PRINT October 1967

The Constructivist Ethos: Russia 1913–1932 (Part II)

Eistenstein produced some of his most remarkable works at the Proletcult Arena in Moscow. If in literature Proletcult was soon identified with an emergent social realism clearly and openly opposed to Constructivism, in other fields such as theatre and film it embraced that same avant-garde. Eisenstein came to Proletcult in 1919 from the front where he had worked on the agit-trains. Under Pletnyov he produced an agit-prop, Jack London’s The Mexican. It was Eisenstein’s first excursion into the field, but it was a notable one; the sets were typically Constructivist, the costumes clearly clown-like, and it had real reality—a boxing match staged to be seen by the audience, not imagined by the actors and also the audience. From this he went on to produce an even more staggering work, a frothy comedy by Ostrovski, Enough Simplicity in Every Wise Man, in March, 1923. It had every element of the new theatre. The text was mercilessly treated, deleted, added to, transformed into a kaleidoscopic series of movie episodes, filled with clowning, buffoonery, parody, and acrobatics. Grigori Alexandrov, the leading man, especially mastered the tightrope. Whilst including a great number of topical “political” additions it also parodied one of the great communications systems of such news—the Kino-eye documentaries of Vertov. Eisenstein made his first film, a 200 meter parody of Vertov’s style for the production, in which a screen was lowered for it to be shown. In terms of Constructivist theatre Enough Simplicity must rank very high.

Eisenstein went on to produce two agit-props of Tretyakov, Listen Moscow, produced a few months after Enough Simplicity, then, early in 1924, his Gas Works. But, “The only step beyond this was toward the Cinema, and so the young Soviet theatre was robbed of Eisenstein.” Gas Works was produced not at the Central Arena of Proletcult, but at the Moscow Gas Works; the drive toward reality evident in The Earth Rises had reached its point of no return. There is no doubt though that Eisenstein reached the actual gas works not only in his repulsion from bourgeois theatre but also through his drive toward originality, in which the Russian avant-garde was never lacking. If the smell, the physical size, the noise and sheer overpowering concreteness made the drama look absurd in Eisenstein’s eyes, it can’t be written off as a total failure (irrespective of its historical significance as part of the evolution of theatre). Babette Deutsch wrote: “The play was extremely crude, and the acting untutored and rhetorical. But when the men, facing certain agony and possible death, went down the shaft to save the factory, ‘their’ factory now, the minutes were tense with an actuality that no stage performance, with trained actors and modern lighting, could touch the fringe of.”7 Following Gas Works, “The cart fell to pieces and the driver fell into the cinema.”

The concern with “reality” was of course felt by all those in the Futurist ambience. In one aspect this led to an extra-theatrical reality, to the a-psychological reality of facts theatricalized outside the theatre. Evreinov, Meyerhold and Annenkov were some who turned their concerns at some stage, particularly in the first four or five years following the Revolution, to the Mass Spectacle.

The Mass Spectacle certainly wasn’t new. In its most accomplished earlier forms it had been born of and linked to social Revolution—David’s Pageants for the Republic. As revived in Russia it ranged from simple processions to public mock-trials and historical pageants and re-enactments. Annenkov (again) was one of the first to put on a large-scale spectacle with his staging at Leningrad of The Mystery Play of Liberated Toil. He was also designer, under Nikolai Evreinov, of the most well known Mass Spectacle, The Storming of the Winter Palace, re-enacted two years after the actual event. It employed 8000 “players” and re-staged the actual events of October on the occasion of the overthrow of Kerensky, and his flight. But it did more than just that, in Evreinov’s description: “Machine guns crackle, rifles fire, and the artillery thunders . . . There is a continuous din for two or three minutes . . . But suddenly a rocket goes up and everything instantly becomes quiet, so that the air can be filled with new sounds. A chorus of 40,000 voices is singing the Internationale. Five-pointed red stars start to light up above the darkened windows of the Winter Palace. An enormous red banner is raised above the building itself . . . The show is over and the Red Forces begin to parade.” The realism of the event is attested to by the fact that at least one photograph of it has been reproduced in histories of the Revolution—as the actual event!

