) –www.obieg.pl/teksty/11249 – accessed 2 January 2015.

[15] Jan Minorski in O polską architekturę socjalistyczną. Materiały z Krajowej Partyjnej Narady Architektów odbytej w dniu 20-21 VI, 1949 roku w Warszawie (Warsaw: Min. Budownictwa, 1950) 65-6.

[16] Helena Syrkus later came to regret her forthright support for the Stalinist regime. See Syrkus in Ogólnopolski Narada Architektów (Warsaw: SARP, 1956) 485.

[17] See for instance, the February 1958 issue of Przegląd Artystyczny, which takes the form of a thirty-page calendar of the history of Polish avant-garde art that takes Malevich’s Black Square (1913) as a point of origin and ends with the 1957 exhibition, ‘Précurseurs de l’art abstrait en Pologne’ at the Galerie Denise René in Paris in 1957 which featured the suprematist’s works.

[18] On this visit see Andrzej Turowski, Malewicz w Warszawie: rekonstrukcje i symulacje (Warsaw: Universitas, 2002).

[19] H Syrkus, ‘Kazimierz Malewicz’ in Rocznik Historii Sztuki, v. 1 n. 1 (1976) 153.

[20] Raoul-Jean Moulin, ‘Une demystification de la parole et de l’image’ in Jiří Kolář (Paris: Opus, 1973) 20

[21] Margarita Tupitsyn has surveyed the shadow cast by Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ over abstract art and minimalism in the West since the 1960s in her book Malevich and Film (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002)

[22] Lev Nussberg, notes from an undated manuscript, cited by Vyacheslav F. Koleychuk, ‘The Dvizheniye Group: Toward a Synthetic Kinetic Art’ in Leonardo, vol. 27, no. 5, (1994) 433-436

[23] Kasimir Malevich, The Non-Objective World: The Manifesto of Suprematism (London: Dover Publications, 2003) Reprint of 1959 edition translated from the German by Howard Dearstyne (Chicago, P. Theobald, c. 1959).

[24] Lev Nussberg, Manifesto of Russian Kineticists (1966), as translated in Igor Golomshtok and Alexander Glezer, Soviet Art in Exile (New York: Random House, 1977) 164.

[25] Nussberg (1964) cited by Vít Havránek, ‘Transient and Dispersed’ in akce slovo pohyb prostor, exh. cat., City Art Gallery (Prague: 1999) 378.

[26] With close contacts in Prague Dvizhenie played a key channel for knowledge about the work of Soviet Constructivists in Czechoslovakia. Dušan Konečný, a Russophile art critic, was instrumental in publishing the group’s work in the Czech press as early in 1964 and bringing it to the city for an exhibition in 1965 (a show entitled Moskvské kinetické umĕni (Moscow Kinetic Art) at the Karlové Náměsti Gallery in Prague. Art critics, Jindřich Chalupecký, Miroslav Lamač and Jiří Padrta – each of whom wrote about Malevich – were visitors to Nussberg’s Moscow studio too. For detail on these exchanges, see Vít Havránek, ‘Transient and Dispersed’ in akce slovo pohyb prostor, exh. cat., City Art Gallery (Prague: 1999) 379-82. Dvizhenie were given exhibitions in Galerie Gmurzynska in Cologne in 1973 and Museum Bochum in 1978.

[27] They were commissioned by Carl Gutbrot, the director of the Dumont-Schauberg publishing house in Cologne. Their research was published in a book of Malevich’s texts and artwork edited by Hans von Riesen, Suprematismus – Die gegenstandslose Welt (Cologne: Verlag V. DuMont Schauberg, 1962). See http://www.andrei-nakov.org/en/malewicz.html – accessed 2 January 2015.

[28] Gyarmathy’s career began in the early 1930s and reached an early peak when his work was shown at the Salon des Réalites Nouvelles in Paris in 1947. During the 1950s went into ‘internal exile’ by refusing to exhibit his work.

[29] Susan E. Reid, ‘Design, Stalin and the Thaw’ in Journal of Design History, v. 10, no. 2 (1997) 112.

[30] Dorota Jarecka, ‘Janusz Bogucki, polski Szeemann?’ in Karol Sienkiewicz, ed., Odrzucone Dziedzictwo. O sztuce polskiej lat 80 (Warsaw: Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej, 2011) 26.

Two weeks later, the National Theatre staged Adam Mickiewicz’s poetic drama ‘Forefather’s Eve’ (Dziady, 1822) in the same building complex. It too was to planned as a fiftieth anniversary event: the play’s references to dull-witted bureaucrats and Tsarist despotism were in tune with Lenin’s attack on Tsarist Russia. But the Polish audience read the 1967 performance as allegory for the present. They jeered the imperial characters and applauded anti- Russian sentiment. The early closure of the play in late January 1968 – allegedly at the request of the Russian Embassy – was one trigger for a period of public protests and high tension in 1968 that has come to be known as the ‘March events’ (wydarzenia marcowe).

[31] See Dušan Hamšík Writers Against Rulers, trans D. Orpington (New York : Vintage Books, 1971) 168.

[32] See ‪Robert Gildea, James Mark, Anette Warring, eds., ‪Europe’s 1968: Voices of Revolt (Oxford: ‪Oxford University Press, 2013) passim.

[33] By the strange and brutal twists of intellectual history in Eastern Europe, prominent figures who had been conscripted to damn the avant-garde during the Stalinist years now lent their names and, sometimes, their memories to this project of historical disinterment. Pre-war modernist and apologist for Socialist Realism in the 1950s Jiří Kroha published a substantial study (with Jiří Hrůza) entitled Sovětská Architektonická Avantgarda (The Soviet Architectural Avant-garde) (Prague: Odeon, 1973) and Helena Syrkus wrote a vivid and detailed essay recalling her life-long engagement with Malevich – see footnote 18.

[34] Lajos Kassák, ‘Képarchitektúra’ (Picture Architecture) in Ma, March 1922, trans. George Cushing in The Hungarian Avant-Garde (exhibition catalogue Hayward Gallery, 1980) 116.

[35] Kassák cited by Ferenc Csaplár, ‘From Prohibition to Tolerance, Kassák’s Work and the Cultural Politics of the 1960s’ (2006) available at http://tranzit.org/exhibitionarchive/texts/1135-2/ – accessed 2 January 2015.

[36] Éva Forgács, ‘“You Feed Us So that We Can Fight Against You.” Concepts of the Art and State in the Hungarian Avant-Garde’ in Arcadia – International Journal for Literary Studies, vol 41, no. 2 (December 2006) 264.

[37] Ibid, 267.

[38] See Deutsches Architektur Museum, Paper Architecture. New Projects from the Soviet Union (New York: Rizzoli, 1990); Alexey Yurakovsky and Sophie Ovenden, Post-Soviet Art and Architecture (London: Academy Editions, 1994).

[39] The first uses of the term in the Soviet context were critical, even self-critical. Viktor Vesnin in 1934, after the official adoption of Socialist Realism, reflected on his own post-revolutionary schemes: ‘The greatest sin of our modern architecture was that is had been mostly on paper, and this paper had been completely divorced from real practice’ See Constantin Boym, New Russian Design (Rizzoli: New York, 1992) PAGE

[40] See Andres Kurg and Mari Laanemets’ essays in Keskkonnad, projektid, kontseptsioonid Tallinna kooli arhitektid 1972-1985 (Environment, projects, concepts. Architects of the Tallinn School 1972-1985) (Tallinn: Eesti Arhitektuurimuuseum, 2008).

