The dynamisation of art in the 20th century and its impact on typographie

by Michael Mahla

As early as the first decades of this century, velocity, machines and films were well-known phenomena. They had a decisive impact on the artists of those days.

The introduction of new technologies transcended imagination, changed communication, the artistic point of view, and human consciousness itself. Not only the artists but also a broad audience believed in the world-creating synthesis of art and technology which seemed to be able to shape life in a harmonious way.

F. Leger proclaimed a continuing optimistic view of technology on the occasion of the opening of the aircraft pavillion in Paris 1912.

"This is the end of painting. What could be more beautiful than this propeller?"

The radical break with the past was followed by an acknowledgement/recognition of the present.

A new age was dawning - modernity. Technology changed the way of life and created a corresponding repertory of artistic forms. The dynamic force of technological progress became a central motif.

The interaction of art and technology became visible in Russian art from 1910 to 1932. Demanding "art in life! art in technology! art in production!" artists, architects and constructors embarked upon an endeavour so far unknown to employ their activities for the development of a new exemplary society.

In the first half of this century, simultaneously and independent of locality, the international avant garde opened up the avoided subjects of technology, related effects of industrial revolution and daily life by representing light, noise and velocity. The artistic reproduction of dynamic force comparable to film, gained crucial importance in Italian futurist painting. "Cinematism" in painting was influenced by chronophotography, this is to say the motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne Marey. In 1880 these pioneers were able to reproduce motion sequences of walking, running and jumping men in photographs. Marey himself considered the results of his work on art as helping artists to find the authentic form and in turn helping the audience to test the "truth" of a picture.

Artists found dynamic motion in everyday life: the acceleration of a car , a crowd in the street entering a house or the dynamism of a dog on a leash.

Boccione declared simultaneity to be the basic category of futuristic art:

Dynamism = simultaneity of absolute and relative motion.

At the threshold of the industrial age, the Russian revolution stands as one of the absolute epochs of this century. For Russian futurists, aircraft and aviation were symbols of progress in the world. One of the leading characters of the opera "Victory Over the Sun" is Aviator. There is a cubist a-logical painting of Malevich and another one of Morgunov, both bearing this same title.

Tatlin, in accordance, a constructor and inventor, occupied himself with the development of a one-man airplane in the twenties.

In Malevich's dynamo-suprematistic paintings and illustrations of 1917/18, certain cosmic aviation motifs appear again and again. Frequently, they extend to enormous dimensions, and today, after all these years we associate phantastic and artificial space stations with them.

Today in the age of manned spacecraft, it is possible to interpret a painting like "Suprematism" as a hovering station in front of a red rising sun. Neither geometric forms nor colours play the leading part in suprematistic paintings, but rather what emerges when they are connected - that is corresponding proportions, contexts and interactions. Only the dialectics of contrasting forms, their measures, colours and moving directions generate the effect of spaciality and a special dynamic harmony. The viewer perceives, on the plain surface, a world of multidimensional, multilayered space and perpetual motion.

The Proun works of art show a dynamic motion which was meant to evoke spiritual and physical energies in the beholder. These energies were not supposed to end in themselves but to react with the painting. The viewer was to grapple with the object, e.g. with the covering surfaces of the vitrines that select certain objects.

The spherical form was significant in Lissitzky's Prouns. It symbolizes both the globes of the sun and the earth. The accompanying bars were meant to reflect the 3 coordinates of space. Not arranged at right angle, they indicate a dynamic space which matches Lissitzky's idea of a dynamic space. The dynamic force of space was also taken up in the last relief of the wall sequence. The relief of the third wall showed a cube at the center standing on one point. This cube arrangement had a special meaning to Lissitzky. A little later , in 1923 in the September issue of G, Lissitzky saw the development of architecture end where 250 m high antenna towers would stand on one simple point.

In his essay "Elements of Invention" (1924), he referred to the cube standing on one point, as a dynamic form. The position of cube relief and spherical relief in his design reveals his intention: his art should be determined by aesthetic dynamic force. Each movement of the viewer changes the effect of the walls: black turns into white and vice versa. Thus, as a consequence of human motion, a visual dynamic force emerges. The viewer plays an active part. The changing points of view permit an individual analysis of the exposed objects.

Although, in the first years of the revolution, construction work was suspended, planning was carried on in an intense fashion. In their plans, like in the other arts, a striving for expressivity and pathos was felt with which the architects of modernity wanted to set signs.

Tatlin's draft, presented on the occasion of the third Internationale, was considered to be a grand architectural monument. His kinetic construction, developped in 1919, rose 100 m above its model, the Eiffel tower. His monumental steel construction contained 4 independent hanging spatial objects which revolve in different velocities around their axes. According to Tatlin this piece of art symbolizes the socialist world revolution as a force that unifies the different peoples.