Meyerhold planned a Mass Spectacle on the Khodinskaya Field which was to have celebrated the Third International. It should have involved vast crowds, equipment including tanks, searchlights and planes and “flame throwers . . . giving out an enormous fireball of changing outline. The silhouette of the illuminated smoke would finally have represented a factory with the watchword of the fight inscribed on the walls. ‘What work has created shall belong to the workers.’” This descent into the street also led to various “noise“ symphonies, sometimes—as at Baku in 1922—involving the Caspian Fleet’s foghorns, a machine gun section,choirs, etc. In Moscow a hooter-symphony was directed from the roof of a high building, the conductor signaling by means of flags, the hooters giving forth great billows of steam, making a spectacular visual performance as well.

These ideas mightn’t always have led to the desired results, but they were practical and realizable—even Meyerhold’s pageant could have been realized with sufficient man-power. The same cannot be said for a project mooted in Berlin in 1923 by one Russian who was then acting as a one-man communications network between the Eastern and Western avant-gardes. I refer to El Lissitzky and his project for Victory over the Sun.

Lissitzky’s repute as an illustrator of Jewish books caused Chagall to invite him to take up a teaching post at Vitebsk. Lissitzky duly went, met Malevich, who was also teaching there, and took up the cause of the latter; Chagall was soon ousted from his post. Lissitzky came very quickly into Malevich’s orbit, but never to the extent of producing autonomous art works. Lissitzky’s paintings from 1917–24 he called Prouns which he defined as “changing trains between painting and architecture.” The word Proun is compounded of “Pro Unovis,” roughly, “toward a new art.” That art which Lissitzky from the beginning was in fact moving toward was the dynamic utilitarian aspect of Constructivism. For some while he invested the forms of Suprematism (though unlike Malevich he conceived these forms within a malleable space) with a symbolic content; the Proun pictures were pointers to the dynamic of the Revolution—he believed others must harness that dynamic. As Reyner Banham has said, he was one of the great idea-men of the modern movement.

Although trained as an architect he was more interested in the theoretic and ideological aspect than the practical (the kind of dilemma experienced by other Constructivists). In his notes on the project for Victory over the Sun he ended, “I leave to others the further development and practical application of ideas and forms presented here, and I myself go on to my next project.” His project—published as a folio of lithographs with introductory text shows just how far Constructivism had come via mechanolatry since the work was produced in St. Petersburg in 1913. Lissitzky’s introduction is worth quoting at some length:

The magnificent plays of our city are noticed by nobody, for each “nobody” is himself at play. Each amount of energy is applied towards a single solitary purpose, but the whole itself remains amorphous. All energies must become organized, crystallized, and displayed in a uniform manner. So a WORK comes into being, if you wish, call it the ARTwork.

We are constructing a scaffolding in a public square, open and accessible on all sides. It is the SPECTACLE MACHINERY. This scaffolding provides every possibility of movement for objects in play. The individual forms of the scaffolding must therefore be capable of movement into various positions, rotations, extensions and so forth. The different levels must quickly interpenetrate. All is of open ribbed construction, in order not to hide from view the play of objects running through it. Each of the objects themselves is formed according to requirements and intentions. They glide, roll, float in the air, above and inside the scaffolding. All parts of the scaffolding system and all the play objects are activated by means of electrical-mechanical forces and devices, controlled from a central station by one man. He is the SHAPER OF SPECTACLES. His place is the middle point in the scaffolding, in control of all the energies at the switchboard capsule. He directs the movements, the capsule and the lights. He switches on the radio speaker, and over the public square is heard the deafening clamor of a railroad station, the thunder of Niagara Falls, the hammering of a boiler factory. When the play objects are in proper position, the SHAPER OF SPECTACLES speaks into a telephone connected to an arc-lamp, or into some other apparatus, which transforms his voice according to the character of his figures of speech. Electrical sentences glow and fade away. Beams of light follow objects, fractured by prisms and mirrors. In this way, the SHAPER OF SPECTACLES brings the elementary prelude to its highest pitch of intensity.

