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Vision, Construction, Demonstration

Matthias Boeckl

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Vadim Kosmatschof works and constructs series of “solar sculptures” for public spaces in collaboration with the Vienna based multidisciplinary architectural studio Veech X Veech. Both aesthetically and technologically, these are groundbreaking works. They represent a constructive artistic ethos which, during the past forty years, was almost forgotten in Europe, but which, from the current perspective, presents tremendous new possibilities. The incorporation of advanced technology into these sculptures revives an old modernist ideal cultivated by Auguste Perret and Le Corbusier, the Bauhaus, and members of the early Soviet avant-garde such as Tatlin, Melnikov and Malevich, namely that a true artistic innovation must not only be an aesthetic innovation in the narrower field of art, but must also generate objective and universally recognizable progress in other fields, particularly in technology – and thus, ultimately, contribute to changing society. There is a real possibility that this very ambition, which the European society of the post-war period, absorbed in its hedonistic solipsism, lost touch with completely, may now, in combination with American optimism, galvanize the art world and remind it of its responsibility for the future. 

 

What led to these enormous cultural differences between the builders of modernity in Europe, America and Russia? At the latest when Europe was divided after World War II, but basically beginning with the establishment of the Hitler and Stalin dictatorships, the modernist period came to an end. Whereas at the beginning of the 1930s one could still speak of a more or less homogeneous project which followed quite similar goals and styles in Paris, Berlin and Moscow, the disastrous political division of Europe cut off the channels of exchange which had flourished up to that time, forcing modernism to develop in separate directions from then on. It was only in the 1960s under Khrushchev that tentative contacts were resumed here and there. However, the full reconstitution of the global art world as we know it today was only achieved after a tedious reconstruction process that lasted for decades, in which the artists who carried on the Russian modernist tradition, as in earlier decades, had to endure reprisals and deprivations that until today have remained almost inconceivable for anyone living in the West. 

 

Art production – under all conditions

 

Vadim Kosmatschof’s life and work, more than those of almost any other artist, exemplify important stages in this process. At the same time, Kosmatschof has revived the constructive tradition of modernism that was lost to the West from the 1930s onward, a lack which was a major factor in attenuating the concept of modernism here during the post-war reconstruction period. With the integration of contemporary Russian art into the global art world starting in the 1990s, not only did many new and unfamiliar positions enter the (Western) art debate, but it also became clear that the new ideas and markets in art had also initiated an unexpected surge of growth, which is still bringing universal benefit today.

 

Kosmatschof/Veech, with their Russian-American background (Stuart Veech is an American and runs the architectural firm Veech Media Architecture together with Mascha Veech, the daughter of Vadim Kosmatschof) and their locations in Vienna and Germany, are in an ideal situation in this regard. American enthusiasm, Central European “morale” and Russian constructive genius add up to a mixture of diverse abilities capable of producing powerful innovations at the interface of architecture and sculpture. 

 

But how did Kosmatschof manage to build a solid basis for what was to become a “post-Soviet” oeuvre under the extremely difficult conditions that artists faced in the Soviet Union during the post-war years? Continuing to work on the development of modernism or even just continuing to develop art on the basis of artistic rather than political criteria demanded a tremendous amount of conviction, courage and resilience. Any objective information about art that an artist acquired had to be literally wrested from the rigid system around him, and every innovation he made could only be developed by means of subversive methods. An artist who produced non-conformist works could only survive on the sidelines, outside of the recognized Soviet art world: Kosmatschof was able to realize his first sculpture for a public space “only” in Turkmenistan, with the help of penal laborers. And Ilya Kabakov, the most internationally renowned artist of Kosmatschof’s generation, had to resort to commercial graphic art for a living in order to find time and freedom in which to work on his own art. The entire milieu of dissident and unofficial art in the late Soviet Union existed in a constant state of oscillation between enormous risks: the subjective risk of conforming too much to the prevailing conditions, and the objective risk of losing all possibility of production altogether. And even the nonconformist art itself, which these artists managed to create in the little bits of illicit freedom they were able to wrest from the Soviet regime, signified a risk, because, having no place in the official art world, they could expect no official reception of their works − and no change in their own difficult living and working conditions. 

 

The heritage of the constructivists – a brief thaw from 1956 to 1964

 

Kosmatschof first studied painting for seven years at the Moscow Secondary Art School near the Tretyakov Gallery, which enabled him to glean his first impressions of the historical avant-garde in his teenage years: with an identification card from his school it was possible to view, in the basement storage rooms of the Tretyakov Gallery, works that were not publicly displayed upstairs – and the paintings of Chagall and Kandinsky became stamped into the artistic memory of the prospective young painter. In the storage area of the Pushkin Museum and in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) one could see large series of pictures by Henri Matisse, which had been bought up by the textile industrialist Shchukin in Paris before the Russian Revolution. At the end of the 1950s there began what the younger generation of artists saw as a kind of “golden era”: Commencing with Nikita Khrushchev’s assumption of office in 1955, foreign influences were tolerated for the first time in decades. In 1956, the Pushkin Museum presented a sensational Picasso exhibition, which officially inaugurated the brief so-called “Thaw” that lasted until 1963.

