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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Varvara Stepanova Day *

* (restored)

 

‘A leading Russian Constructivist artist, graphic, and costume and set designer Varvara Stepanova was best known for her textile and clothing designs and, like her husband Alexander Rodchenko and Vladimir Tatlin, became committed to utilitarian designs geared to social needs and economic mass production.

‘After studying at the School of Fine Arts in Kazan from 1910 to 1911 she moved to Moscow where she studied at the Stroganoff School of Applied Art from 1913 to 1914. After working with avant‐garde abstract forms she was, from 1920, an active member of Inhuk (the Institute of Artistic Culture) which had been established in 1920. In the following year, with her husband Rodchenko and others, she became involved with Productivism—the mass‐production of industrial and applied art.

‘She designed utilitarian workers’ clothing, strongly coloured, geometrically patterned sportswear, and theatre costumes and sets, such as that for The Death of Tarelkin produced by Meyerhold in Moscow in 1922. She also taught at the Moscow Vkhutemas and, in the mid‐1920s, produced many designs for mass‐produced cotton textiles often characterized by flat, coloured abstract patterns.

‘In the same period she contributed to a number of avant‐garde periodicals such as LEF (1923–5) and Novy LEF (1927) and increasingly devoted her attention to book and periodical design, often in conjunction with her husband Rodchenko, with whom she collaborated closely on photographic albums in the 1930s. After the Second World War she worked on the periodical the Soviet Woman (1945–6). She died in Moscow in 1958.’ — collaged

 

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Portrait gallery


 

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Further

Varvara Stepanova @ Wikipedia
VS @ MoMA
VS @ Monoskop
Stepanova’s ‘The Results of the First Five-Year Plan’, 1932
‘Badass Lady Creatives [in History]: Varvara Stepanova
‘The short life of the equal woman’
Book: ‘Varvara Stepanova: The Complete Work’
The Russian Fashion Blog: ‘Constructivism in Russia in the 1920s’
‘Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova Heritage’
Toot as in foot.: Varvara Stepanova
‘Adventures in Feministory: Stepanova and Popova’
‘Varvara Stepanova: Standing Ovation, Seated
Russian Avant-garde Gallery Forum: Varvara Stepanova

 

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Dangerous Art: From Varvara Stepanova to Pussy Riot

 

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Program of the First Working Group of Constructivists (Excerpt)
Varvara Stepanova & Alexander Rodchenko

 

The Group of Constructivists has set itself the task of finding the communistic expression of material structures.
In approaching its task the group insists on the need to synthesize the ideological aspect with the formal for the real transference of laboratory work on to the rails of practical activity.
Therefore, at the time of its establishment, the group’s program in its ideological aspect pointed out that:
1) Our sole ideology is scientific communism based on the theory of historical materialism.
2) The theoretical interpretation and assimilation of the experience of Soviet construction must impel the group to turn away from experimental activity `removed from life’ towards real experimentation.
3) In order to master the creation of practical structures in a really scientific and disciplined way the Constructivists have established three disciplines: Tectonics, Faktura and Construction.
A) Tectonics or the tectonic style is tempered and formed on the one hand from the properties of communism and on the other from the expedient use of industrial material.
B) Faktura is the organic state of the worked material or the resulting new state of its organism. Therefore, the group considers that faktura is material consciously worked and expediently used, without hampering the construction or restricting the tectonics.
C) Construction should be understood as the organizational function of Constructivism.

If tectonics comprises the relationship between the ideological and the formal which gives unity to the practical design, and faktura is the material, the Construction reveals the very process of that structuring.
In this way the third discipline is the discipline of the realization of the design through the use of the worked material.
The Material. The material as substance or matter. Its investigation and industrial application, properties and significance. Furthermore, time, space, volume, plane, color , line and light are also material for the Constructivists, without which they cannot construct material structures.

The Immediate Tasks Of The Group
1) In the ideological sphere:
To prove theoretically and practically the incompatibility of aesthetic activity with the functions of intellectual and material production. The real participation of intellectual and material production as an equal element in the creation of communist culture.
2) In the practical sphere:
• To publish a statement. To publish a weekly paper, VIP [Vestnik Intellektual’nogo Proizvodstva; The Herald of Intellectual Production].
• To print brochures and leaflets on questions relating to the activities of the group.
• To construct designs. To organize exhibitions. To establish links with all the Production
Boards and Centres of that unified Soviet machine which in fact practically shapes and produces the emergent forms of the communist way of life.

