Katarzyna Kobro 1898-1951
Sculpture and Solid
'Europa' monthly magazine was published in Warsaw between 1929 and 1930. 13 issues of it were published. The editor was Stanislaw Baczynski. The magazine was close to the avant-garde orientation in arts and in literature, also thanks to cooperation with W. Strzeminski. The text by Kobro was her response to the questionnaire launched by the 'Europa' (in the same issue there was an answer to it by Theo van Doesburg) . The questions were as follows: I . What is your opinion about the state of modern art?; 2 . What direction of endeavours and searches in modern art do you find as the most expedient and productive? .
Sculpture and Solid. There are very few modern sculptors. Are
there material reasons: Or is it because sculpture is nowadays too directly
involved in architecture, so that each truly modern architect must be a
good modern sculptor?
There are no multiple solutions; there is one, the shortest and most
Katarzyna Kobro - Statement
'Forma' magazine was a forum of the avant-garde artists' active in Lodz statements. It was published between 1933 and 1938, and altogether 6 issues of 'Forma' appeared. The publisher was the Union of Artists in Lodz, the editor of the issues 1 - 4 was Karol Hiller, and of the issues 5 - 6 Stefan Wagner. - In the original edition of this statement the 'Spatial Composition 8' of 1932 was reproduced as an illustration. The sculptress' postulate from the last paragraph, that ''sculpture should be approached like an architectural problem'' and ''should involve laboratory studies in space management'' was followed by her use of the proportions of 'Spatial Composition 8' in designing the model of the 'functional nursery school' (ill.p.84)
People who are unable to think in generalized terms will always identify
sculpture with statues, bust portraits and remembrances. Facing such a sculpture,
and pointing it with a teacher's finger, they will endlessly and elaborately
explain, that . . .
Sculpture should reflect the organizational and technological potential
of its time. Our cities suffocate because of bad organization and the lack
of urban planning . In city squares our statues stand like wayside stones
or like pangs of conscience, adorning and commemorating this chaos.
Katarzyna Kobro, Wladyslaw Strzeminski:
The book was published in 1931 as the second volume of the 'a.r.' library.
An original graphic setting was elaborated by Strzeminski. The text consists
of 79 pages with an insert of 45 illustrations. These are partially discussed
by the authors and exemplify the argument. Two fragments of the book are
reprinted here, they contain examples of detailed solutions and final conclusions.
Composition of Space.
In sculpture we have no such limits. Nature itself defines the border of a picture as its natural limit, but it offers no natural borders for a piece of sculpture. It has no natural limits at all, and this implies the inevitability of its connection with the whole of infinite space. A unity of what has arisen with what has been prior to the work of art is the main postulate of Unism . This relates to the character of the spatial unity in sculpture. A work of sculpture, arising in space not limited by any frontiers, should compose a unity with the infinity of the space. Any closure of a sculpture, any opposition between it and the space, strips it of its organic character of the uniformity of a spatial phenomenon, by breaking their natural connection and isolating the sculpture . ( . . . )
Calculations of Space-Time Rhythm.
It is the property of sight that it can see exactly one shape at a single moment. After this shape has been seen, a shift is made to another, and in this way all the shapes which make up a work of art are seen one after another. Depending on the amount of energy inherent in them, these shapes work with more or less strength and they constitute a series of impressions of varying intensity, arranged in a time sequence. This is the rhythm of the simplest type - the spatio-temporal rhythm of a single projected plane. Analysing this rhythm we must discover its spatio-temporal character. A division of a work of art into parts separating them out from the work, brings about their working against one another which, although it concerns purely spatial phenomena, still occurs in time. This most simple rhythm, the rhythm of a single plane is the point of departure for the building of the rhythm of the whole work of art and of all its sides, for its spatio-temporality is quite peculiar in its character, being the most convenient transition from spatial phenomena to the phenomenon of time.
