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'Bolt' and the problem of Soviet ballet, 1931

16 February 2015 | By Ivan Sollertinsky

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15 October 2014 | By Mollie Arbuthnot

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28 April 2014 | By Rachel Hajek

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24 March 2014 | By Renée-Claude Landry

Guest Blog | Pulsating Crystals

17 February 2014 | By Robert Chandler Chandler

Guest Blog | Stenbergs' Faces

03 February 2014 | By Paul Rennie

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Tatlin and his objects - by James McLean

02 August 2016 | By

Tatlin modelling his utilitarian coat, the energy efficient oven is visible on the right, 1919

Of the plethora of artists’ manifestos published in the Soviet era, perhaps none has a more absurd title than Vladimir Tatlin’s 1930 work ‘The Problem of the Relationship Between Man and Object: Let Us Declare War on Chests of Drawers and Sideboards’. The treatise proselytises the new Soviet domestic aesthetic as a counterpoint to the bourgeois excesses of contemporary Western consumer products. Tatlin’s thesis was that by exploiting the inherent qualities innate to a particular material, one could create objects that aptly fulfilled their function without the need for any ornamental decadence. In this way he designed a child’s drinking vessel, a utilitarian worker’s jacket, an energy efficient oven, and, most intriguingly of all, a chair that was meant to replicate the experience of drifting upon a cloud. A friend recalled:

“He dreams of designing a chair for people engaged in intellectual pursuits that would make a person feel as if he were sitting ‘on a cloud’. So that the body would relax by equally distributing its weight ‘onto all points’. And a kind of electric cap would hang over one’s head and by means of special ‘magnetic rays’ would absorb all tiredness from the person, leaving him refreshed, after which he would go back to work!’’

Prototype bentwood chair, an experiment towards the attempted cloud chair, 1927

The chair of course proved to be chimerical and all attempted designs were apparently extraordinarily uncomfortable to sit in. In this regard Tatlin’s cloud chair is often juxtaposed with his preposterously colossal ‘Monument to the IIIrd International’, and his doomed ornithopter ‘Letatlin’, as the slightly deranged, fantastical imaginings of the eccentric avant-garde artist. However this is to ignore the panoramic influence of the notion of ‘novyie byt’ (‘new daily life’) that pervaded the contemporary Soviet imagination. ‘Novyie byt’ symbolised the utopian embrace of communal living as an antidote to the pernicious practice of private dwelling. The new forms of quotidian life were a means by which to restructure daily behaviour and ultimately even human nature itself. Tatlin clearly had a deep conviction in such ideas. His manifesto’s stated goal was to create ‘an object which is original and radically different from objects in the West or in America. This last fact is very important in-as-much as our everyday life is being built on completely new principles.’

A child's drinking vessel, 1930

Tatlin’s cloud chair, though fantastical in its ideals, was nevertheless functional in its aims of replenishing the energy of workers, presumably to power them on to another Stakhanovite shift. The work also suggests the influence of cosmism upon Tatlin’s oeuvre. The philosopher Nikolai Fedorov, in his influential work of 1913 ‘The Philosophy pf the Common Task’, had theorised on humanity’s potential to harness the electricity within the Earth’s atmosphere and ultimately to thermostatically control the forces of nature. Furthermore the Futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov (with whom Tatlin collaborated on occasion) in his 1918 poem ‘Skybooks’ envisaged projecting the latest news directly onto the clouds as a means by which to educate the proletarian masses. There has even been some suggestion that Tatlin’s tower was to be equipped with projectors for this very purpose. Long before Apple had devised the supposedly innovative idea of storing information in a metaphorical cloud, the Russian Avant-Garde were exploring the idea of doing so quite literally.