3) In the agitational sphere:
i) The Group declares uncompromising war on art.
ii) It asserts that the artistic culture of the past is unacceptable for the communistic forms of
Constructivist structures.

 

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Graphic Design

‘Though too often under-represented in its history, women were central to Constructivism in Russia. Varvara Stepanova designed some of the period’s most arresting graphics for posters and publications, working alongside her husband, Alexander Rodchenko. Collage played a key role in the development of the movement’s style, allowing for a mix of clean typography, active figures and engaging faces cut from photos, and thrusting geometric forms emblematic of the relentless march of Communism. Even in non-propaganda work, Stepanova’s shrewd ability to evoke motion on a static page shines.’ — NC A&T;

 

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Textiles

‘Stepanova carried out her ideal of engaging with industrial production in 1922 when she, with Lyubov Popova, became designer of textiles at the Tsindel (the First State Textile Factory) near Moscow, and in 1924 became professor of textile design at the Vkhutemas (Higher Technical Artistic Studios) while continuing typography, book design and contributing to the magazine LEF. As a constructivist, Stepanova not only transposed bold graphic designs onto her fabrics, but also focused heavily on their production. Stepanova only worked a little over a year at The First Textile Printing Factory, but she designed more than 150 fabric designs in 1924. Although she was inspired to develop new types of fabric, the current technology restricted her to printed patterns on monotone surfaces. By her own artistic choice, she also limited her color palette to one or two dyes. Although she only used triangles, circles, squares, and lines, Stepanova superimposed these geometric forms onto one another to create a dynamic, multi-dimensional design.’ — collaged

 

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Clothing

‘In 1921, Stepanova moved almost exclusively into the realm of production, in which she felt her designs could achieve their broadest impact in aiding the development of the Soviet society. Russian Constructivist clothing represented the destabilization of the oppressive, elite aesthetics of the past and, instead, reflected utilitarian functionality and production. Gender and class distinctions gave way to functional, geometric clothing. In line with this objective, Stepanova sought to free the body in her designs, emphasizing clothing’s functional rather than decorative qualities. Stepanova deeply believed clothing must be looked at in action. Unlike the aristocratic clothing that she felt sacrificed physical freedom for aesthetics, Stepanova dedicated herself to designing clothing for particular fields and occupational settings in such a way that the object’s construction evinced its function. In addition, she sought to develop expedient means of clothing production through simple designs and strategic, economic use of fabrics.’ — collaged

 

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Gaust Chaba

‘Stepanova spent the 1910s studying at various art schools and working as a bookkeeper and secretary to make a living, all the while experimenting with abstract art forms. Her earliest notable body of work is her zaum’ (“transrational”) poetry, an approach spearheaded by the Futurist poets. Gaust Chaba, considered the masterpiece of Stepanova’s Visual Poetry series, is book of collaged paper and colored crayon and gouache text on found newspaper leaves.’ — collaged

