Because why not? I’m sort of bored, and I figured I might as well put them out there so people can look at them. Although please don’t critique them unless it’s something really major that might pull my grade down a significant amount >< I just thought I’d post them for “fun”. Anyway. Here’s the first one.
The Proletariat and Their Intuition
In early 20th century Russia, the idea of the working class, communism, and a dynamic new identity were paramount. Nikolai Punin is no exception to this need for the new and contemporary, and he blatantly shows his admiration for modern architecture through his detailed critique of Tatlin’s “The Monument to the Third International”, which was conceptualized in 1920. His review is a mix of the objective and social, as he comments on the technical aspects of the structure as well as its implications in society. He stresses often the importance of moving forward in both material, technical application, and artistic/creative ideals. In the introductory passage, Punin talks mostly about the structure of the monument itself, specifically explaining the shapes used, the movements employed, and the applications of each individual section of space. He sees the monument as an “organic synthesis of the principles of architecture, sculpture and painting” (Punin, 1). Technically, he seems to be fascinated with the application of “purely creative form” and “utilitarian form” as cohesive and unified elements in the design (which he addresses often throughout the article) (Punin, 1). He clearly focuses more on the ideas and goals for the structure and its grandeur potential more than he focuses on its actual reality and tangible manifestation.
His actual analysis (which he called “The artistic significance of the project”) delves into the meaning behind the structure’s intent both artistically and socially, and the significance of its modernity as it relates to the rest of Russia and even Europe and the progression of the working class and art in general. He begins at the beginning of western art history with classical Grecian and Roman sculptures of people in their idealized form. He argues that these heroic statues address only a small, intimate crowd, as opposed to the “ten versts of proletarians in rows” (Punin, 2). He then turns to discuss their loss in importance, as people hardly ever actually look at these classical structures. His final point on the matter seems to be that “a monument must live the social and political life of the city and the city must live in it” (Punin, 2) He argues for dynamism in art and monument, as well as a sense of liberation for the artist, who should not feel limited by the Classics.
As he moves from the monument’s intention of disassociating from the past and encouraging the technological and contemporary future, he transitions into how the monument is contributing to society now. Much of his commentary touches on the dynamic push and pull that the structure seems to be based around. Words like “collision”, “destruction”, “tension” and “clashing” bring to mind images of aggressive, unwavering qualities (Punin, 2). He compares the monument to that of a “steel snake” which attempts to “rise itself above the earth” through both the construction and movement of the piece (Punin, 3). He discusses the struggle between the form itself and its materials, as well as the importance of the spiral shape of the piece. He views the spiral as an ultimate symbol of liberation, an idea that is consistent with Russian political and social goals at the time (Punin, 3). His emphasis on rhythm is also clear, as he discusses not only the rhythm and its positive correlation with competency, but also Tatlin’s “pure or intense rhythms” (Punin, 3). His best example of rhythm as applied to this monument is the connection between glass and iron as “material rhythm”, juxtaposed by their creation via fire and their contribution to modern art (Punin, 3).
Tatlin’s monument certainly is as grand and idealistic as Punin describes, and appropriately fits the timeline in which the idea was conceived. The materials themselves can be easily perceived as modern and industrial, as iron and glass are both man-made and relatively new in the architectural world of Europe and Russia. This almost futuristic creation certainly has more than a few dynamic and clashing ideas and structural elements that make it an interesting building with a sort of double-helix body.
Socially, the monument makes sense. Though seemingly impractical and possibly impossible to make (at least in the 1920’s), it stands tall and “lavish”. And lavish is only meant in the sense that its boasting of detail and complexity are slightly over the top and grandeur, though it strives to move away from the more Classical structures of ancient Rome and Greece. Punin discusses the intention of being both functional and beautiful, and the idea of the glass as the walls of the building certainly lend themselves to this idea. Contextually, it also implies what life might have been like at the time for the rising working class, who might have appreciated the ability to look into the windows of their administrators. The thought of knowing what the government was doing and seeing them at work must have been reassuring in a country where the bourgeois were beginning to be looked down upon. The idea of climbing upwards, reaching the limits of technology to prove Russia to the rest of the world and the use of materials are all certainly important contributing factors to this monument that is considered “contemporary” by Punin.
What seems more interesting, though, is how contemporary it actually is, even now. The upward movement and vertical body of the monument are reminiscent of modern-day skyscrapers, which more or less developed out of man’s desire to challenge gravity and build higher and higher to prove technology’s victories and man’s innovation. The idea of glass windows or walls is also something that is seen often no, though applied differently to protect the privacy of employees as they work. Even the contrast between iron and glass is still prevalent in today’s architecture. In this sense, Punin was right about this monument serving as a future of architecture, Russia, and Europe as industrialization takes hold. Certainly the ideas of full disclosure to the middle class rings true even now, as it did (perhaps more extremely) in Communist Russia. The need to see political figures and to understand power and what it does to society is certainly relevant to how modern society works, in the sense that news and media and understandings behind political regiments are all so common and important.
What is most interesting about this monument, along with its parallels to modern society’s outlook on life, is its idealistic and unrealistic nature. A structure with three separately moving parts that revolve on different schedules, and elevator that syncs with these movements, and a functioning radio tower all seem difficult enough to contrive, even for today’s engineers. Punin is astounded and inspired by such innovative designs, and he is certainly right when he discusses its representation of liberty and the move into the future. He neglects, however, to touch upon its application in an urban environment. This is interesting because of his constant emphasis on utilitarian importance. Even though the monument is intended to function, it cannot do so if it cannot be created. It is hard to see this as a working, convenient, and usable structure in the 1920’s and even today, simply because of the technological expectations.
Punin’s analysis of this monument is relatively accurate to what most viewers would see with the context of 1920’s Russia to reference. The clashes, industrialism, futurism and imagination he discusses are certainly apparent, and although he might contradict himself on its utilitarian value, he still manages to keep its qualities and intentions consistent with his opinions on the future of art and of architecture as a collective, unified force.