From Paris, in 1922, Mayakovsky wrote: “For the first time it is from Russia, not from France, that the most recent word in art has come, i.e., Constructivism. Not the Constructivism of those who build useless constructions of tin or wire which could well be used for more practical purposes, but Constructivism meaning the formal work of the artist as an artisan which serves to mould our practical lives.”

Mayakovsky had earlier written that in respect to Italian Futurism, the weapons used by them and the Russians might be the same, but that there was a difference of purpose: “We keep the name Futurism because this expression serves as a banner to unite us. . . . When our knowledge has become universal we will renounce this word."

In fact the word seems to have passed out of circulation in the early ’20s and the word Constructivism replaced it, again as a blanket term, uniting various elements. It was clear however that there had definitely and powerfully emerged in the early ’20s a movement whose adherents came from various branches of the arts, and who shared certain common views, among them a rejection of Western esthetics, a view of the artist as someone who could and would co-operate with other arts and disciplines and in a manner that was unequivocally social-revolutionary and a weapon of propaganda/ celebration. These elements coalesced around the magazine Lef (edited by Mayakovsky and Tretyakov). “Lef will fight for an art-construction-of-life,” declared the first number.

The pages of Lef included fugitives of painting like Rodchenko and Stepanova; workers in theatre and film like Eisenstein and Vertov; formalist critics such as Shklovsky and Jakobson; zaoumist poets, such as Kruchenikh and Kamensky; critics such as Brik and Arvatov; regular contributors such as Tretyakov and Mayakovsky, and many others. Marie Seton, writing of Eisenstein sees the group’s aims and activities in these terms: “The people around the magazine Lef talked much about what seemed the sickness of their emotional responses. As they talked they found themselves pushed to wage a new crusade. From the first they had been crusaders against the forms and subject matter of bourgeois art. Now they saw Art itself as the reflection of a profound sickness of the spirit. . . . They must destroy art by the weapon of art itself. They must create works so violent, so permeated with reality that the spectator seeing their works would tire of art and prefer the drama of life itself.”8

Such observations apply to Eisenstein’s production of Gas Works and anticipate his move to cinema. He had contributed to Lef in 1923 (year of Enough Simplicity) an article on Montage of Attractions which clearly anticipates his cinematic ideas. As an essay it makes complex and often confusing reading but certain factors are very noteworthy. Eisenstein suggested: “Attraction (in our diagnosis of the theatre) is every aggressive moment in it, i.e. every element of it that brings to light in the spectator those senses or that psychology that influences his experience—every element that can be verified and mathematically calculated to produce certain emotional shocks in a proper order within the totality—the only means by which it is possible to make the final ideological conclusion possible,” and ended, “Schooling for the montageur can be found in the cinema and chiefly in the music hall and circus. . . .”

He was of course fully aware of the Kino-eye films of Vertov, and admired certain aspects of the latter’s work. Thus for his first film, Strike, he employed as cameraman, Vertov’s assistant, Tisse. At Proletcult it was decided to make a series of films on the generic theme, “Toward the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” These would cover the social and ideological background to the Revolution, political organizations, subversive publications, strikes, etc. Only one film was made, Strike. A film which is often far from a documentary, it is wildly dynamic and experimental, includes grotesque “clowning” episodes, mechanolatry, and finally, is a most moving social work. In Jay Leyda’s words, “Audiences who looked at the film were supposed to study it coldly as a document about the evolution of a strike. . . . But the film failed in this desired effect. It achieved something much greater and more valuable—it moved its audience.” And Leyda goes on, “One of the secondary benefits of the preservation of Strike is that, aside from a few photographic records, it shows a manifestation of an artistic movement that ended only thirty years ago, Constructivism—less in surface design (Aelita supplies that aspect) than in the more important matter of method, building inventions with the essentials of reality.”9