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** JM, Hi. Maybe the hardest role you’ve ever done: thoroughly plunge and enjoy. Gifts like that don’t arrive everyday, etc. Got your email. Thanks a lot! ** David Ehrenstein, Hey. I’m going to investigate Paul Vecchiali as soon as today if I get my work done. I’m extremely interested and curious. ** Sypha, Hi, James. Better safe than sorry on that sentence, I guess. No harm done, etc.? That’s kind of awesome about his dad, or maybe the awesome part is mostly just having a dad who knows his shit and respects his son enough to unleash. ** Steve Erickson, I have some Bizarros LPs and the first Tuxedomoon and a bunch of Glaxo Babies on vinyl back in my LA pad, which isn’t any help to either one of us sadly. My memory of Glaxo Babies says a compilation is probably the way to go. It’s grim that the current so-called left is quick with accusations of fascism and yet often have opinions that embody so many of its traits. Thanks about the producer. The only answer today is more vaguery and untrustworthy promises that we’ll be paid “sometime next week”. It’s just a very good thing for her that we care about the project and know further delays could fuck everything up with ARTE because otherwise we would have been sitting on our hands for weeks. I agree that the new Sleep is excellent, surprisingly so. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Thank you! I mean the general desire for things that are safe and immediately recognisable and only superficially ‘daring’ is a problem not only in film but in music, books, etc. too. It has flummoxed me my whole life why most people don’t want to see, watch, listen to, or read things that challenge them and that are trying to make them think differently and anew about art or even about their own preexisting emotions and perceptions. I was really lucky to be young and figuring things out when there was at least a semi-broad respect and support for daring films, etc., enough so that general audience-type people would at least feel sanctioned to investigate experimental work with an open mind, a time when investigative drugs like LSD were the popular hardcore choice, unlike now when it’s opioids that are geared to solipsism and a promise of coziness. I’ll always believe art and things that are unique and individualistic ultimately ‘win’, and history proves that to be the case. But it’s a very conservative moment out there right now, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you. We’re promised payment next week now, but I do not believe it. We’re continuing to work because the whole project will be fucked up if we don’t meet our deadline. It sucks, but it’s nothing new. You finish today at 4 pm! Yay! I hope the pre-4 phase was a breeze and real life has started excitingly. ** Chris Dankland, Hi, Chris!!! Thanks, man. I’m super psyched for you to see ‘PGL’ too. The way films are so slowly rolled out drives me a bit crazy. I’m used to books. Either everyone can read them all at once, or they’re not released yet. Zac spent his teens and early 20s in the US, and I guess he managed to acquire a perfect American accent. Thanks about all the stuff. It’s a good time for me. And my new gif book will be out before too long too. Reading XRAY every day is part of how I get through my days. It’s a fantastic boon! I would absolutely love an XRAY post for the blog. That would seriously be a heaven on earth situation. So, if you’re into it, please please. What an interesting job you have. Yeah, my great, longtime friend the poet Amy Gerstler used to have that exact job, I think, and I sometimes hung out with her and her assigned autistic child or young teen when she took them around to show them things, and they were amazing people and just very fascinating and moving to be with. I used to wonder that too, about LSD, etc. It was so interesting to try to imagine how their minds worked for them. Obviously I’m very happy that the massive GbV archive is fueling you. Things are busy and good with me, thanks. So lovely to see you, my pal! ** Brendan, I trust your 10 year old brain as thoroughly as I trust my own. Love, me. ** _Black_Acrylic, In the nick of time, cool. Sounds like a total blast. How are you managing the events hook up given the 9 (?) hour time difference? ** Misanthrope, It was nice. Almost all the roofs in the city are red, so it looked spicy from an airplane. Deep tissue sounds like a good way to go. None of the barely touching and more like caressing kind of massage. I’ve had a few of those, and they just felt like ripoffs. A good massage should tear one asunder. ** Kyler, Hi. I’ll have to remember to try to determine from your comments how much wine you’ve drunk before typing them. Sounds like fun. Oops, about the agent. Well, do;’t waste your stress on that, just blow it off. I think that kind of neglect is semi-par for that course. ** Nik, Hi, Nik! My trip was pleasurable. The payment thing is not worked out unless vague assurances of ‘soon’ constitute being worked out, and I can assure you that such vague assurances do not. I think watching ‘Nocturama’ while in a Bresson zone would not work at all, yeah. I think it’s possibly his best film. You could try others. I wouldn’t start with ‘Saint Laurent’, which is the only film of his I’ve seen that I think is quite crap. Yeah, that kind of overview/impetus that the theater board went with is a bit of a plague these days. A ‘heart in the right place’ but ‘brain on vacation’ approach. Writing’s going okay. Mostly trying to get the TV show script ready to deliver to ARTE so we can find out how close or far away we are from what they want. And Zac and I are ‘this close’ to finishing our new film script, and that’s very exciting. So, did you get to indulge that jones to write yesterday? Meaning did you write? If so, did what you wrote tickle you excitingly as it poured out? You have a great weekend too! ** Okay. I found today’s post among the corpses strewn about the ruins of my old, dead blog, and I really thought it should get a second wind. Make sense? See you tomorrow.

12 Comments

  1. Dennis,

    I don’t remember seeing Stepanova on your murdered blog, I’ll investigate more thoroughly during my lunch hour. Her color schemes are very primary, in a childlike way, so that’s a plus!

    I just wanted to thank you for something you said the other day about backstories. I thought it was brilliant. I don’t like backstories either, I think it’s lazy (and also a sign of an underdeveloped or inexperienced writer). In fact, I have mile markers or guide posts, a few prompts at the beginning of my new novel, inter- textual reminders, to help me get back to where I was before, and one of the first prompts I see every morning is “paint your characters with as few brushstrokes as possible.” So yeah, backstories.. I think it’s pure laziness. And also the dreaded flashback, oh god. There are ways to weave time in and out of a story without resorting to flashbacks or backstories. I prefer a more synaptic misfire approach, a sentence or tone or prompt that may make the reader think “what the fuck is this” … haha. I’m not easy on the reader, perhaps that’s why I don’t have a lot of readers, lol ?

