printed after 1922
Considered one of the founders of Constructivism and the pedagogical system of the VKhUTEMAS, Aleksandr Rodchenko left an indelible impact on Soviet art, working with painting and graphic design before shifting towards photography. Here, Rodchenko photographs his wife and artistic collaborator, Varvara Stepanova (1894–1958), as she lies prone on a rectangular structure composed of a lattice of wooden slats. A series of constructions appear staggered around her—the universal material wooden slats—including a chair with a triangular back. Later, these constructions were uniformly painted white. In her debut as a set designer, Stepanova conceived of these furniture objects for Vsevolod Meyerhold’s 1922 production of Sukhovo-Kobylin’s comedy play “The Death of Tarelkin.” Prioritizing utility, these constructions can also be seen as prototypes for foldable furniture. Rodchenko similarly experimented with collapsible spatial constructions, encouraging his metalworking students at the VKhUTEMAS to design foldable furniture that could easily be stowed away.
As a whole, Stepanova’s constructions existed as apparatuses to be engaged with and enlivened by the actors’ “play.” In the photograph, she demonstrates a table that was designed to “collapse” when someone applied their weight to it, then bolt upright once the person’s weight was removed. In production, however, the constructions proved unstable. Very fragile, they also occasionally shifted spontaneously, confounding the actors as they performed. Nonetheless, the interactivity of the set design echoed the elements of clownery and caper which abounded throughout Meyerhold’s vision of “The Death of Tarelkin,” an outstanding example of Constructivist theater.
Julia Molin, 2023
photography; women; furniture; black and white; decorative arts; abstract; chairs; woodcut; interiors; tools; narrative
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