Is it my interest in “Constructivism” that makes me find Strike the most moving, exciting and greatest of Eisenstein’s films? And wish that the first half-hour of October characterized the whole film? Strike was made in 1924, the year that Lef was closed down. By then reaction had definitely begun to form, a reaction that initially seemed to concentrate on formalism, from which the main body of Lef had by now disentangled itself. Another view of Lef is given by Victor Erlich: “In the neo-Futurist esthetics of Lef, passionate concern with the word, with formal experiment, was wedded to the pragmatic slogan of ‘social command.’ Arvatov evolved a formalist-sociological theory, but this would have satisfied neither social realists or formalists; for Arvatov ‘Art’ became just another branch of ‘industry.’ Indeed by confusing two different meanings of the word art (isskustvo), Arvatov finally identified artistic creation with skill, technical proficiency. ‘Art,’ he declared, ‘should be regarded simply as the most efficacious organization in any field of human activity.’ The formalist-sociologists were aware that the ’material and form of a work of art are conditioned by the prevalent methods of its production and consumption and that the latter in turn, are determined by the type of economy prevailing at a given period.”10 We will later find this view echoed by many, from Mayakovsky to Lissitzky.

Lef clearly embraced some of the most significant figures of the avant-garde. (Tatlin was an absentee, but not his ideas.) And its influence was felt in many areas despite its small circulation. The prevailing atmosphere of a utilitarian art may even have affected Malevich. Suprematism around 1920 had proved itself capable of application, from pottery to posters. And Eisenstein saw it applied architecturally: “In the main streets the red brick has been covered by white paint. And the white paint bears green circles. Orange squares. Blue rectangles. This is Vitebsk in 1920. The brush of Kasimir Malevich has passed across these brick walls.”

In 1922 Malevich transferred to Leningrad, to Inkhuk, where he taught alongside Tatlin and Matiushin. With students he made a series of drawings and 3-D structures which are known as architektoniki; these are ambiguous works, sometimes no more than a pure architectonic structure, sometimes with clear functional characteristics. Lissitzky referred to Malevich’s definition of them as “blind architecture.” One of the drawings of 1924 has an inscription which reads “. . . the material is matte white glass. . . . The planit will be accessible from all sides for the Earth dweller who will be able to be in it and on top of it. . . . Thanks to its construction the Planit is easy to clean; it can be washed daily without difficulty and is completely safe because of its low height.”11 Following his visit to Germany and the Bauhaus where his “Non-objective World” was published, Malevich did in fact make some practical architectural projects.

Lissitzky returned from his proselytizing activities in Europe to settle in Moscow in 1926. By now he had apparently ceased to make even Proun pictures and his main activity was as an architectural propagandist. He was a member of the Asnova group who aimed “to raise architecture as an art to a level corresponding to that of modern technical and scientific conditions.” He was far from a servile journalist. Schusev’s Mausoleum for Lenin he called “An Empire-style chest of drawers . . . which might as well have served over Bismark’s tomb.” He did champion Tatlin’s proposed Monument, believing the latter’s “astonishingly little talent for the Fine Arts” had saved him from “the lion’s den of esthetic speculation.” And another work he singled out for praise was the Vesnin’s proposed Pravda Building: “All the accessories that a metropolitan street imposes on a building, illustrations, publicity, clock, loudspeaker . . . (are) brought to unity. This is the esthetic of Constructivism.”

