Imagine No Possessions: The Socialist Objects of Russian Constructivism

Paperback | February 15, 2008

byChristina Kiaer

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In Imagine No Possessions, Christina Kiaer investigates the Russian Constructivist conception of objects as being more than commodities. "Our things in our hands must be equals, comrades," wrote Aleksandr Rodchenko in 1925. Kiaer analyzes this Constructivist counterproposal to capitalism's commodity fetish by examining objects produced by Constructivist artists between 1923 and 1925: Vladimir Tatlin's prototype designs for pots and pans and other everyday objects, Liubov' Popova's and Varvara Stepanova's fashion designs and textiles, Rodchenko's packaging and advertisements for state-owned businesses (made in collaboration with revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky), and Rodchenko's famous design for the interior of a workers' club. These artists, heeding the call of Constructivist manifestos to abandon the nonobjective painting and sculpture of the early Russian avant-garde and enter into Soviet industrial production, aimed to work as "artist-engineers" to produce useful objects for everyday life in the new socialist collective.

Kiaer shows how these artists elaborated on the theory of the socialist object-as-comrade in the practice of their art. They broke with the traditional model of the autonomous avant-garde, Kiaer argues, in order to participate more fully in the political project of the Soviet state. She analyzes Constructivism's attempt to develop modernist forms to forge a new comradely relationship between human subjects and the mass-produced objects of modernity; Constructivists could "imagine no possessions" (as John Lennon's song puts it) not by eliminating material objects but by eliminating the possessive relation to them. Considering such Constructivist objects as flapper dresses and cookie advertisements, Kiaer creates a dialogue between the more famous avant-garde works of these artists and their quirkier, less appreciated utilitarian objects. Working in the still semicapitalist Russia of the New Economic Policy, these artists were imagining, by creating their comradely objects, a socialist culture that had not yet arrived.

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In Imagine No Possessions, Christina Kiaer investigates the Russian Constructivist conception of objects as being more than commodities. "Our things in our hands must be equals, comrades," wrote Aleksandr Rodchenko in 1925. Kiaer analyzes this Constructivist counterproposal to capitalism's commodity fetish by examining objects produce...

Christina Kiaer is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:344 pages, 9 × 8 × 0.69 inPublished:February 15, 2008Publisher:The MIT PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0262612216

ISBN - 13:9780262612210

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In Imagine No Possessions, Christina Kiaer investigates the Russian Constructivist conception of objects as being more than commodities. "Our things in our hands must be equals, comrades," wrote Aleksandr Rodchenko in 1925. Kiaer analyzes this Constructivist counterproposal to capitalism's commodity fetish by examining objects produced by Constructivist artists between 1923 and 1925: Vladimir Tatlin's prototype designs for pots and pans and other everyday objects, Liubov' Popova's and Varvara Stepanova's fashion designs and textiles, Rodchenko's packaging and advertisements for state-owned businesses (made in collaboration with revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky), and Rodchenko's famous design for the interior of a workers' club. These artists, heeding the call of Constructivist manifestos to abandon the nonobjective painting and sculpture of the early Russian avant-garde and enter into Soviet industrial production, aimed to work as "artist-engineers" to produce useful objects for everyday life in the new socialist collective.Kiaer shows how these artists elaborated on the theory of the socialist object-as-comrade in the practice of their art. They broke with the traditional model of the autonomous avant-garde, Kiaer argues, in order to participate more fully in the political project of the Soviet state. She analyzes Constructivism's attempt to develop modernist forms to forge a new comradely relationship between human subjects and the mass-produced objects of modernity; Constructivists could "imagine no possessions" (as John Lennon's song puts it) not by eliminating material objects but by eliminating the possessive relation to them. Considering such Constructivist objects as flapper dresses and cookie advertisements, Kiaer creates a dialogue between the more famous avant-garde works of these artists and their quirkier, less appreciated utilitarian objects. Working in the still semicapitalist Russia of the New Economic Policy, these artists were imagining, by creating their comradely objects, a socialist culture that had not yet arrived. Imagine No Possessions is a fascinating analysis of the early Soviet socialist object as a uniquely compelling historical phenomenon, and as the key to a reevaluation of Russian Constructivism. In its recovery of the utopian desires motivating the design of the object-as-comrade, Kiaer's incisive yet accessible book is a stirring reminder that there are alternatives to present-day capitalist triumphalism.