[41] György Dalos, 1985, trans. Stuart Hood and Estella Schmid (London: Pluto, 1983).

[42] Miklós Haraszti, A Worker in a Worker’s State trans. Michael Wright (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1978).

[43] László Rajk interview with the author, Budapest, July 2012.

[44] György Konrád and Iván Szelényi, Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power, trans. Andrew Arato and Richard E. Allen (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1979).

[45] János Megyik, ‘A semmi konstrukciója’ Magyar Műhely 43-44 (1974), 33-39.

[46] Katalin Keserü on the history of the Műcsarnok – http://www.mucsarnok.hu/new_site/index.php?lang=en&about=5&curmenu=305 – accessed 2 January 2015

Pop Effects in Eastern Europe under Communist Rule

Collage, Eastern Europe, Modernism, Uncategorized

PA8In September 1974 Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid exhibited four works at an exhibition of nonconformist art in Moscow, which had been reluctantly permitted by the authorities. Two weeks earlier, the artists had had an artwork – a double self-portrait as Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin – destroyed in the notorious demolition of the ‘Bulldozer Exhibition’, another open-air display of nonconformist art.[1] The state-sponsored violence (conducted by loyal workers outraged at the anti-Soviet art, according to official reports) had caused a storm of international protest and so a second exhibition was hastily organised. Komar and Melamid’s canvases in this second show appeared to be heavily damaged showpieces of pop art: they included versions of one of Andy Warhol’s 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans 1962 and Robert Indiana’s The Confederacy: Alabama 1965.

Komar and Melamid, Post-Art

Komar and Melamid, Post-Art

Works from their ‘Post-Art’ series, the canvases appeared as if they had been salvaged by citizens of the Soviet Union from some kind of catastrophe that had befallen capitalist America. Interpreted in these eschatological terms, Komar and Melamid’s works could be aligned with official analyses of history in the Soviet Union. In the early 1970s, Nikita Khrushchev’s 1961 ringing promise to ‘catch up and overtake the West’ was still being repeated by the Kremlin (even when it was widely known that the Soviet Union was dependent on importing US food stuffs and machinery).[2] Nevertheless, Komar and Melamid’s ‘Post-Art’ hardly represented orthodoxy: art in the Soviet Union during the Leonid Brezhnev era (1964–82) was to provide ringing, uplifting images of Soviet progress.

Pop art was an unmistakably foreign phenomenon to both its champions and enemies in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. A number of Soviet commentators – including prominent aestheticians – wrote book-length studies of pop art in the 1960s and early 1970s.[3] Their objection to pop art belonged to a broader critique of what ideologues called the ‘decadence’ of the West, a word that signalled the abandonment of the uplifting role of culture in favour of base and selfish pleasures. As such, pop art presented a pronounced version of what Soviet critics detected more generally in modernism. Their high-minded critiques were also underscored by deep-set anxiety about the effects of mass culture in the Soviet Union. As the state invested in television, pop music and limited forms of consumerism, to satisfy the growing expectations of Soviet citizens, patrician ideologues worried about what they saw as their pernicious effects.

Even if the Soviet engagement with pop art was predominately antagonistic, it testifies to the fact that the works of Andy Warhol or Robert Rauschenberg as well as pop art from Western Europe was known, at least indirectly, through their reproduction in books and magazines. These materials often arrived ‘off set’, via the ‘fraternal’ nations of the Eastern Bloc where, by comparison, more liberal cultural policies were in place. Many Soviet artists and critics testify to having read illustrated magazines such as Projekt (Poland) and Umění (Czechoslovakia) to extract information about developments in the West.[4] Well-travelled and well-informed writers like Jindřich Chalupecký in Czechoslovakia and Urszula Czartoryska in Poland wrote articles and books on contemporary art that detailed the activities of the Independent Group in London or the Sonnabend Gallery in New York.[5] Their analyses were remarkably free of the heavy hand of official ideology and might even be read indirectly as a critique of Soviet culture. In his 1965 book, Umění dnes (Art Today), Chalupecký, for instance, characterised pop as social critique, writing: Too often art disguises the truth: here, instead, it is revealed. This is the theory and the practice of anti-art. [Daniel] Spoerri only fixes a random piece of ordinary reality in his ‘snare pictures’ (a table with the dishes after a meal, a shelf with spices); Wolf Vostell uses the direct methods of Pop Art – such as reproduction of news photographs – to make a shocking critique of modern society.[6]  Czech readers may well have interpreted Chalupecký’s words as a rebuttal of the seemingly unshakeable Soviet tenet of realism in the arts.

Opportunities for the citizens of Moscow’s satellites in Eastern Europe and former Yugoslavia to see works of art by Western pop artists first hand also occurred, albeit infrequently. The first exhibition of pop art in the region, featuring screenprints by Jim Dine, Allen Jones and Andy Warhol among others, was held in Belgrade and Zagreb (both in former Yugoslavia) in 1966 with sponsorship by tobacco concern, Philip Morris International.[7] Three years later the Smithsonian Institution organised a larger touring show of American art after 1945 entitled The Disappearance and the Reappearance of the Image, which featured works by Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenburg. It travelled to various Eastern European cities including Prague (former Czechoslovakia) (remarkably twelve months after Warsaw Pact forces repressed the reform movement there). These US displays belong to the long and well-recorded history of attempts to use modern art and design to broadcast ‘American values’ during the Cold War.[8] Interest in pop in Eastern Europe also took in its Western European variants. Strong French connections in Poland brought the works of Alain Jacquet, a representative of nouveau réalisme, to the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, Poland, where he had a solo exhibition in May–June 1969, and to the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw, where he arranged a performance of ‘Le Tricot de Varsovie’, which involved the production of a large soft sculpture in situ.

The effect of these various encounters with spectacular works of pop art on artists from Eastern Europe is clear. A number of young artists went through a pop phase. Hungarian painter László Lakner, for instance, who has admitted a debt to Rauschenberg, started doubling and fragmenting his careful renderings of documentary photographs and masterpieces of art history.[9] Instead of using the mechanical process of screen printing, Lakner painted these photographic details by hand. Later, in the 1970s, he was to extend his interest in documents in conceptual and photorealist works.

Tomislav Gotovac, My Jazz Day 1964. Printed photographs, newspapers, painted paper, cigarette butts, razors, glue / hardboard. Galerie Frank Elbaz /

Tomislav Gotovac, My Jazz Day 1964. Printed photographs, newspapers, painted paper, cigarette butts, razors, glue / hardboard. Galerie Frank Elbaz /

In former Yugoslavia, Tomislav Gotovac – later well known as a performance artist and filmmaker – made numerous collage works throughout the 1960s using advertisements, packaging and pages from magazines from the West and, as Yugoslavia underwent its own consumer revolution, from local sources too. Leonhard Lapin, the central figure in nonconformist art in the former Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, was one of the founders of a short-lived pop alliance called ‘Soup 69’ (another reference to Warhol) at the end of the 1960s.[10] For these and other artists, pop was often a brief experiment in careers that were later made in performance, conceptual art, experimental film or other artistic practices that established deeper footings in the artistic cultures of Eastern Europe in the 1970s. Pop provided an introduction to the practice of appropriation, a rebuttal of the shibboleths of modernist art: self-expression, originality and individuality. This was what made this embryonic and fleeting engagement with pop at the end of the 1960s an important watershed: the revival of modern art, and of abstract painting in particular, after the death of Stalin and the so called ‘Thaw’ of the mid-1950s had been strongly motivated by humanist principles, not least intellectual and artistic freedom.[11] Ten years later new questions about the effects of the mechanised image seemed to press on the minds of artists in Eastern Europe.