No buildings based on Lissitzky’s own plans were ever built; but he did achieve some remarkably fine exhibition interiors, and left a clear imprint on typographical design. Not only are his designs for Mayakovsky’s For reading out loud, or his posters all fine achievements, but he saw this activity extending beyond that of simply designing a layout; typography for Lissitzky meant communications, message, content, medium and environment. His essay, The Future of The Book is truly prophetic:

It is shortsighted to suppose that machines, i.e. the displacement of manual by mechanical processes, are basic to the development of the form and figure of an artifact. In the first place, the consumer’s demand determines the development, i.e., the demand of the social strata that provide the “commissions.” Today this is not a narrow circle, a thin cream, but “everybody,” the masses. The idea moving the masses today is called materialism, but dematerialization is the characteristic of the epoch. For example, correspondence grows, so the number of letters, the quantity of writing paper, the mass of material consumed expands, until relieved by the telephone. Again, the network and material of supply grow until they are relieved by the radio. Matter diminishes, we dematerialize, sluggish masses of matter are replaced by liberated energy. This is the mark of our epoch. What conclusions does this imply in our field? I draw the following analogy:

Inventions in the field Inventions in the field
of verbal traffic of general traffic
Articulated language . . Upright gait
Writing . . . . . . . . . The wheel

printing-press . . . . . Carts drawn by animal power
? . . . . . . . . . The automobile
? . . . . . . . . . The aeroplane

Elsewhere in the article Lissitzky wrote, “The innovation of easel painting made great works of art possible, but it has now lost this power. The cinema and the illustrated weekly have succeeded it.”12

Those who didn’t believe that easel painting had been superseded and who wished to create abstract works were to find that such works had been superseded by the State. They were able to recant and produce figurative works, but it became increasingly difficult to produce any other art works. In 1930 Malevich’s works were exhibited and publicly labeled decadent. In many other areas reaction had set in. Proletcult had been squashed and absorbed into the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers, wherein the tenets of social-realism were soon formulated. In the field of painting the Association of Artists of the Revolution insisted on Left classicism, claiming that abstract works “discredit our Revolution in the eyes of the International Proletariat.”

Those around Lef could have sensed reaction much earlier. Trotsky had made much of their bourgeois/bohemian background, and they were obviously left of the Left and as such could have taken note of Lenin’s pamphlet, Left-Wing Communism—An Infantile Disorder, where Lenin had seen Left communists as “doctrinaires of revolution who have never taken part in a real revolution or pondered the history of revolution, or who naively accept subjective ‘denial’ of a given reactionary institution as its real destruction by the united forces of a whole series of objective factors . . . (it is alright if this is explained by their youth. God himself has ordained that in the course of a certain period the young should talk such nonsense).”

But Lef’s adherents were now—late ’20s—not particularly young; they had championed a cause for at least 10 years and believed that their ideas embodied the true spirit of the times, the times of Revolution. So, in 1927, one finds Mayakovsky and Tretyakov, believing their (Lef’s) activities should not be considered those of a fringe group, but that they belonged at the center of cultural policy, writing to Press Bureau of Central Committee of Communist Party, “The writers of Left Front demand that they be included in the Federation of United Soviet Writers. . . . We consider it a sad misunderstanding, that Left Front has not been invited from the very beginning into the organization of the Federation, as the work of Left Front since the very first days of the Revolution is well known to all workers of Literature.” Its attached list of workers includes Rodchenko, Stepanova, Eisenstein, Vertov, Arvatov, Pasternak, Shklovsky, Kruchenikh, Brik, etc.

Mayakovsky revived Lef (not within the confines of RAPP) for one year, 1927–28. Its title became Novy Lef. The layout and covers were all by Rodchenko, who had been chief designer for the earlier series, and its contributors were drawn from the same fields. Aphoristically, as usual, Mayakovsky wrote in his Autobiography: “Resumed publication (there was an attempt to close it down) of Lef, now New Lef. Its main plank, opposition to invention, estheticism and psychologism in art. It favors agitational pieces, high-class publicistic and chronicle work.”

