Bauhaus, Constructivism, Performance – Johannes Birringer

Oskar Schlemmer’s designs/choreography has been mostly treated as a minor footnote. Bauhaus parties allowed playful exuberance and were an important prominent aspect of the school. The “Bauhaus: Art as Life” exhibition at the Barbican Gallery in 2012 presents these social choreographies. One photo shows “the building as a stage”, included Schlemmer’s musical stairs and glass spheres suspended from the ceiling. Actors in costumes present themselves as architectural elements.


Schlemmer arrived at Weimar Bauhaus in 1921, running the wood and stone workshop and the sculpture workshop, undertook many preparations for festivals/parties. He assumed the role of a kind of multimedia impresario. His practical work motivated him to experiment with choreography and his interest in space and plasticity, akin to Gropius’ Architectonics, investigating space, form, colour, sound, movement and light.and Schlemmer’s interest in the geometry of the human form.


The “Triadic Ballet”, was in 3 acts, 3 performers, 12 dances and 18 costumes. Each act displaying a different colour and mood. Figurines of exaggerated headdresses and masks, padded torsos and outfits built with wire and concentric hoops, were to impede movement. The stage was an extension to the traditional proscenium arch/stage, similar to a fashion runway. This would influence contemporary fashion designers who drew heavily on this form of avant-garde installation/performance art. Geometric lines on the floor inhibits the movement to that of chess figures involved in an abstract game. The human body or face is obscured by sculptural costumes, rejecting expressionism and mimetic theatre conventions of the time. The choreography neutralises the performer to geometric motion. The performer is the unseen puppeteer, the operator of the figurines.


Mapping of figures in space “Figur und Raumlineatur” and “Egozentrische Raumlineatur” uses uncostumed figures to show the mathematical principles to measure space, treating space as abstract. These biograms show man as a combination of mechanic and organic components.


Contemporary choreographer, William Forsythe, coined the expression “choreographic object”, transposing dance from the stage into other manifestations, e.g. participatory installations. This fluidity of space has informed the idea of “liquid architecture” to overcome the ideas of static, fixed architecture to transform space.


Constructivism endeavours to to use analysis of the materials and forms for utilitarian purposes for a new society. Kandinsky’s spiritualism was at odds with this new approach, forcing him to leave Russia. His biomorphic shapes reverberated with Schlemmer’s choreographies, unlike Moholy-Nagy who would work directly with the new technology available.


Moholy-Nagy created the “Light Space Modulator”, a motorised sculpture of glass, mirror and steel was a kinetic installation which imagined light as performance art. Both art’s collaboration was complementary to their practice and are the pioneers of “Hybrid Art”.


Schlemmer’s “Hoop Dance” is similar to Moholy-Nagy’s “Light Space Modulator” film as a kinetographic study of movement through objects. William Forsythe’s interest in architectural notions of spaciality and choreography is often linked to the legacy of Rudolph Laban rather than early 20th Century Constructivism.

Posted in Blog - MA Fine Art.

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