This interest ran through happenings, performances, environments and experimental films as well as early forms of conceptual art in Eastern Europe.[12] In fact, those categories that have been used to describe art in the West – such as pop art – have often been rejected by both artists and critics in Eastern Europe as inadequate and distorting labels. In 1971 János Major made a conceptual artwork in which he combined a small photograph of the tombstone of an otherwise forgotten man called Lajos Kubista with a 17-point text that begins:

1. Cubist Lajos was interred at the Farkasrét Cemetery in Budapest

2. Cubism was born in Budapest

3. No ism was born in Budapest

4. Victor Vasarely was born in Hungary

5. Op-art was not born in Hungary

6. Nicolas Schöffer was born in Kalocsa

7. Kinetic art was not born in Kalocsa

8. Theodore Herzl was born in Budapest

9. Zionism was not born in Budapest

10. The father of the nuclear bomb, Leó Szilárd was born in Hungary, died in the USA

11. Pop-art was born in the USA, its influence extended to Hungary … [13]

 

Major’s doleful text emphasised the alienness of many international currents in modernism, even those that had Hungarian-born pioneers. His point could be extended to other Eastern Bloc cultures too. Moreover, critics – particularly those writing about the Soviet Union – have often denied the existence of pop art in Eastern Europe under Communist rule because consumerism never succeeded there.

Ilya Kabakov, Pipe, Stick, Ball and Fly 1966, Ceramic relief, enamel and oil on plywood. Ludwig Forum für international Kunst

Ilya Kabakov, Pipe, Stick, Ball and Fly 1966, Ceramic relief, enamel and oil on plywood. Ludwig Forum für international Kunst

Of the brilliant early works by Russian artist Ilya Kabakov, which feature casts of mundane objects from Soviet life seemingly set into blank surfaces (such as Pipe, Stick, Ball and Fly 1966), Matthew Jesse Jackson writes, they ‘resembled constructions such as Warhol’s Brillo Boxes: ambiguous, three-dimensional eruptions that coalesced with their surroundings whilst remaining tenuously distinct from them … This work has nothing in common with films, advertisements, magazine covers, television programs, and comic books – the raw material of Western Pop art – but a great deal to do with the desolate Soviet consumerscape.’[14]

The fact that Eastern European citizens confronted shortages and queues in their daily lives is undeniable,[15] but that does not mean that they were unaware of the existence of consumer goods. In Eastern Europe under Communist rule, this knowledge could be both a matter of fantasy and of frustration. Consumer goods and images acquired from the West – particularly clothes, cosmetics, foodstuffs and LP records – gained special significance. Mundane in their original, capitalist context, such things came to carry a heightened importance not only because of their rarity but also because the unfamiliar materials and seductive forms of Western consumer goods could trigger fantasies about capitalist civilisation. Gotovac’s early pop collages – featuring pin-ups and branded goods from the West – are full of libidinal desire. Frustration that was felt strongly by many citizens in the former Yugoslavia and the Eastern Bloc was the product of the gap between expectation (opened up by Soviet promises to ‘catch up and overtake the West’) and experience. In fact, many countries in Eastern Europe underwent their own consumer revolutions at the end of the 1960s in which ‘soft sell’ advertising, brightly packaged and branded consumer goods, new kinds of shops such as supermarkets and fashion boutiques as well as ‘lifestyle’ magazines promised ‘socialist consumerism’.

March 1967 issue of Ty i Ja (You and I) magazine published in Poland.

March 1967 issue of Ty i Ja (You and I) magazine published in Poland.

In the recursive fashion characteristic of pop in the West too, many film posters, magazine covers and LP sleeves featured serial images that were dressed in the flattened forms and bright colours of pop art.

The response to the spread of commodity aesthetics across what Polish art historian Mieczysław Porębski called the ‘ikonosfera’ (iconosphere) was not uncritical.[16]

A work in Natalia LL's Consumption Art series, 1972–5, see www.nataliall.com

A work in Natalia LL’s Consumption Art series, 1972–5, see http://www.nataliall.com

Feminist artist Natalia LL in Poland produced a body of works that she called ‘Sztuka Konsumpcyjna’ (Consumption Art, 1972–5 – films and photographic series in which a model toyed with a hot dog, a banana and a runny pudding in a highly sexual manner, exaggerating the techniques of arousal employed in advertising. In former Yugoslavia, Sanja Iveković addressed the way in which the authorities sought to balance socialist politics with free-market economics. The ‘Ekonomsko Propagandni Program’ (Economic Propaganda Programme) broadcast daily on Radiotelevizija Zagreb was, in effect, state-sponsored advertising of domestic and, sometimes, international products. In Sweet Violence 1974 Iveković recorded one of these broadcasts on a television overpainted with black bars, a simple gesture that alluded to illusory freedoms offered by consumerism. Both Iveković and Natalia LL were preoccupied with the effects of the media – the Polish artist being interested in distinguishing authentic sexuality from its reified forms and Iveković in understanding how private life is haunted by the commercial image. Such differences aside, these works belong to a New Left critique made on both sides of the Iron Curtain, namely that East and West were coming increasingly to resemble each other. A few years earlier Raoul Vaneigem had written in his book, The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967):

 

The cultural détente between east and west is not accidental! On the one hand, homo consomator buys a bottle of whiskey and as a free gift the lie that accompanies it. On the other, Communist man buys ideology and gets as a free gift a bottle of vodka. Paradoxically, Soviet and capitalist regimes are taking a common path, the first thanks to their economy of production, the second thanks to their economy of consumption.[17]

 

So was there a distinctly Eastern European pop art? Can the phenomenon only be understood as ripples of what Czartoryska called a ‘wave’, which originated in the West?[18] Pop was, as she observed in 1965, a form of art that in its original setting passed comment on the incessant demands of mass media images on their audiences not through direct and explicit critique but through repetition, multiplication and concentration (‘their creativity is a kind of dramatic intensification of sensation’[19]). Viewed in these terms, the chief claim on the title of Eastern Bloc pop must surely belong to Sots-art. A compression of two terms (Sotsrealism/pop art), Sots-art was coined by the Russian duo Komar and Melamid to describe their own artworks in 1972. In this year they began creating works that treated the mass slogans and political images that formed a ubiquitous backdrop to life in the Soviet Union as art. Early Sots-art works included Our Goal-Communism 1972, a plain red banner painted with a slogan in white block letters and signed by the artists. Another in the series, entitled Quotation 1972, simply replaced the letters with tidy white blocks arranged in a grid bracketed with quotation marks. This was a code, seemingly without a message. Nevertheless, it made a point that was articulated a few years later by the Czech dissident writer Václav Havel describing a Communist Party poster: ‘The real meaning of the … slogan has nothing to do with what the text of the slogan actually says. Even so, this real meaning is quite clear and generally comprehensible because the code is so familiar.’[20] Other Komar and Melamid works approached ideology as a commodity, as if illustrating Vaneigem’s words above. In 1974 the duo created a series of ersatz products: hamburgers ground from a copy of Pravda (itself a performance and Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky Flavoured Vodka (the latter featuring Isaak Brodsky’s 1936 much-reproduced portrait of the Soviet writer on the label). Alongside the painter Eric Bulatov, Komar and Melamid were the first artists to rework the codes and symbols of Soviet propaganda. Often exercises in appropriation, their early works have a kind of cool, ironic tone that is lacking in the sardonic combinations of Western adspeak and Soviet imagery characteristic of much later Sots-art.