Time is not directly given in it. The whole of what we perceive on a single projected plane is indeed a purely spatial phenomenon, a plastic one. The element of time becomes significant only when the eyes are set in motion. The character of the spatio-temporality of a single projected plane can be defined as potential, as a rhythm having the element of time latent in it. It is only for the different projected planes that the element of time becomes significant in a direct manner, appearing clearly as the pauses dividing a work of art into a series of projected planes separate from each other. It is necessary to understand the potential character of the rhythm of a single projected plane, for only when it has been grasped can we build up a transition from dimensional and spatial phenomena to something as specific as the uniform spatio-temporal rhythm. Time is only potentially inherent within a single plane. In a work of three-dimensional art, it appears in an open manner as a result of the beholding motion around the work of art. The main task is: to build up a transition form individual shapes which are purely spatial and nontemporal, through the potential rhythm, up to the rhythm of the whole work of art or to the overt rhythm which units the whole work into a single spatio-temporal unity.
This entails, as the basic condition: a one-dimensionality of the potential and of the overt rhythm, i . e. the same numerical formula for the rhythm of the projected plane and of the whole work of art. Thus, the rhythm of the whole work is the result of the potential rhythms of the several projected planes which have a common formula with it. Or: the uniformity of, the spatio-temporal rhythm throughout the whole work of art can Ire attained, provided that all the potential rhythms of all the projected planes have the same numerical formula. We can establish the following 3 periods anterior to the building of a uniform spatio-temporal rhythm connecting the several mutually independent shapes, reducing them to a uniform system and making up an interdependent scale of increases and falls of energy inherent in these shapes, and thus making these shapes into a complete unity of the spatio-temporal phenomenon .
The first period: A uniform potential rhythm within a single projected plane should be established. This is attained by commensurability of all the shapes; which means that the relationships between all of them should be expressed in the same numerical formula. In this way we pass from such or another size of the shapes, from their extensions, from a measurable and purely spatial phenomenon, to a potential rhythm .
The 2nd period: After establishing the same numerical formula for the relationships of all the shapes within the limits of a single projected plane, the same numerical formula must be extended upon all the other projected planes. Each plane is different from the former ones and the disposition of shapes on it is different, but since its rhythm has been built according to the same numerical formula, therefore the consequent result is the resonance of all the potential rhythms.
The 3rd period: We have to pass from the numerical formula common for all the potential rhythms to the sequence of the projected planes. It is only now that we make the transition from the potential rhythms to the higher order rhythm - to the spatio-temporal one which is constituted by the sequence of the consecutive potential rhythms inherent in the several projected planes. This sequence of the projected planes ought to be constructed according with the same numerical formula, according to which each of the projected planes and all of them together have been constructed . If we succeed to embody the same numerical formula into all the parts which constitute the work of art, we shall attain a wholly uniform spatio-temporal rhythm . ( . . . )
The variety of shapes and sizes does not hamper the uniformity of the
rhythm, for all the arising contrasts are an effect of the common definition
of all the shapes by a common numerical formula 'n', constituting the essential
foundation and the essential description of the spatio-temporal rhythm of
the work of art .
Katarzyna Kobro - "Functionalism"
The text is integral, with an ommision only of the drawings, schemes and reproductions illustrating the elucidations. The article was originally published in the 'Forma' magazine - a forum of the avant-garde artists' active in Lodz statements. The magazine was published between 1933 and 1938. There were 6 issues of it published. The publisher was the Union of Artists of L6Lodz, the editor of the issues 1 - 4 was Karol Hiller, and of the issues 5 - 6 Stefan Wagner. Besides the book on space composition (written in collaboration with W. Strzeminski, the paper on functionalism is an interesting individual contribution of K. Kobro to the Polish constructivist movement. The text was published in the middle thirties, but the thoughts on functionalism were many years earlier, as it was witnessed by the similarities of its statements with 'Composition of Space' . At the same time, a more intense emphasis upon the problem of utilitarian values in art, as well as upon the problem of a definition of artistic endeavours in social organization is a remarkable sign of the evolution of the views of 'a.r.' artists.