    Hey Dennis, I haven’t seen a “books I read recently and loved” post in a while, or did I just miss it?

    I wanted to ask you a process question… do you ever practice a scene when you’re writing it, or during the writing of it? Not dialogue, but movement? I have a scene in my new book where a morbidly obese woman — a shut in– who is confined to her bed, pretty much, places her left foot on the floor, then folds into her foot and kind of rolls onto the floor, then caterpillars for twenty feet or so toward her mother’s bedroom. I’m not obese, but I have to do this, I’m just kind of afraid of breaking a rib on my nightstand or something. Oh well, it’s for Art, right? Lol.. but do you ever practice physical movement in a scene, Dennis? If so, do you find it helpful?

    I wanted to drive from Seattle to Portland on May 18 to see Tao Lin read at Powell’s, but my other half said absolutely not, that Tao is a hack. That kind of bummed me out. Then there is a 7 for all mankind hoodie I like that was curated by Luka Sabbat on their website, I asked the ball and chain what he thought and he shot me down like a lead balloon with the old “you’re not 25 anymore…” should I get a new other half, Dennis? We’ve been together 10 years now! I guess he’s the sensible one, dammit.

    I truly hope you get paid for your work next week… what a drag, my friend! And really disrespectful to the artists.

    Much love,
    James ❤❤

  2. David Ehrenstein

    April 27, 2018 at 3:08 pm

    Varvara Stepanova shows why Fashion IS Politics.

    Saw Peter Beard’s “Tha Summer” yesterday. Rather nice. Kind of a prequel to “Grey Gardens” as it shows how that film inadvertently came into being. Lee Radziwill wanted to make a film about the history of the Bouvier family, so they went to see the Beales for research. The Maysles quickly followed and fell down that rabbit hole, leading to the original doc, its sequel (“the Beales of Grey Gardens”), the dramatic recreation with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, and the musical. Plus The Mable Faun of Grey Gardens “Last Summer includes shots of Andy, Mick, Bianca (on water skiis) and other notables who went to visit Montauk, but is mostly about the Edies. IOW same rabbit hole, different entrance.

  3. I agree about the conservative direction American life is heading in, although obviously leftists aren’t the only ones responsible. A tenured professor was fired a few days ago for making insulting tweets about Barbara Bush, calling her a racist and pointing out that her son’s actions led to the death of millions of Iraqis. The extent to which people on social media are freaking out over Kanye West’s support for Donald Trump amazed me. If 35% of the American public supports Trump, that’s bound to include some talented artists, and the reaction to his views suggests that he’s driving people away from his music rather than attracting people to Trump. Given that West is releasing 2 new albums in June, I wonder if this is all one big publicity stunt.

    I really liked Julien Fargeat’s film JOHN MCENROE: IN THE REALM OF PERFECTION. His day job is working as an archivist in a cinematheque, and he discovered 16mm outtakes from an 1980s documentary of a tennis game where McEnroe played. The film is very formally playful, with a voice-over by Mathieu Amalric (delivered in English in the version which will be released in America, against Fargeat’s wishes), and constant interruptions in its first hour. Then in the final 15 minutes, it shows the tennis game all the way through (albeit edited for time.) There are a lot of interesting things it touches on. We’re in a period where TV and cinema seems to be merging, but cinephiles feel like they have to call TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN a film to say that it’s serious art. JOHN MCENROE uses footage made for TV, but its not shot on video, and it shows the seams that TV sports footage always tries to hide but documentaries and avant-garde cinema often expose. Subtly, it brings out subjects like the centrality of the concept of “winning” to capitalism and McEnroe as an image of masculinity without turning them into theses or coming off as shallow or woke. There’s an original score for the film, which includes music by 3 different composers, but apart from that, the only artists whose music he uses are Sonic Youth, Mozart and Black Flag! Anyway, I am interviewing Fargeat next Tuesday.

    I clicked on a bunch of Peel sessions on YouTube by bands I hadn’t heard of at random last weekend, and the Glaxo Babies were the clear winner. They reminded me of the Gang of Four if they were really into no wave and free jazz.