Sándor Pinczehelyi, Sickle and Hammer 1973

Sándor Pinczehelyi, Sickle and Hammer 1973

Sots-art was not exclusively a Soviet phenomenon (although it was longest lived there). In Hungary in 1973 Sándor Pinczehelyi created Sickle and Hammer, a self-portrait holding the central symbol of Soviet authority (and, as the tools of the workers, its claim on legitimacy) (see fig.5). Some versions are overprinted in a wash of red. Aleš Erjavec has described this work as an attempt at demystification: ‘The Hammer and Sickle have lost their original meaning as mere tools and have been completely appropriated by the symbolic universe of political ideology. It is now up to the artist to revert them back to their non-symbolic, quotidian reality, producing by this procedure an artistic effect.’[21] Pinczehelyi’s straight-faced stance was read as both loyalty and dissent: ‘Everyone sensed irony at that time’, recalled critic László Beke, ‘a man positioned in a heroic stance with a hammer and sickle, yet the police were unable to accuse him of subversive activity.’[22]

The ambivalence of irony has allowed critics to read other works produced in Eastern Europe as critical commentaries on power.

Otašević’s triptych To Communism, Lenin’s Way 1967

Otašević’s triptych To Communism, Lenin’s Way 1967

Young Yugoslav artist Dušan Otašević’s triptych To Communism, Lenin’s Way 1967 featuring the Bolshevik leader is a case in point. Lenin gestures to a five-point red star on the left-hand panel while another, on the right, has a traffic sign marked with the symbol for ‘no right turn’. Produced in the year when much of the world was reflecting – often critically – on the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution and Lenin’s image was being widely reproduced, Otašević’s telegraphic aesthetic perhaps alluded to the enervation of the revolutionary spirit. Other works of this period include his Comrade Tito, White Violet, Our Youth Loves You 1969, a combine made from timber and aluminium panels with a vividly-coloured portrait of the Yugoslav leader as a Second World War partisan, under an ‘empty’ red star. Kitsch, and seemingly composed in the manner of amateur propaganda displays, Otašević’s portrait lacked the aura of heroism and ideological sanctity that characterised almost all Yugoslav representations of Tito. Weighing up the political character of these and other works by Otašević, Branislav Dimitrijević has characterised them as ambivalent reactions to the ways in which socialist ideology and Western consumer culture were becoming entwined.[23]

The extent to which pop art in the West constituted a critical practice has preoccupied many critics and historians. Although pop works produced in Britain and the USA in the 1960s once seemed to have critical and anti-authoritarian potential, they were subsumed easily within the gallery system. Writing of the work of celebrity artists such as Warhol, Jean Baudrillard in 1970 made his reading of pop and consumption clear: it was the end of the modernist avant-garde, a ‘total integration’ of the artwork into the political economy of the commodity-sign’.[24] Sots-art used many of the same procedures as pop, not least the appropriation of the official imagery that was central to the propaganda apparatus. Yet such works could hardly be absorbed in the same manner. Those made by Komar and Melamid, Pinczehelyi and Otašević maintained a cool distance when power required eagerness; and offered ambivalence when official culture called for commitment.

[1] See Laura J. Hoptman and Tomáš Pospiszyl (eds.), Primary Documents: A Sourcebook for Eastern and Central European Art Since the 1950s, New York 2002, pp.65–77.

[2] Jutta Scherrer, ‘“To Catch Up and Overtake” the West: Soviet Discourse on Socialist Competition’, in Katalin Miklóssy and Melanie Ilic (eds.), Competition in Socialist Society, London 2014, p.11.

[3] See, for instance, Mikhail Alexandrovich Lifshitz and Lidija Jakovlevna Rejngardt, Krizis bezobrazija. Ot kubizma k pop-art, Moscow 1968; Viktor Sibirjakov, Pop-art i paradoksy modernizma, Moscow 1969; M. Kuz’mina, ‘“Pop-art” in the Anthology’, Modernizm, Moscow 1973.

[4] See, for instance, Iurii Gerchuk, ‘The Aesthetics of Everyday Life in the Khrushchev Thaw in the USSR (1954–1964)’, in David Crowley and Susan Reid (eds.), Style and Socialism, Oxford 2002, pp.81–96.

[5] See Jindřich Chalupecký, Umění dnes, Prague 1966; Urszula Czartoryska, Od Pop-Artu do Sztuki Konceptualnej, Warsaw 1972.

[6] Chalupecký 1966, p.126.

[7] See Boris Kelemen (ed.), Pop Art, exh. cat., Galerija Suvremene Umjetnosti, Zagreb, March 1966.

[8] Michael L. Krenn, Fall-out Shelters for the Human Spirit: American Art and the Cold War, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 2005.

[9] Lakner described witnessing Rauschenberg’s works in the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennial in 1964 as being like a blow to the head. Lakner cited by Péter Sinkovits, ‘Progresszív álmok: beszélgetés Lakner Lászlóval’, Új művészet, vol.16, no. 4 2005, pp.4–7.

[10] See Sirji Helme, Popkunst Forever. Eesti popkunst 1960. ja 1970. aastate vahetusel, Tallinn 2010.

[11] Piotr Piotrowski, In the Shadow of Yalta: Art and the Avant-garde in Eastern Europe, 1945–1989, London 2011, pp.61–105.

[12] See Claus Groh, Aktuelle Kunst in Osteuropa, Koln 1972.

[13] János Major cited by Anik Cs. Asztalos (Éva Körner), ‘No isms in Hungary’, Studio International, March 1974, pp.105–11.

[14] Matthew Jesse Jackson, The Experimental Group: Ilya Kabakov, Moscow Conceptualism, Soviet Avant-Gardes, Chicago and London 2010, pp.69–70.

[15] See David Crowley and Susan E. Reid, ‘Introduction’, in Pleasures in Socialism. Leisure and Luxury in the Eastern Bloc, Evanston, Illinois, pp.3–51.

[16] Mieczysław Porębski, Ikonosfera, Warsaw 1972.

[17] Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life, trans. John Fullerton and Paul Sieveking, London 1979, p.36.

[18] Urszula Czartoryska, ‘“Kronika” Andy’ego Warhola’ (1965), in Pisma Urszuli Czartoryskiej: perspektywy historyczne, ed. Leszek Brogowski, Gdańsk 2006, p.155.

[19] Czartoryska (1965) cited by Jerzy Kossak, in Dylematy Kultury Masowej, Warsaw 1966, p.97.

[20] Václav Havel ‘The Power of the Powerless’ (1978), in John Keane (ed.), The Power of the Powerless. Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe, trans. Paul Wilson, London 2009, p.15.