The task of functionalism is to find out such a set of artistic forms that would work towards utilitarian ends in the most economic way. Functionalism looks for the shortest way of producing an artistic emotion, and it considers utilitarian endeavours that bring about an orderly organization as the discharge of such emotion .
Starting from the assumptions of a planned utilitarianism-functionalism,
however, defies all sorts of cynical disillusionment, the laissez-faire
doctrine as applied to life, vitalism etc. These intellectual directions,
so typical for the present dismal epoch of crisis, actually strive to discredit
systematically the progress of human mind.
Nonfunctional art produces beautiful paintings, sculptures, architecture. Those works of art do not unite with life into an organic whole, because the life in which we have been and still are living, has been directed to drain out maximum profits and to produce welfare for individuals. Those aims, called ''practical'' but actually antisocial, have neglected both the human needs2 and the necessity continually to supplement the store of energy of a man, exhausted by the struggle for survival . The result of such practical ''sobriety'' is a desire to withdraw from life and to seek for a recompense in art which has nothing to do with the somber reality. The withdrawal of art from serving the productive needs of life causes the necessity for it to be elevated into the world of unearthly, Platonic beauty. Thus art, instead of being the organizing factor in life, becomes a factory of illusions and dreams. Remarkably, the contemporary crisis finds its reflection in the bodiless, floating apparitions and colourful mists on the paintings by kapists (a Polish group of post-impr,essionist painters - editor's note). A deterioration of architecture which used to be a domain of co-operation between artists and architects, caused the peculiar phenomenon of ''sublimation'' of painting and of its flight to the colourful land of impressionist illusions. In industry, we observe, on one hand, a resignation from the pursuit after integral constructive solutions of forms of the produced objects, with at the same time a flourish of all kinds of ornamental showiness, reminding of the Modernist epoch. Instead of being one of the methods of construing life, art becomes a narcotic anaesthetic against its imperfections. This is also what is underlying the flourish in art of the biological line in surrealism, with its emotive-dreamlike experiencing of pictures subduing the constructive-managerial approach. The entangled, freakish line in surrealist art reflects all vibrations of an inspired artist, but it finds its justification in himself only - in his biology and physiology. The profound emotionality of surrealist paintings is an expression of the yearning of a desperately struggling individual, withdrawn from any direct productive functions. In this sense, surrealism is a counterpart - on a higher level, of course - of the colourful "more sublime" dreams of the kapists.
K. Adamiecki wrote in 'The Science of Organization' : "A careful observation proves that the whole living nature including the human organism is governed by these laws and that due to this fact it attains the highest economy in its vital processes. Also man has been making unconscious use of these laws in his communal life since the very beginning of his existence". Exactly the same laws find their application in functionalism. However, when translated into the language of artistic form, these principles are somewhat modified in their formulation .
Every human activity embodies several moments. Each activity has, as its counterpart, a certain set of plastic shapes which control the activity. The shortest way towards a productive outcome is a straight line. Therefore the way of transition from one activity to another is a straight line and the geometrical shape appropriate for it. The law of the division of labour finds its counterpart in the geometrization of form .
Every human activity yields the highest productive turnout, if it is distinct from the others and reduced so as to allow an inferring of its peculiar remarkable elements, distinguishing it from the other activities. The more strictly is such a selection of the distinctive features made, the greater is the productive outcome . The law of concentration of the moments of work finds its counterpart in the principle of formal contrast.
The particular sets of activities ought to pass into each other in an accorded manner. Such accordance, the fluidity of the transition depends on an invention of an appropriate method of coordination of those sets. Too much growth of one of them brings about a tightened condition and an obstruction in the passage to another. There should exist a law governing the process of transition from one set of shapes, directing the motions into another. Such a law is provided by apprehending the form into the calculated spatio-temporal rhythm controlling the sizes of the particular shapes. Such spatio-temporal rhythm is the plastic correlate of the law of harmony of the particular sections.