Trotzky considered metal to be the basis of scientific-industrial organisation and therefore the material of the new proletarian style. From a revolutionary point of view, iron has excellent qualities. Like glas, it emerges from fire and thus is a symbol of change through work. Stone and wood were seen as bourgeois and therefore counter-revolutionary.

In 1920 Gabo and Pesvner claim in their realistic manifesto:

We reject the millenial error inherited from Egyptian art that the static rhythms are the only elements of sculptural creation. We recognize a new element in fine arts called kinetic rhythms as the basic form of our perception of real time.

3 years prior to this proclamation, a revolution in sculptural art started: The tensions of the inner forces break open the traditional form, the form spreads into space and pretends acts of motion. The arrangement includes the opportunity of objective motion as means of demonstration.

With a few grips, Marcel Duchamps installed his first Readymade in 1917 with industrially manufactured products. This art of montage in accordance with the technological object upgrades artistic innovation by technology in an inflationary way. The modification of a technological object in a piece of art provides a comfortable way to imitation.

Breaking loose from patterns and leaving behind sumptuous decorations determined the constructive concept of design.

The constructivist Vavara Stepanova claimed in 1923: Aesthetic elements can be replaced by the process of production of a suit... not decorations but the neccessary seams of the suit lend it its form.

In France it was not Haute Couture which discovered modernity but painting and amateurish tayloring. S. Delaunay and G. Chanel, each one in their way, contributed to a standardisation and unification of classless and modern clothing. The revival of basic elements of clothing opened up new prospects of modern serial production. New clothing and new fashion also create a vision of a new type of man. The old gender roles passed: technological innovations and modernized ways of production brought into existence new professions for women. Working women became a social and economic factor. Thus, a new type of clothing was needed to give them enough room to move, to drive a bicycle, or to run after a bus.

In 1922 Lucien Lelong, a fashion designer from Paris, propagated his 'ligne cinematographique'. His clothes take effect only in motion '... in the spirit of velocity, in the fever of motion and in the rage of Charlston.'

World War I. accelerated industrialisation. A massive rationalized military serial production changed the face of industry.

For Dadaists, the contradiction of a life determined by emigration and protest against the war on the one hand and the idolized world of traditional art on the other was unbearable. After the war their discussion of the discrepancy between industrial progress and social conditions did not only settle with old-fashioned traditions but also brought out new technologies and new subject matters.

According to Dadaists, the world could no longer be covered in a problematic non-simultaneous central-perspectivist and total way. Instead, they perceived the word as dissonant, chaotic and irreproducible.

They smashed the ivory tower of art and propagated the anti-art of shock and scandal in order to create an identity of art and life as the beginning of a so called problem oriented art. Only the experimental film was able to enchant the intellectual world again.

Activities of Constructivist had a strong impact on Berlin's Dadaists. On the one hand, because they were considered to be a reaction against the 'wandering cloud' tendencies of holy art, and on the other hand, because of their clearly political attitude which made resignation impossible. The engineer and 'photomonteur' John Herzfeld saw himself more as an engineer than as an artist, because the engineer stands in the front line of modern society and perceives the future in a clearer manner than the artist.

Dynamisation also affected typography. The disolution of the regular sentence intends to discard old fashioned rules in order to admit new perspectives of sentence construction. Montage became an important stylistic device. The connection of photographs and writing found wide acceptance and radical applicaton in commercials. To George Grosz and John Herzfeld who joined the Berlin Dadaist group in 1918, the method of collage served as a kind of spiritual alert in political satire. The sharpness of social criticism provoked scandals and started law suits.

Kurt Schwitters extended the method of montage and collage by including different materials. Over the years, the so-called Merzbau grew in his house, occupying several floors '... made of materials alien to its nature, unified into a piece of art by glue, nails, hammer, paper, rags, machine parts, oil (colours) etc.' In this way, he created a comprehensive piece of art which sts. The idea of technological progress and the glorification of armaments are reflected in aviation painting, the futuristic Aeropittura. The style of these works owes its popularity to appropriation of visual means and gained modernity by adapting candid photography from movies.

Aviation paintings, pictures from the pilot's view, having found approval as 'vita mechanica' before World War I., remained a necessary part of the fashist art programme from 1931 up to the end of World War II. Polarized between art and politics, the 2nd Futurism had turned into a supporting device of political propaganda. The early futurist demand of aestheticizing politics had lead to a politics of asthetics.

'Fashism means, in last consequence, an aesthetization of poltitical life (...). All efforts to aestheticize politics rise to one point. This point is war. (Walter Benjamin)

The car, main symbol of the first futuristic manifest, ...'whose chassis is decorated by large pipes which bear resemblance to snakes with explosive breath, a roaring car which seems to run on missiles...' can hardly be surpassed.

In Marinetti's glorification of air planes, machines reveal their deadly properties.

Diplomarbeit 1993 Copyright 2000 by Michael Mahla translated by D. Jung