[21] Aleš Erjavec, ‘Introduction’, in Postmodernism and the Postsocialist Condition: Politicized Art Under Late Socialism, Berkeley, CA 2003, p.37.

[22] Beke cited by Klara Kemp-Welch, in Antipolitics in Central European Art: Reticence as Dissidence under Post-Totalitarian Rule 1956–1989, London 2014, p.163.

[23] See Branislav Dimitrijević, ‘DIY POP: Artistic Craftsmanship of Dušan Otašević’, in Dušan Otašević – popmodernizam/popmodernism. Retrospektivna izložba 1965–2003, exh. cat., Muzej savremene umetnosti, Belgrade October–December 2003, p.112.

[24] Jean Baudrillard cited by Hal Foster, The Return of the Real: The Avant-garde at the End of the Century, Boston, MA 1996, p.128.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piłsudski’s Architect

Architecture, Eastern Europe, Modernism

This article appears in the catalogue on the life and work of the Polish architect Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz in Kraków in 2013-14 – details here. I also gave a lecture for the finissage of the show in February 2014 – you can watch it here:

 

Writing after the liberation of Kraków at the end of the Second World War, Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz reflected on the complex of historical buildings in the city which had occupied much of his professional life: ‘Wawel always formed a separate world in itself. In this microcosm, like in a miniature, all historical events in Poland were reflected, often like a brighter version of all that has happened in our Fatherland. Here, on Wawel, stood the oldest Christian church in Poland; here regal power flourished and faded; and the reconstruction of the Castle was undertaken several years ahead of the restoration of independent Poland.’[1] For Szyszko-Bohusz, both as architect and conservator, architecture existed on a longer historic scale than the short lives of men. This was cause for hope. Surveying the ruined state of the country, he said ‘whilst we cannot be indifferent to our own war experiences during the years of the Second World War, the salvation of the Castle from destruction gives us hope for the future.’[2] This faith in the endurance of places was a product of Szyszko-Bohusz’s training, though not necessarily in the Academy in St Petersburg where he studied architecture in the first decade of the twentieth century: it was the result of his immersion in Polish neo-Romanticism and, in particular, in the idea that the historic fabric of Kraków – including, of course, Wawel – was a living lesson in national values.

Romantic Nationalism did not end in 1918 but it was changed by the conditions of independence, supplemented by new myths of heroism. The insurrectionary tradition had been a catalogue of failure, producing generations of martyrs and exiles. 1918, however, threw up a victor, Józef Piłsudski. The Head of State of the reborn country was the living subject of a ‘cult’.[3] Even before 1918, Piłsudski’s roles as an underground activist, prisoner and paramilitary had been mythologised, not least by the soldiers who had heeded his call to form Polish Legions at the outbreak of the First World War. But after 1918 and particularly after the coup d’état in 1926, the Marshal became the subject of an official cult. His stern visage glared down from the wall of every state office and school, and appeared on Polish coins and postage stamps. The Marshal’s deeds were taught to children in Polish schools as stirring lessons in conduct and patriotism. The keenest could graduate to the Legion of the Young (Legion Młodych), an association formed in 1929 which promoted selfless duty to the state and personal asceticism – virtues closely associated with the Marshal. In fact, the Polish Legions were themselves the subject of a minor cult in which they were invariably depicted as a brotherhood made up of the selfless and the brave. As a cult, myth was more important than fact. Piłsudski’s Legions were, after all, a small military force, never totaling more than 25,000 men during the First World War. But their symbolic function was considerable.

Cults may be fashioned from myths but they also take on material forms and have real effects. Szyszko-Bohusz was implicated in, and benefited from, the Piłsudski Cult. Between 1914 and 1916 he had fought in the Polish Legions, and, in 1916, when in charge of the conservation workshops at Wawel, arranged for the High Command of the clandestine Polish Military Organisation (Polska Organizacja Wojskowa) to operate from the Castle. According to one conspirator, their quarters ‘were so well concealed in the Castle‘s cellars that only a knowledgeable guide could ever successfully find them.’[4] After 1918, Szyszko-Bohusz enjoyed a place in a trusted caste of former Legionnaires occupying prominent public roles. Just as military formations preceded and effectively created government in Poland, these men had been soldiers first and public figures later. A guiding creed of the Legions had been the primacy of the national cause over any interest which might divide their ranks. Class counted for little (or, as some historians have put it, membership of the legions was itself a kind of elevation, ennobling all who served [5]). Much has been made of the Legion’s eschewal of ethnic divisions too. As members of a society which had been stateless for so long, it was the state, above all, which commanded loyalty, far less the people or nation. Traces of this attitude survived into the post-war years, not least in the decision to launch the May 1926 coup.

Szyszko-Bohusz took on many official duties in the 1920s including that of the rectorship of the Kraków Academy of Fine Art (1924-9) and membership of prestigious bodies including that which oversaw the creation of the Grave of an Unknown Soldier, a monument containing the remains of anonymous combatant who had died fighting in the Polish-Soviet War in 1919, in Warsaw in 1925. And as a conservator employed by Ministry of Public Works from 1929, he had care of the most important historic buildings in the capital (including the Castle and Royal Baths).

Zameczek (the ‘little castle’, Wisła, 192.9-30

Zameczek (the ‘little castle’), Wisła, 192.9-30

His considerable body of works as an architect included the presidential summer residence, Zameczek (the ‘little castle’, 1929-30) at Wisła, high in the Beskidy mountains, close to the source of the Vistula river. Eschewing payment, Szyszko Bohusz offered his design as a tribute to his friend, President Ignacy Mościcki, as did the regional authorities in Silesia who funded it. A series of flat-roofed geometric masses with a free plan of open spaces on the ground floor, the Zameczek was furnished with tubular steel furniture and decorated with vividly-coloured walls. By the disappointing standards of official architecture around the world in the first post-war decade, Zameczek was a remarkable fanfare for new conceptions of space and design (and art historian Andrzej Szczerski has identified it as sign of this border region’s bold claims on modernity.[6]) It was also a fitting one for Mościcki, a prominent scientist and politician who had been behind the construction of the State Works of Nitrogen Compounds (Państwowa Fabryka Związków Azotowych), a mammoth complex of smoking chimneys and steel-framed factories on the edge of Tarnów.[7] It should be stressed, of course, that the exterior of Zameczek incorporated a number of picturesque elements too, including rough sandstone cladding which matched its wild setting and signaled, perhaps, an aristocratic habitus. But, as Ewa Chojecka argues, the intended occupant of this ‘new manor’ in the Beskidy mountains testified to a ‘republican-intelligentsia model of modern representation, deprived of any dynastic or ancestral prestige’.[8]