However, the fitting of the aggregates was purely mechanical, not resulting from any common connection of shapes. It was apparently a display of the pursuit to build up the whole around a single axis. On this axis the aggregates of form were strung, which, however, lacked a uniform common resonance, the rhythm of creative participation in life. Therefore strefism remained a phenomenon of painting only, without producing any further effect on the level of life. The only inseminative idea contributed by strefism was the method of architectural designing as dependent on the sequence of life activities. In this manner, a chart of an architectural interior could become a function of the sequence of life activities.
Neoplasticism offers the most advanced simplification of form reduced to geometry. The variety of shapes is brought down to the horizontal and vertical in the plane of a picture and to the three mutually perpendicular directions in sculpture and architecture. Neoplasticism realizes to the utmost degree the principle of economy. As a foundation of all composition it offers a clear and irrevocable proportion, instead of varied and accidental play of shapes. A neoplastic picture considered as a plan of an organization of motions, renders the highest concentration of perpendicular contrasted movements, proceeding along the shortest lines of action. Instead of a variety of liberal motions, there is only a single one, the shortest of all . Neoplasticism arranges motions by a standard, along the shortest line of action. It is a plan which principally excludes any licence. A harmonious transition of one action into another requires that all these activities be subject to a common numerical formula defining the dimension of each of them. This common formula, underlying every shape, connects the particular activities in one common spatio-temporal rhythm, determining in advance the harmonious character of the transition of one aggregate into another.
As long as we remain within the limits of a picture as the only kind of a work of art that is deserving of an artist, we shall never grasp the essence of functionalism. A work of art cannot be more or less "functional". It can be simply a field of a plastic experiment, offering more or less useful solutions of form for a utilitarian realization of functionalism. The scientific organization of work traces the particular moments and sets of productive processes. Its objective is to increase the efficiency of production . Functionalism searches for the particular moments in the course of everyday life. Its objective is such a simplification and sequence of them, as to get a whole that facilitates life. Any sequence of moments of life has juxtaposed to it a corresponding sequence of utilitarian objects properly arranged. At the same time, functionalism permeates its shapes with emotions of planning and of purposeful organization . While the methods of functionalism and of the scientific organization of work are similar, there is a difference as to the scopes covered by both . The scientific organization of work regulates the productive process and its effect or output. The task of functionalism is to study the working of utilitarian shapes upon a consumer, taking as the starting point the maximum of economy of his psychical energy as he makes use of the objects that are around him in his daily life.
By 1870 the current task of art was to master light. Impressionism did it, by studying the distribution of light to the several elements of colour. Out of those discoveries the harmony of colours in impressionist paintings was built. However, for these purposes the range of artistic knowledge alone was not enough. A collaboration of artists and physicists was necessary. Owing to it, impressionism succeeded to create its epoch-making work. Now, we can see how false the legend is, widespread by the epigones of impressionism, about an artist who is deaf and blind to the events of life around him, or that everything that happens in life, is >>prose unworthy of a true a rtist.
By 1918, the current task was to master artistically the technology of reinforced concrete. This was done by cubism and the constructivist directions deriving from it. In this purpose, the plastic arts had to establish a mutual exchange of achievements with building and with the technology of building materials. As a result, houses of iron, glass and concrete have been built, full of light and sincerity of the revealed beauty of materials.
At present, the task is a reconstruction of cities: an organization of the totality of urban life. Functionalism is a result of a summing up of the potential opportunities inherent in several fields of contemporary culture. A visible justification of functionalism will be an epoch of building, originating in the proper use of the productive forces of contemporary industry, art and psychological engineering, and directed to the planned fulfillment of human needs. Such a justification of functionalism is the sum of opportunities inherent in the epoch.
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