Constructive criticism

Two hyper dense, complex and elaborate architectural presentations at But does it float caught our eye: illustrations by Atelier Olschinsky (website) and the (slightly earlier) work of Jan Soucek (originally via BLDG BLOG). Neither of these studios/artists are actually architects, but aesthetic utopias form the basis of their imagery. Today, the association between innovation, individualism and the avant-garde is unassailable, but as Owen Hatherley points out in his essay on the constructivists and the Russian revolution in art and architecture, ‘This conception of the heroic subversive artist was one rejected by the constructivists throughout their existence, so it’s an enduring irony that it is so often applied to them.’

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Constructivism was failed state art, a reality that is quite at odds with the heroic picture painted by this explosion of abstract creativity when it was rediscovered – by just a few individuals, as Hatherley notes – in the latter half of the twentieth century. Now its aesthetic is ubiquitous, whether in homage or reproduction. From the minute one sets eyes on the tilted spiral tower of Vladimir Tatlin’s unbuilt Monument to the Third International in the courtyard of Burlington House (about as incongruous setting as can be imagined for such a thing), the Royal Academy’s Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935 can’t help but buoy up the vision of Constructivism as heroic movement that failed to usher in a worker’s paradise, freed from the burden of historical expectations. As Hatherley notes, ‘In art, the avant garde survives; in everyday life, across the Russian Federation and the Commonwealth of Independent States, its works rot.’

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The paper architecture of the Constructivists has a lot to answer for, ushering in a fascination with abstraction and angularity that, ironically, runs totally counter to the original idealist vision of ‘mov[ing] from the utopian to the quotidian (and back)’. Instead, we became fixated on the utopian, never more fascinating than when it had so transparently failed, leaving behind only ruins and the alluring patina of failure. The RA’s retrospective is doubly ironic when one considers that the adjacent Burlington Arcade is threatened with being dragged into the ultra-glossy era of ‘luxury retail’ in the hope of making it a more Oligarch-friendly retail destination.

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Somewhere along the line, the definition of utopia shifted, fatally and forever, leaving the 99% adrift. The Russian experience – where the 1% emerged practically overnight by virtue of little more than their ruthlessness and sheer luck – is simply an accelerated version of what the rest of the world has experienced, slowly and inexorably, throughout the last two decades. The country may have showed us the optimistic utopia of the Constructivists, but it also became the ultimate symbol of market-led dystopia.

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Other things. This underground submarine base in Balaklava seems to be an established tourist destination. Ruins, once again / the Melnikov House in Moscow has a website, courtesy of the Russian Avantgarde Heritage Preservation Foundation / more on the Russian Avant-Garde / time-lapse footage of a lake being drained (in a controlled fashion); the collapsing sediment is amazing (via K) / the above image comes from an exhibition of models of key Constructivist buildings and pavilions, made by students at the University of Western Australia.

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Maple Tea make custom books and stationery / Art is Cheap, ‘if you want me to write you a song, then send me a songtitle, a drumloop, a photo… anything.’ / a weblog devoted to cocktails and cologne / Maurice Sendak’s illustrations for the Velveteen Rabbit / TapeMachine is a high-quality recorder for Android / beautiful, explosive architectural drawing by Akihisa Hirata / new music at Crushing Death & Grief.

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One Response to Constructive criticism

  1. kieranmcglone says:

    No link to Maurice Sendak…?
    Amazing blog by the way, but you knew that already.

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