Pantheon at Wawel

Pantheon at Wawel, 1919

Confident in his opinions as well as his abilities, and secure in his place in the ruling elite, Szyszko-Bohusz was by not, or not just, a bureaucrat. His work as a conservator at Wawel was not, for instance, only a matter of painstaking archaeology and diligent renovation. He envisaged his role there as an artist or architect, altering and adding to the historic fabric of the complex according to a vision shaped, in part, by his loyalty to the Polish Legions. For instance he presented a number of proposals to order the site to emphasise its character as the ‘national Pantheon’. A 1919-21 scheme proposed that a large formal ‘square’ organized around a circular altar be created between the Cathedral and the Sandomierz and Złodziejskatowers. This would have necessitated removing nineteenth century structures such as the ‘ugly’ red brick garrison hospital which had been built by the Austrians to create a clear vista; paving over the archaeological remains of two medieval churches and other historic buildings; and the construction of a long double height arcade of blind arches on top of the ramparts. In a ‘thirty point’ programme accompanying his designs, Szyszko-Bohusz described this terrain as a ‘campo santo’, but he did not envisage a cemetery: redesigned, it would to serve as an orderly setting for ‘great celebrations’ (‘wielkie obchody’) and spectacular rallies.[9] The Pantheon was also to be equipped with a rostrum (‘mównica’) for speeches on the top of the ramparts, ascended by steps like a Roman tribunal. Szyszko-Bohusz came close political dramaturgy, imagining the Head of State (Naczelnik Państwa, the title assumed by Piłsudski at the time) leaving his ceremonial offices with a retinue of staff to take the tribune via a set of special stairs. The scheme was never realized (much to the relief of present-day conservators who point to the destruction it would have entailed). In 1923 Wawel Castle was nominated as an official residence of the President, a decision which presented Szyszko-Bohusz with an opportunity – if not always the funds – to restore ‘splendor’. Restoration sometimes meant repatriation. This was the case of the sixteenth-century Jagiellonian Tapestries which had been plundered during the partition of Poland and only returned from Russia as a condition of the Treaty of Riga signed at the end of the Soviet-Polish War. But more often, the historic furnishings of the ceremonial spaces of Wawel Castel were lost, and only the fixed decoration – celebrated frescoes and ornamental ceilings – could be restored. In fact, in the early 1930s, Szyszko-Bohusz proposed that each of the restored rooms be given an association with different branches of the army.[10] Each would bear the arms and insignia of a division. Although his tribute to Polish militarism was not realized, Szyszko-Bohusz entered into correspondence with the military authorities seeking funds and support.

Szyszko-Bohusz’s contributions to the Piłsudski Cult usually took on a rather more austere tone than many of the popular and even kitsch outpourings of enthusiasm for the Marshal. At the end of the 1920s, for instance, he designed a number of sarcophagi and crypts for grand, public funerals organised by the Sanacja regime. His contribution was to present an austere conclusion to events which involved spectacular and usually highly sentimental displays of national unity. The first of these was the interment of the remains of Juliusz Słowacki in the Crypt of National Bards alongside Adam Mickiewicz in Wawel in 1927 after long and elaborate ritual which started in his grave in Paris where he had been buried in 1849. In Paris, the coffin was transported in a carriage dressed with ornamental silks and gilded ornament followed by long trailing procession of dignitaries to L’église de la Madeleine. Arriving in Gdynia after being transported by navy ship, his coffin sailed down the Vistula high on the prow of paddle steamer to Warsaw where it was taken to the city’s cathedral on a towering bier, pulled by eight horses. Then on it went to Kraków by train. Ornamental coins were minted and special editions of newspapers and magazines were published to record this journey and the committal in Wawel. This mournful national theatre far outstripped the elaborate ritual staged for Mickiewicz’s remains interred in the same crypt in 1890, forty-five years after his death in Istanbul. This was, after all, effectively a state funeral organized by the Polish Republic, a point which Piłsudski made forcefully in his oratory over the coffin. Addressing the pall bearers, all legionnaires, he said, ‘Gentlemen, in the name of the government of Poland I bid you carry the coffin of Juliusz Słowacki into the royal crypt, for he was the peer of kings’.[11] Szyszko-Bohusz’s primary role in this national event was to alter the crypt to accommodate the sarcophagus that he had designed. Słowacki was laid to rest within massive block of black Krzeszowice marble with a cross on its top and a silver laurel wreath inscribed with his name on its end.

Bem Monument, Tarnów.

Bem Monument, Tarnów.

Rather more remarkable in terms of design, was Szyszko-Bohusz’s setting for a sarcophagus bearing the remains of another nineteenth century hero, Józef Bem. Another Polish nationalist whose life had been garlanded with myth, he was renowned as a soldier who survived terrible odds on the battlefield during in 1830 Uprising and the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. In fact, he only escaped his final battle at Segesvár (today, Sighişoara Romania) in 1848 by feigning death. He fled to the Ottoman Empire where he converted to Islam and served as the governor of Aleppo until he succumbed to Malaria in 1850 and was buried in a Muslim cemetery. In 1929 the Committee to Return to the Country the Remains of General Bem (Komitet Sprowadzenia do Kraju Zwłok Generała Józefa Bema) – which had Piłsudski as its honorary patron – arranged for the relics of this secular saint to be transported from his dusty grave in Aleppo to his birthplace in Tarnów. The slow-moving entourage paused at symbolic points on route, including the National Museum in Budapest and, inevitably, the large courtyard at Wawel Castle, where his coffin was displayed to the public. In both places, large crowds gathered in sombre rituals of commemoration.

Commissioned by the Mayor of Tarnów, Szyszko Bohusz arranged six tall Corinthian columns on a platform at the centre of a small lake in a picturesque city park. These were to support a stone sarcophagus containing the General’s coffin as well as urns filled with soil gathered at the sites of his battles and Hungarian provinces.[12] Eight stone spheres connected by chains symbolize, in a rather literal fashion, cannon balls around the base of this 12-metre high structure. Whilst precedents for the Bem Mausoleum can be found in the elevated sarcophagi in Greek and Roman necropoleis, Szyszko-Bohusz’s design owed less to archaeology than to poetry. Elevated and impassive, the design was metaphor in stone for lofty values of sacrifice and valour.

Pilłsudski's coffin.

Pilłsudski’s coffin.

The most important event in the Piłsudski Cult was, inevitably, that of the funeral of its principal figure, the Marshal himself. A controversial affair which drew the regime and the archbishop at Wawel into sharp disagreement about the entombment of a former socialist and solider in the resting place of kings, Piłsudski’s funeral took place there in May 1935. His body was embalmed and displayed with his saber, his ‘maciejówka’ (cap), and other ceremonial symbols of rank in a glass coffin. Initially his coffin was placed in the Saint Leonard crypt, alongside the tombs of King Jan III Sobieski and Kościuszko. This could not be a permanent arrangement. The Marshal’s body had not been well preserved and the journey from Warsaw to Wawel – not least on the bumpy cobbles of Kraków – had damaged the air-tight seal of the glass coffin: in consequence, Piłsudski’s body began to deteriorate.[13] The coffin was replaced within months by another designed by sculptor Jan Szczepkowski, albeit without great success: the body continued to decay. Moreover, the crypt itself was inadequate. It was damp and could not accommodate another sarcophagus or the large numbers of pilgrims. They often arrived in festive mood, much to the displeasure of the archbishop.

Pilłsudski crypt at Wawel.

Pilłsudski crypt at Wawel.