Novy Lef’s main concern became the factograph. The idea of a “literature of fact” wasn’t new; many propagandist plays were based on fact, but as a unified esthetic front it was something positive in the pages of Novy Lef. It is an obvious extension, in its view of the artist as craftsman, his media his craft, undifferentiated from any other useful activity, of the ideas of Pisarev and earlier Constructivist theorists. “Though their theories have the ring of dogma and the limits they suggest for the new ‘Literature of Fact’ seem straitened and confining, yet it is clear that the ideas they developed would, if accepted have had the effect of liberating the writer from the much more confining demand that he interpret reality in the light of dialectical materialism.” Such a view, however, must be qualified by acknowledging what hardly needs repeating—that those around Novy Lef were all socialists who believed their art was the true parallel to Russian life and ideology.

Chuzak, a journalist significantly, and militant advocate of an ideological art, in a survey published serially in Novy Lef, Life-Constructive Literature, wrote on the factograph. As precursors he acknowledges the men of the ’60s (Pisarev, Chernichevsky, Dobrolyubov) and saw Novy Lef as completing their tentative proposals. Defining the new concept’ of culture as concerned with transforming reality by reconstructing it, he sees the “fact” as the necessary foundation for such reconstruction. According to Chuzak the “literature of fact” encompassed essays, works of a scientific-artistic nature, the newspaper, the factomontage, biography, travel notes, parody, etc. Examples of factographs were such works as Tretyakov’s Chinese Testament, John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World, Kushner’s 103 Days in Zapod, Kondrushkin’s Private Capital before the Soviet Court, Shklovsky’s Sentimental Journey, etc. A little dry as a list perhaps, but works which could hold their own against most fiction as readable, and ultimately, probably, more valuable to the reader. Never of course could those around Novy Lef allow their facts to become dull; the way these were organized and expressed had to be dynamic; this aspect—method—had grown up with them from the days of Futurism.

Besides literature of course, there were facto-graphs and their precedents in other areas. Rodchenko’s collage illustrations for Mayakovsky’s small volume, About This, had utilized photographs of the actual objects mentioned in the poem, from many photos of Lily Brik (begetter of the poem) to her housekeeper answering Mayakovsky’s call, to Moscow Zoo. A significant precedent for theatre of fact could be found in the “living newspaper.” As the name implies, a group would present the daily news as a kind of dramatic/dynamic poetry reading, montaging newspaper clippings into a new whole. Later, with Blue Blouse and similar groups, this expanded to include texts from other sources, songs, dances, acrobatics and slide or film projections. In the film the example of Esther Shub, who had montaged old newsreels into a history of the Revolution, and of Vertov’s kino-eye films from the civil war front were exemplary factographs.

Vertov in fact became the apostle of the facto-graphic film. One of his best known works, Man with a Movie Camera, 1928, is a documentary covering a film-maker making a documentary of everyday events in Russia as seen in a day. There is little out of the ordinary in the subject: streets in the early morning, traffic, sports, entertainments, etc., but the treatment is extraordinary. It has been cut and edited to give a kind of chase tempo, there are countless plays on our interpretations of artistic reality. It gives a picture of life in a Constructivist world, dynamic, anti-psychological, machine-like in its relentlessness (and, initially, trying on one’s senses; seen a second time it seemed to me to run in a far more unified and easy way). Vertov’s ideas on the (Constructivist) cinema were published in Lef and Novy Lef. “Kinodrama—is an opium for the people. Kinodrama and religion—are deadly weapons in the hands of the capitalists. The scenario—is a tale thought up for us by literary people. . . . Down with the bourgeois tale-scenario. Hurrah for life as it is.”

When sound came to Russian films, Vertov was a pioneer of “natural sound,” edited and superimposed as he treated visual material. “When Vertov attended the premier of his first sound-film, Enthusiasm in London . . . flanked on either side by the sound manager of the Tivoli Theatre and an officer of the Society, he raised the volume at the climaxes to an ear-splitting level. Begged to desist, he refused and finished the performance fighting for possession of the instrument of control, while the building seemed to tremble with the flood of noise coming from behind the screen.”13 Others from Lef’s ranks were to be associated with the cinema, such as Brik, Shklovsky and Tretyakov. Mayakovsky too planned to return to films in the late ’20s.