    • David Ehrenstein

      April 27, 2018 at 7:28 pm

      The American Media has been dominated by “Conservatives” for well over a decade. Rachel Maddow is the ONE AND Only Liberal that has slipped through their net. No wonder she’s so popular. For “balance” Creep Supreme Jordan Peterson is now everywhere decrying the pushback he and his fellow-fascists have been getting. Such sensitive little Snowflakes.

      • Yeah, it’s amazing to me how ubiquitous Jordan Peterson is, all of a sudden, especially in the E-mails Medium sends me daily, which have at least 2 essays on him each day. But what about Chris Hayes and Lawrence McDonnell (the latter of whom says he’s a socialist)? Also, what “the media” means is different when you can easily find 2-hour interviews with Noam Chomsky on YouTube and plenty of progressive audio and video podcasts.

  4. One of my favorite artists right now is Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, a Dutch artist/theosophist with some Jungian aspects as well. One of her pieces of art appeared on the front cover of Michael Bertiaux’s VOUDON GNOSTIC WORKBOOK, but I didn’t know it was her at the time because she wasn’t credited… it was only recently that I found out that she’s the one who did the original work, along with numerous other images:

    http://www.shishigami.com/esotericart/olga.html

    I think I may employ one of those as the cover art for the next Sypha Nadon album!

    Yeah, I do agree that it is cool that Justin’s dad reads all his stuff, even if he hates it and is very critical about it. We were joking we should have had some of his comments on the back cover of the book.

  5. Hi!

    Yes, I completely agree. Most of the time, I feel like I was born too late. I find it depressive that so many people, even young people, live by these very stereotypical (and yes, surprisingly conservative!) thoughts and beliefs and expectations and it’s not just that they don’t try to challenge them – they actually try their hardest not ever to be challenged. Most of what they stand for isn’t even their own, they just never, ever stop and think about it. Never think about “do I even really like this?” or “couldn’t this work some other way?”, etc. I find it exhilarating when something doesn’t back up what I already think to know. That’s what I seek in art and people. Even if it’s hard. Especially because it’s hard.

    It’s best if I don’t even say anything to this whole payment thing anymore. You know what I’d say anyway. I couldn’t keep my fingers in a tighter cross, really!
    Ah, FINALLY I’m home and work’s over for 4 whole days now! (The 1st of May is a holiday here, I don’t know if it’s like that everywhere.) The weather is warm and I’m sitting in my bed, going back to Kate Tempest’s book ‘The Bricks That Built the Houses’ after this letter. It feels divine.
    How was the day on your end? What happened? Earlier, you said that your producer wants you to flesh the TV script out but that you don’t want to do anything to it ’til ARTE says the same. Does this mean that you’re waiting for their opinion now? Or do you have to work further on the script before you can submit it to them? I’m not sure if this isn’t a very stupid
    question, haha, I don’t know how it works.

  6. Chris Cochrane

    April 27, 2018 at 9:05 pm

    Love that old post above. Saw Bob Gluck the other night, displaying a new project of his. I can’t remember what is was entitled, though a beautifully printed book of images of Fidel and the “revolution” with parables written by Bob. There are only 33 copies in print. I have a lot of thoughts, maybe we can or cannot talk offline about it some day. Good to see him and hang out with him for a bit. How was the response to PGL at the festival? Ben Pryor and I keep running into each other on the Q train late at night. Thanks for the hello from Rico. I am finally going to hear / see My Bloody Valentine in August here. Have you ever? I would think so. Anyway, just thought I’d drop you a line with love

  7. I love the art in today’s post so much. Although I can’t help but think back to those fashions in the Glasgow School of Art scene some 15 years ago, you know when Franz Ferdinand were suddenly hip and the graphics were all brazenly ripping off Russian Constructivism? But Stepanova had original thinking and she’ll be cool forever.

    Today was a big day as I took delivery of the Compendium! Boxes of the things in fact, and they’re all stacked up in the room next door waiting for some roadies from the Generator gallery to pick them up. @ DC, you’re due a copy for that stellar blurb you wrote so we can sort that out in due course.

  8. Here’s my review of the belated American release of Olivier Assayas’ 1994 classic COLD WATER: http://gaycitynews.nyc/60s/

  9. period is properly a stunnah, the constant use of the word “period” in previous george miles entries makes this one bold as h’e’c’k. among other things; i just haven’t worked out how to talk about this one yet :’)

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