This fall the Art Institute invited me to activate the exhibit Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test. As part of the exhibit, curators asked different artists to host an event within the Workers Club, a reconstruction of Aleksandr Rodchenko’s 1925 design, Workers Clubs were spaces for leisure and education for workers and their families located within Soviet factories.
I gathered ten activist/artists to discuss the question: What is the role of the artist/activist in dark political times?” Our group spent the morning discussing our own experiences with art and social justice, and the intersection of the two.
We talked about the fallacy of thinking of time and evolution as linear, and also the hubris that artists alone can reinvent society. We also talked about the importance of continuing to make art, political or otherwise, as the act of creating keeps us vibrant and helps us to dream of a better, more just and loving future.
The exhibit explores the role of artists in building society during the time period immediately following the Soviet Revolution, and incredibly rich period of art history. This period of Russian Constructivism is especially influential to my work, not only aesthetically, but also in terms of the way that Constructivist artists considered the whole cycle of production.
Graphic designs in the exhibition
Artists like Stepanova and Popova understood the importance of clothing design, and considered the design of the 2-D print in relation to the cut of the clothing to produce 3-dimensional shapes on the body. They designed so as to waste as little cloth as possible, working directly with textile mills to integrate the surface pattern design with the patterns used to cut the cloth.
Textile by Popova
Textile by Stepanova
They also understood fashion’s role in creating identity within society. In fact, already in the early 1920s, they were using design to question and subvert gender and class roles.
Designs by Varvara Stepanova
It was a time when the “lesser arts” like clothing and textile design were considered to be of the utmost importance because of their prevalence throughout society and due to the intense amount of human and natural resources required to produce clothing. In addition, gender equity was a pillar of the revolution, so traditionally “feminine” arts like clothing design, as well as female artists like Stepanova and Popova, were well respected at the time.
The exhibit runs through January 15, 2018.
Thank you to Annemarie Strassel, Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, Ayesha Jaco, Damon Locks, Hoda Katebi, Charlie Vinz, Eve Fineman, Megha Ralapati, & Terri Kapsalis for joining me in the discussion.