Novy Lef closed after a year and its adherents went various ways. None could hold strictly to the tenets of Constructivism in face of the opposition from social-realism. Mayakovsky was engaged on an epic poem on the Five Year Plan, but, seemingly embittered with bureaucracy, wrote two plays in 1929 and 1930, The Bed Bug and The Bathhouse, both of which were critical of the Soviet position. Meyerhold produced them, and Mayakovsky’s old friend Rodchenko designed the sets for the second act of The Bed Bug, which depicted a geometrical, antiseptic chromium-plated world of 1978. The play was premiered in February, 1929; in September of that year Mayakovsky joined RAPP; in March, 1930, The Bathhouse was produced to a storm of criticism. On April 14th he committed suicide. In 1935 he was canonized by Stalin and, in Pasternak’s words, “began to be introduced forcibly, like potatoes under Catherine the Great.”

By 1930 the tide was definitely turning; two years later “social-realism” became the official and enforced line in the arts. People such as Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Tatlin were forced to compromise and produce watered-down versions of what was seen and slandered as a formalist art. Many were arrested and disappeared. Malevich was arrested as unreliable politically in 1931, but released. For him Suprematism re-emerged and triumphed on his death in 1935. Then he lay in his Suprematist coffin, beneath his historic black square painting. His friends stood watch—three Suprematist painters and a critic. His body was taken on an open lorry through the crowd-lined streets and lain under a stone with a simple red square on its granite. Such triumph is ironic in view of the efforts of Lef to fuse art and life, for it brought to such a fusion a poetry that was beyond Lef.

After this the former avant-garde was to remain silent.

Lef’s esthetics as ideology were to come very close to social-realism, but it could not use the means of social-realism, which were simply those of the western petit bourgeoisie. G. C. Argan seems to make a valuable point about the Russian avant-garde and its demise: “. . . the movement remained on the crest of the wave as long as the revolution pursued and developed its basic socialist ideology. The time came when, to become a reality, it had to call upon the imagination of the Russian leaders and the whole Russian people, and at that moment it was abandoned, opposed and condemned. Again, it was condemned when, the revolution having become a massive apparatus of party and government bureaucracy, the ethical thrusts of its ideology and the esthetic impulses of its avant-garde faded away simultaneously.”14

The concern of Constructivism was more with life than art, and I have at the beginning of this article quoted John Cage as one of many figures working now to whom the problem is the same. In the light of Argan’s remarks I should like to quote part of an interview with a French happener, J. J. Lebel, who writes: “If the barriers and conventions dividing ‘art’ from ‘real-life’ have been torn down, does that mean that life is as free as art, or that ‘art’ has become as controlled and restricted as ‘Life’? If everyone must now partake of creative activities how can we expect people who hardly participate in their own lives to participate in the ‘art game of life’?”15

That a question can be raised similarly in such different circumstances seems to indicate that the kind of artistic (or non-artistic) future perceived by Pisarev, Rodchenko or Cage, although coming back to a fairly simple and concise common denominator, is perhaps only just coming into view.

Ronald Hunt



7. Quoted in Jay Leyda, Kino, London, 1960, p. 180.

8. Marie Seton, Sergei M. Eisenstein, New York, 1960, p. 65.

9. Leyda, op. cit., p. 181.

10. Victor Erlich: Russian Formalism, The Hague, 1955. p. 90.

11. Troels Andersen, “Kasimir Malevich 1912–1935,” in Den inre och yttre rymden, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 1966.

12. El Lissitzky, “Unser buch” in Gutenberg Jahrbuch, 1926–7 (Translated in New Left Review, No. 41, 1966).

13. Leyda, op. cit., p. 282.

14. C. G. Argan, “The Russian Avant-garde” in J. P. Hodin: European critic, London, 1965, p. 12.

15. Jean-Jacques Lebel, “Replies to a questionnaire,” Icteric, No. 2, 1967.