TUESDAY 15 SEPTEMBER h 19.15 EYE.
EYE presents an evening on constructivism and the Soviet Union films from 1918 to the period after 1965, when Sviridov’s orchestral suite ‘Time, Forwards’ (see beneath) provided the basis for a ‘revival’ of the constructivist aesthetics.
Film program concept by Bin Li, a nitrate film specialist.
Presentation by Anna Abrahams, EYE film programmer, film director and teacher at KABK.
Live music by Arnold de Boer (Zea / The Ex) http://www.zea.dds.nl
Soviet Constructivism built heavily on the earlier Futurist movement in its glorification of technology, of dynamism (speed, power), and its desire to build a completely new social order and aesthetic. The Futurists were basically apolitical; they revelled in chaos and destruction as an antedote for the stultified traditions of Western Culture. The Constructivist were steep in Marxism and, unlike the Futurists, intent on constructing a brave new world order of their own making.
Constructivism was concerned with the construction of new, modern social and cultural artifacts to serve revolutionary social purposes. It focused on technology–the machine–as both a harbinger and facilitator of new human experience, a new society; and it engaged with developing new aesthetic vocabularies and universal forms and images. The constructivist art strived for objective representations of the world, rather than concentrating on the artist’s subject interpretation of it.
The state established the “higher state art training centre,” or the Vkhutemas School, which came to be known as the ideological nucleus of Russian constructivism, and artists adopted Lenin’s belief in art with a purpose. The country’s artists had been familiar with the cubist agenda for quite some time and sensed that its universal signs and aura of idealism were adaptable to their society’s economic and spiritual gloom. To be true socialists, Russian artists needed to re-evaluate their position in society and apply their trade to the climate of the time. Modern artists would become workers amongst workers.
1919, Agitprop (art forms with an explicitly political message) poster by Vladimir Mayakovsky titled: “Want it? Join”
“1. You want to overcome cold?
2. You want to overcome hunger?
3. You want to eat?
4. You want to drink?
Hasten to join shock brigades of exemplary labor!”
The Soviet Constructivists organised themselves in the 1920s into the ‘Left Front of the Arts’, who produced the influential journal LEF, (which had two series, from 1923–5 and from 1927–9 as New LEF). LEF was dedicated to maintaining the avant-garde against the critiques of the incipient Socialist Realism, and the possibility of a capitalist restoration, with the journal being particularly scathing about the ‘NEPmen’, the capitalists of the period. For LEF the new medium of cinema was more important than the easel painting and traditional narratives that elements of the Communist Party were trying to revive then. Important Constructivists were very involved with cinema, with Mayakovsky acting in the film The Young Lady and the Hooligan (1919), Rodchenko’s designs for the intertitles and animated sequences of Dziga Vertov’s Kino Eye (1924), and Aleksandra Ekster designs for the sets and costumes of the science fiction film Aelita (1924).
Like the photomontages and designs of Constructivism, early Soviet cinema concentrated on creating an agitational effect by montage and ‘making strange’ (ostranenie).
Defamiliarization or ostranenie is the artistic technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar or strange way in order to enhance perception of the familiar. A central concept in 20th-century art and theory, ranging over movements including Dada, postmodernism, epic theatre, and science fiction. It is also used as a tactic by recent anti-consumerist social movements such as culture jamming to disrupt or subvert media culture and its mainstream cultural institutions, including (but not limited to) corporate advertising. It attempts to “expose the methods of domination” of a mass society to foster progressive change.
Here an illustrative photo of culture jamming/guerrilla communication, taken in London in 2010:
For more insights about Constructivism click here:
Baryshnya i khuligan – The Young Lady and the Hooligan (FRAGMENT, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Evgeny Slavinsky. RU, 1918, silent): A young woman comes to a small village in pre-revolutionary Russia to teach old and young men. One of them, the hooligan, or bully, falls in love with her and will be attacked for defending her. The restoration of this film was carried out by EYE.
Aelita – Queen of Mars (FRAGMENT, Soviet Union, Yakov Protazanov, 1924, silent): A science fiction fantasy of a machine made by an engineer who intends to take it to Mars with a pair of faithful friends and carry the Revolution there.
Odinnadtsatij – The Eleventh Day (TRAILER, Soviet Union, Dziga Vertov, 1928, silent): In this documentary about the eleventh anniversary of the October Revolution, Vertov pays tribute to the technology of the Soviet Union and he combines the “language of the eye” with the “socialist vocabulary“. The result is a distinctive avant-garde montage.
Stachka – Strike (FRAGMENT, Soviet Union, Sergei Eisenstein, 1924, silent):A worker is falsely accused and hangs himself, which propels the factory workers to stand against the capitalists. They concoct a strike, which is bloodily beaten by police.
Turksib (FRAGMENT, Soviet Union, Viktor Turin, 1929, silent):A documentary about the industrialization of the Soviet republics of Central Asia, such as Turkestan, Kazakhstan and Siberia.
Vremya, vperyod! – Time, Forward! (Soviet Union, Sofiya Milkina and Mikhail Shveytser,1965): The action takes place in the 1930s. The film describes one day of the construction work of Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works. Movie characters – simple construction workers and members of Komsomol (young communist organization) who are eager to work. Learning that their colleagues in Kharkov have set a record, they are mobilized in order to beat them. Everyone at construction site has embraced big socialist competition. They are ready to win at any cost to speed up construction and complete the work on time. Moscow journalist who came to cover the scope of the great construction project, seeking a hero of his reportage …
Sviridov’s orchestral suite written for this film was one of the most recognizable music pieces of the Soviet era, and became a sort of calling card for the Soviet Union itself.
Since 1986 it was used as the signature tune of Vremya, the TV news program on USSR Central Television and Russian Channel One (although the tune has been re-orchestrated a few times since then). It was also used as the opening theme for the four-part Channel 4 documentary Spitfire Ace in Great Britain.
The theme has been used in subsequent films, most notably Theodore Ushev’s Tower Bawher and Guy Maddin’s The Heart of the World. It was performed at the close of the 2010 Olympic ceremony in Vancouver, conducted live by Valery Gergiev, to present the 2014 Winter Olympics, which were held in Sochi, Russia.
The Vremya theme from Sviridov’s Time, Forward! was used at considerable length in the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, during the scene depicting national industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture in the Soviet Union. The dancers wore identical red and black costumes to signify conformity to the state while they interacted with huge figurative tractors, giant ditch-diggers, gears, and similar engine parts.
Nas mars – Our March (Soviet Union, Aleksandr Svetlov, Aleksandr Shein, 1970): Made by a collective of Russian filmmakers, the piece is dedicated to the revolutionary people, the communist party and Lenin.The film includes excerpts from old documentaries, newsreels, feature films, photos and posters,focusing on the economical, technological and social development of Russia.
Tower Bawher (Canada, Theodore Ushev, 2006): This animated short is like a whirlwind tour of Russian constructivist art and is filled with visual references to artists of the era, including Vertov, Stenberg, Rodchenko, Lissitsky and Popova.