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The Constructivist Manifesto (Art As The Expression Of Life)


At the forefront of change, this manifesto wanted to reconnect art with life

The past we are leaving behind as carrion.

The future we leave to the fortune-tellers.

We take the present day.

It seems that in that totum revolutum of the forefront movements of the 20th century, Constructivism represented a call to attention against the reigning prophetic delirium. More restrained than their unruly contemporaries, committed to the solid shapes of the present, Russian brothers Naum Gabo (Naum Neemia Pevsner) and Antoine Pevsner wrote the Constructivist Manifesto, also known as the Realist Manifesto, in 1920.

Gabo’s scientific approach to art, added to Antoine’s knowledge of artistic techniques, resulted in a new art and, more concretely, in a new conception of sculpture. ––Here, the concept of traditional mass was abandoned in pursuit of a new appraisal of the depth of space and, thus, the void.

Although Constructivism had already taken its first steps in 1914, its presence intensified after the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1920, the first manifest, written by Gabo Diem and Alexei Gan, had already established the notion of a constructive art. The manifest we are concerned with, however, implied a rupture within this movement. The idea was to include, in Soviet art’s new constructive impulse, a single spiritual nucleus. Only life, its laws and incessant movement, could continue to serve as the basis of a true realist art. For this reason, in its denouncement of abstraction foreign to the facts of life, Gabo and Pevsner’s manifesto attacked Cubism and Futurism with equal harshness.

If Cubism limited itself to scratching the surface of art through formal tricks that were unable to penetrate the very essence of things, Futurism, in turn, proclaimed the new realm of speed, relying on the impotent succession of motionless images, incapable of grasping the essence of movement.

It is obvious now to every one of us that by the simple graphic registration of a row of momentarily arrested movements, one cannot re-create movement itself. It makes one think of the pulse of a dead body.

It was precisely that pulse which their contemporaries’ conceptualized proposals lacked, that the two brothers wanted to give back to art. Life is not conditioned by the aesthetic charm of its accidental forms; growth, reproductions, the infinite happening of its manifestations, does not obey a program directed by the human concept of beauty. Life simply is; existence is an irrefutable fact that art must try to correspond to with the limited elements it has at its disposal.

Gabo and Pevsner set out to father their works with “a spirit as taut as a compass”, with the precision and inexorability with which the universe multiplies itself and lusters its infinite manifestations, that is, by not obeying a program of beauty, but simple and pure construction ––the drawing in the vital rhythms contained by an object.

In the Realist Manifesto, the authors will include a declaration of summarized principles in five essential points. Among these, their call to renounce color as a pictorial element stands out, since they considered it a mere superficial impression of the object. The descriptive line and volume will also be rejected in favor of depth. Gabo and Pevsner’s sculptures –the fruit of these considerations– emerge in space with the latency of a living being, light ––sowing in the streets bodies that had never been seen before, but which are overwhelmingly existent.

Gabo and Pevsner conceived an art of the present, an art of and for life; in opposition to every prophetic desire they strived to bring art, in its purest essence, closer to the facts, emulating in its constructions the incomprehensible miracle of existence. Their resolve was to take art into the sphere of the quotidian, to make their presence a continuous reminder of our exceptionality, of its closeness a constant stimulus, of its existence a reason to understand our own a little better. Their hope is evident in the last words of their manifest:

Today we proclaim our words to you people…. Art should attend us everywhere that life flows and acts… at the bench, at the table, at work, at rest, at play; on working days and holidays… at home and on the road… in order that the flame to live should not extinguish mankind.

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