Wednesday, August 27, 2008

(Social) Engineers (Re)create New Forms

Two interesting things that you can do with a Russian Constructivist building. Here is a new wikipedia page on Ivan Nikolaev's 1931 Textile Institute Dom Kommuna. When reading of the various strictures placed upon the students in order to make sure they adapted themselves to communal life (organised sedation!) one should note that this is what Slavoj Zizek is talking about (via Boris Groys' pseudo-scholarship in The Total Art of Stalinism, and plus a heavy dose of irony) when he claims Stalinism 'saved humanity' in the USSR - when the Stalin clique fully got control by 1932 all this Huxleyesque social engineering was immediately finished off, with comfort and gemutlichkeit as the new socialist ideal. Note also that the anti-humanist bent of the kommuna-ists also involved legal abortion, easy divorce and other elements of the sexual 'glass of water theory', that were subsequently abolished in the 30s. Not that some students couldn't do with compulsory sedation.

Anyway, it's pleasing to know that the buildings are being restored as student accommodation, unusually something pretty close to the original function. Conversely, an example of what one can do with a Constructivist building when one has looted a country's resources is noted in passing in this G2 profile of the recipient of Roman Abramovich's £43m birthday presents. 'Heiress, fashion designer and socialite' Dasha Zhukova has opened what is inevitably getting called 'Moscow's Tate Modern' in Konstantin Melnikov's 1927 Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage (as prominently used in Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera). During the restoration, the original roof by the 'Russian Eiffel' Vladmir Shukhov was destroyed. According to wikipedia, the space was intended for a 'Russian Jewish Museum of Tolerance' - soon, it'll be housing an installation by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. But of course.


Blogger Murphy said...

I think 'voj is right, to an extent, on constructivism; It should never be understood in isolation from the 'biocosmism' of the early soviet period, when all life was to be remade. Do you agree?

12:50 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

yeah, I do - but reversing his conclusions...

1:37 pm  
Blogger Murphy said...

good god, i read that chapter last night. It's awful! You're being too generous to suggest that he makes any conclusions whatsoever...

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