One solution – agreed by all parties – was to extend Romanesque crypt under the Tower of Silver Bells. This was acceptable to the Church because it allowed for a separate entrance for the secular pilgrims who wanted to pay homage to the Marshal. Szyszko-Bohusz set to work. His early schemes included an entrance in the form of a Gothic temple capped with a figure of Hussar on horseback. The constructed entrance – completed in 1937 – is far less theatrical. A simple structure, it features elements which belong to the vocabulary of classical architecture – Corinthian capitals, balustrades as well as a Latin inscription (‘Corpora dormiunt, vigilant animae’) – but Szyszko Bohusz composed them in an idiosyncratic fashion. The columns do not seem to perform their conventional load-bearing function: the massive slab fashioned from copper and bronze overhead sits on hidden posts. It seems to float above the descending stairs, as if denying gravity. The vertical lines of the columns continue ‘through’ the slab into six finials in the form of military crosses. Like his contemporary Jože Plečnik, responsible for the renovation of Prague Castle between 1920 and 1934, Szyszko-Bohusz’s approach to classicism was expressive and even idiosyncratic. In this relatively free addition to the historic fabric of the Cathedral, Szyszko-Bohusz expressed an answer to the question which he had asked – somewhat rhetorically – twenty years earlier: ‘Should our conservator not be, above all, an artist? In the restoration of a building, should he not care [most] for that which can for all times can be a souvenir of our culture and art?’[14]

So what was being remembered in this small structure? The new entrance to the crypt – usually described as a baldachin in reference to the cloth of state which covered royal thrones and beds of kings in the European tradition – marked Piłsudski’s status as a victor.[15] It was fashioned from the trophies of war. The stonework was recycled from sections of granite plinth which had supported a bronze sculpture of Bismarck in Poznan until 1918.[16] The six jade columns of Szyszko-Bohusz’s structure were salvaged from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Saxon Square in Warsaw. Dedicated by the Russians to the pro-tsarist Poles who had been executed by insurgents during the November Uprising in 1863 and a clear demonstration of Russian power, the Cathedral had been built between 1894 and 1912 only to be dynamited, after much discussion and a few protests, in 1924-6.[17] The octagonal bases and the Corinthian capitals of the columns were recast from steel from Austrian guns. The symbolism of salvage was clear: no longer serving Poland’s enemies, they were now doing duty to the great unifier, the Marshal. In the case of the jade columns, a further – perhaps more private – symbolism was at work too. The Cathedral in Warsaw from which they came had been designed by Szyszko-Bohusz’s teacher in St Petersburg before the First World War, Leon Benois. This expression of patriotism was also, perhaps, one of patricide.

Piłsudski House, Oleandry, Kraków (wikicommons).

Piłsudski House, Oleandry, Kraków (source: wikicommons).

Even in this spare form, the entrance to the crypt under the Tower of Silver Bells was a historical frame for a historic figure in a historical setting. Reminiscences of the baldachin were also found, perhaps unexpectedly, in the double-height entrances that Szyszko-Bohusz favoured in a number of his modernist schemes of the 1930s. The Józef Piłsudski House in Oleandry in Kraków is a case in point. First conceived at the First Congress of Legionnaires in 1922, the building was to provide a headquarters for the Association of Polish Legions in peacetime. It was also to be home to a Museum of Independence containing relics and documents testifying to role played by Polish soldiers in the struggle for independence. In 1927 the city authorities offered up a plot of land. A highly symbolic site, this had been where the newly-formed Pierwsza Kompania Kadrowa (trans?), the nucleus of the Polish Legions, set out to engage Russian forces in August 1914. The men had belonged to patriotic sports and rifle clubs. Standing on the grass of the Wisła football pitch Piłsudski famously announced their commission: ‘Everyone that is gathered here: you are Polish soldiers.’[18]

Viewed today, the Józef Piłsudski House looks perhaps more like the abstract architectural compositions of the interwar avant-garde than Szyszko Bohusz and his co-designer, architect Stanisław Strojek, intended. A central, five-story vertical block is connected to four-story block set back from the street line. The staggered footprint and stepped profile, combined with high canopy that turns the corner of the building, lends it a dynamic form. The long windows in the stairwell and a glass-walled service unit breaking the roofline add transparency, particularly when lit at night. The building is, however, incomplete. It is only the southeastern corner of what was planned to be a much larger complex. In Szyszko Bohusz and Strojek’s design, three wings arranged around a courtyard were to be connected by an elevated, double-height arcade. Whilst the design was coded with modernist elements, most obviously the strip windows and flat roof, the full scheme was far more conventional, even retrospective in form. It was to have the axial symmetrical arrangement of classical Greek temples like the Pergamon Altar (which in 1930 had been reopened to the public in Berlin after many years of closure) or even a gymnasium, the training ground for competitors in Greek games and the meeting place of poets. Other closer-to-home precedents of this compositional form include the neo-Classical Saxon Palace in Warsaw (remodeled by Adam Idźkowski, 1839-42) with an imposing colonnade accommodating the grave of the unknown soldier from 1925, perhaps the most important of all the public monuments in inter-war Poland. These allusions emphasized the self-image of the Legionnaires as a brotherhood of warrior-poets whose loyalty to the state was incontestable. Occupying the site of mythical event marking the ‘call to arms’, but dressed in the architectural language of the present, the Józef Piłsudski House pressed the Legion’s claims to contemporary relevance (claims which were to put to the test in September 1939).

‘Piłsudskism’ – with its strong attachment to the figure of the powerful leader, valorization of military valour and heroic death, as well as belief in the authority of the state – has been compared to Italian Fascism.[19] To this one might add, that Il Duce – like the Sanacja Regime in Poland – was undecided on matters of architectural style.[20] Without a clear steer, modernists and traditionalists in Italy vied for influence. Whilst some promoted conservative, neoclassical styles as a way of reviving the splendor of ancient Rome (Romanità), others promoted modernism as the means to represent Italy as a modern industrial state.[21] Even the most ambitious of the ‘Rationalists’ – as Italian modernists were known, made reference to tradition in an effort to draw on italianità (Italianness).[22] Giuseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio in Como (1932-34), the best-known building conceived by a member of the group, is a case in point. His design for the local party headquarters was based on the play of volumes and voids, reflections and screens within a carefully proportioned, regular framework of blank white walls, slender columns and floors. The starkly modernist and abstract character of this white cube was undeniable. But the building also struck ideologically resonant notes of tradition: the ground plan – organised around a courtyard under glass – made reference to the spatial traditions of the palazzo as did the use of marble facings. With its underlying classicism, Szyszko-Bohusz’s scheme for the Józef Piłsudski House might well be understood as a near cousin of Terragni’s Casa del Fascio.

Polish architectural writers were keen find parallels between Fascist Italy and their homeland in the 1930s. Buildings like the Józef Piłsudski House in Kraków – one example of many such ‘hybrid’ designs which sought to harmonise tradition with modernity in the 1930s – seems to lend weight to these claims on kinship. But perhaps some limits need to be placed on this analogy. Few schemes as bizarre as those created in Italy were realized in Poland. Consider, for instance, the Foro Mussolini, a classical sports stadium in Rome initiated in 1928, was ornamented with bold antique mosaics in the Roman manner depicting a motorised truck carrying flag-waving squadistri, paramilitary gangs associated with the struggle for power at the beginning of the 1920s. Moreover, the turn to monumentalism was common across Europe and across ideologies.

Jan Parandowski argued for a more subtle understanding of Poland’s relationship with Italy or, more precisely, what he called ‘łacinskość’ (which might be translated as Latinity), in an essay with the marvelously capricious title, ‘Poland Lies on the Mediterranean Sea’ at the end of the 1930s.[23] For Parandowski, a classicist and literary critic, the romantic period was a kind of long interregnum: ‘Romanticism lasted longer in us than anywhere else, because it was more profuse, more wide-ranging and with loftier content. Our entire nineteenth century was, in fact, romantic. Józef Piłsudski, a steel-willed man of action, was a romantic. The works of Juliusz Słowacki, second only to Mickiewicz as our Romantic leader, accompanied Piłsudski throughout his life. His [Słowacki’s] verses were … quoted in his daily commands’.[24] But this was not the characteristic flattery of the cult. Romanticism had served its purpose, according to Parandowski, but had also obscured deeper structures of connection with European culture. This was to be found in the unconsciousness of language. In its grammar and orthography, Polish is a Latinate language. Recognition of this fact could be a step the recovery of deep and long traditions that connected Second Polish Republic with the first, the Rzeczpospolita, the age of humanists like Jan Kochanowski. Perhaps echoes of Szyszko-Bohusz’s antiquarianism can be heard here. His various schemes on Wawel – the presidential interiors, the Pantheon project and the entrance to the crypt containing Piłsudski’s body, as well as the Bem Mausoleum in Tarnów and his modernist works – were united by an underlying classical order. They formed both his contribution to the Piłsudski Cult and, in their severe and idiosyncratic style, his attempt to discipline it.


[1] Szyszko-Bohusz cited by Piotr Gacek, ‘Wawelskie życia Adolfa Szyszko-Bohusza’ in Architektura (May 1988), p. 18. Wawel zawsze tworzył odrębny świat sam w sobie. W tym mikrokosmosie, jak w miniaturze, odbijały się wszystkie zdarzenia historyczne polskie, nieraz będące jak-gdyby jaskrawszą edycją tego, co spotkało potem całą naszą Ojczyznę. Tu na Wawelu stanął najstarszy kościół chrześcijański w Polsce, tutaj rozkwitła i przekwitła władza i potęga królewska, odbudowa Wawelu na kilkanaście lat wyprzedziła odbudowę niezależnej Polski.

[2] Ibid. ‘Przeżycia wojenne z lat drugiej wojny światowej nie będą więc zapewne obojętne dla nas, a ocalenie Wawelu od zniszczenia niech będzie dla nas otuchą na przyszłość.’

[3] For a detailed examination of the Piłsudski cult, see Heidi Hein-Kircher, Kult Piłsudskiego i jego znaczenie dla panstwa polskiego 1926-1939 (Warsaw, 2008).

[4] Ryszard Mirowicz, Edward Rydz-Śmigły. Działalność-wojskowa i polityczna (Warsaw, 1988), p. ?

[5] M.B.B. Biskupski, Independence Day: Myth, Symbol, and the Creation of Modern Poland (Oxford, 2012) p. 16.

[6] Andrzej Szczerski, ‘”Nowa Europa” i Modernistyczne Enklawy’ in Andrzej Szczerski, ed., Modernizm na peryferiach. Architektura Skoczowa, Śląska i Pomorza 1918-1939 (Warsaw, 2011) pp. 239-44.

[7] Barbara Bułdys, ‘Mościce – A Dream of Modernity’ in Tarnów. 1000 Years of Modernity (Warsaw, 2012) p. 139.

[8] Ewa Chojecka, ‘The Castle Manor of the President of the Republic of Poland in Wisla and Tugendhat Villa in Brno – Two Contradictory Formulae’ in Architecture of Civil Engineering Environment, 5 (2008), p. 6.

[9] Text reproduced as an illustration in Wawel narodowei przywrócony. Odszykanie zamek i jego odnowa, 1905-1939, Zamek Królewski na Wawelu exhibition catalogue (Kraków, 2005) p. 173

[10] See Halina Billik, Zdisława Chojnacka, Agnieszka Janczyk, ‘Wawel – narodowi przywrócony: obchody 100-lecia powrotu Wawelu do Polski’ in Muzealnictwo, 46, (2005) p. 67.

[11] On this event and for an interpretation of Piłsudski’s phrase see Patrice M. Dabrowska, ‘”Equal to the Kings”? Viewing Wawel Burials of the Interwar Period’ in v. XII, no. 1 Centropa (January 2012) pp. 6-19 [W imieniu Rządu Rzeczypospolitej polecam Panom odnieść trumnę Juliusza Słowackiego do krypty królewskiej, bo królom był równy]

[12] The Hungarian regions included those which had been given to Romania according to the Treaty of Trianon of 1920, making the monument also one to Hungarian irredentism.

[13] For a detailed discussion of the treatment of Piłsudski’s body after his death see B. Kwiatkowski, Mumie. Władcy, święci, tyrani (Warsaw, 2005).

[14] Szyszko-Bohusz cited by Mieczysław Wallis, Lata nauki i mistrzostwa Stanisława Noakowskiego (Warsaw, 1971), p. 266.

[15] See Grzegorz Gill, ‘Baldachim Wawelski. Symbolem odrodzonej Rzeczypospolitej w 1918 r.’ in Sowiniec, 34-35 (2009) pp. 91-94.

[16] Witold Molik, ‘”Straż nad Wartą” Pomnik Bismarcka w Poznaniu (1903-1919)’ in Kronika Miasta Poznania, 2 (2001) pp. 91-108.

[17] See Piotr Paszkiewicz, Pod berłem Romanowów, Sztuka rosyjska w Warszawie 1815-1915 (Warszaw, 1991) pp. 114-37.

[18] Piłsudski cited by Andrzej Garlicki, U źródeł obozu belwederskiego (Warsaw, 1983) p. 249.

[19] See, for instance, Leon Trotsky, ‘Pilsudskism, fascism, and the character of our epoch’ (August 4, 1932) in Writings of Leon Trotsky: Supplement (1929-33) (Atlanta, GA, 1979).

[20] Richard Etlin, Modernism in Italian Architecture 1890-1949 (Cambridge, MA., / London,1991) pp. 387-389.

[21] Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy (Berkley 2000) pp. 90-99.

[22] Diane Y. Ghirardo, ‘Italian Architects and Fascist Politics: An Evaluation of the Rationalist Role in Regime Building’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, v. 39, no. 2 (May 1980) p. 188.

[23] Jan Parandowski, ‘Polska leży nad morzem śródziemnym’ in Arkady, vol. V, no. 3 (March 1939) pp. 113-6.

[24] Ibid ‘Romantyzm trwal u nas dluzej niz wszedzie, bo byl bardziej plodny, bardziej rozlegly, o wyzszej tresci. Caly nasz wiek XIX byl w gruncie rzeczy romantyczny. Jozef Piłsudski, czlowiek zelaznego czynu, byl romantykiem. Dziela drugiego po Mickiewiczu wodza naszego romantyzmu, Juliusza Slowackiego, towarzyszyly Piłsudskiemu przez cale zycie, wiersze poety … cytowal w swych rozkazach dziennych’.

Sounding the Body Electric. Experiments in Art and Music in Eastern Europe 1957-1984 – II

Eastern Europe, Modernism, Music, Uncategorized

A new version of the 2012 show opened at Calvert 22 in London in late June 2013. it ran until Aug 26th. Here is a gallery of installation shots – courtesy of Calvert 22. There is also some footage of me talking about the show on the Calvert site here. You can download a pdf of the Calvert catalogue here. Here is a link to a review in Frieze magazine; another in Eye and a third review in Art Monthly. You can hear a talk presented at MoMA in spring 2013 here as well.