 

After secondary school, Kosmatschof studied from1959 to 1965 at the Stroganov School of Industrial and Applied Art in Moscow, which, like many similar institutions all over Europe, had been founded in the mid-19th century as a training workshop for designers, under the new conditions of the industrial age. Some of the professors who taught there in the 1960s had, in their youth, attended the VKhUTEMAS, the legendary “Artistic and Technological Workshops” where, from 1920 to 1927 (and from 1927 to 1930 under the name VKhUTEIN – “Artistic and Technological Institute”) almost all the artists of the Soviet avant-garde who are world-renowned today, including Rodchenko, Vesnin, Tatlin, Gabo, Melnikov and El Lissitzky, had taught. Kosmatschof’s painting professor Vassiliev, his material science professor Korshu, and the furniture designer and director of the school, Bikov, all came from the VKhUTEMAS. Around 1960, they were still not officially permitted to promote the positions of the former Soviet avant-garde, but they created a climate in which students were able to approach classical modernism to a certain extent – at least for those who wished to do so; the others aspired to careers that were in conformity with the system. Apart from this, the Stroganov School offered high-quality technical training in the best Russian tradition, with a particular emphasis on building construction. This central focus, which had been established at the time of the construction of the railway in the 19th century, had been a basic principle behind the constructive ambitions of the Soviet avant-garde even before World War II: Naum Gabo postulated that an artist should be able to realize any form out of any material, rather than developing the form from the material. 

 

During this short Thaw period under Khrushchev, a library for foreign literature was opened in Moscow. This library was accessible to students and provided the only official source of information about not only international, but also Russian art history. However, Kosmatschof, together with friends like Alexander Nay, who later also emigrated to the West, also studied Western art and literature in secret. In the six years that Kosmatschof spent at the Stroganov School, the students of the class in monumental sculpture were taught only how to produce architectural sculpture that was strictly in line with the prescribed architectonic modules of the construction industry, and monuments that complied with the restrictions of Soviet urban development. Kosmatschof, however, attracted attention with a provocative study project in which, in place of a mathematical parameter, he made the human being the “module” of architecture, thereby demasking the inhumanity of the Soviet system. In the less prominent departments of metalworking and ceramics, the students were at least sometimes allowed more freedom of design and were not exclusively forced to produce the figural art of Soviet realism. Nevertheless, Kosmatschof’s diploma project – a 30 m² wall relief – received a poor mark, because it was abstract instead of figural.

 

“Provocation” and repression

 

In 1962, while still studying at the Stroganov School, Kosmatschof began teaching art at a “People’s University”, a kind of open university for students from the distant provinces of the Soviet imperium; he taught at this institution until 1968. There he built up a collection of students’ works which demonstrated naïve painting of a high quality – unspoilt, as it were, by the Soviet system. In 1967 he presented an exhibition of works by some of these amateur artists, having deliberately searched the outlying provinces for works that had been rejected by local juries. This exhibition exposed him as a critic of the official art world, which brought him a rebuke from the political authorities.

 

Meanwhile, Kosmatschof’s own artistic career had begun. In 1967, one and a half years before he graduated from the Stroganov School, his diploma project, an abstract ceramic relief for a large building, was reproduced in the magazine DI (“Applied Art”) together with a portrait of the young artist and a positive critique. This attracted the attention of a young architect working under Mihail Kruglov in one of the state planning offices. Kruglov, like some of the professors at the Stroganov School, was a graduate of the former VKhUTEMAS and immediately recognized the quality and the secret roots of this work – which was subsequently realized on the facade of a cinema. Kruglov was highly cultured and he showed Kosmatschof his private art collection, which included copperplate engravings of Italian vedute. The cinema commission gave Kosmatschof a good start in the official sculpture and monument industry in the Soviet Union, which at that time was in full flower, as every city was in need of monuments to Lenin, Stalin and other heroes of Socialism. A “free” artist who was dependent on state workshops for the realization of his works could make a good living in this way. And Kosmatschof was particularly in demand, because he had studied both metalworking and ceramics – an unusual double qualification. At that time, artists who devoted themselves to the quasi “assembly-line” production of political monuments (the best of them could hand-fashion a bust of Lenin out of a lump of clay behind their backs within ten minutes) earned ten times as much as a regular laborer.

 

In 1971, Kosmatschof created a fountain figure for the Yugoslavian embassy. While looking for a suitable sculpture at the sculpture combine, the Yugoslavian architect who designed the building had seen, in addition to numerous figures of Lenin, abstract works by Kosmatschof, and was captivated by them. In 1972, Kosmatschof – who had already caused a commotion with his exhibition of naive painting in 1967 – once again came into conflict with the authorities because, after officially participating in a ceramics symposium in Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia, he did not return directly to Moscow but took a side trip to Danzig. The result was that he was banned from any further journeys out of the country. Kosmatschof also became suspect in the artists’ association because, as the functionary responsible for the admission of new members, he regularly invited the “wrong” artists – meaning those who deviated from the party line – to join. In 1974 and 1975 he succeeded in having one of his designs realized as an abstract monument in a public space – but this was in far-away Ashkhabad in Turkmenistan, in front of the National Library there, a fairly reputable building with late Corbusian characteristics. The official sculpture combines were not available for the realization of the twenty-meter-high steel sculpture, which was why Kosmatschof resorted to the laborers of a penal colony, who had considerable technical know-how. He lived and worked with them for eight months. During this period he also cultivated contacts with the West – in 1974, for example, he maintained contact with Hans Marte, the later Director General of the Austrian National Library, who at that time was employed at the Austrian embassy in Moscow. 

 

Kosmatschof was soon made to feel the consequences of this new provocation on his part (after his exhibition of naive painting and his detour to Danzig): When in 1976, commissioned by the architect Felix Novakov, he designed four sculptures in yellow, blue and white porcelain for the Soviet embassy in Mauritania, he was not permitted to travel to the site for the assembly of the elements. Kosmatschof had to report to the ministry of foreign affairs for an interview with the KGB, who ordered him to hand over the assembly plans – which he refused to do. This resulted, in 1977, in Kosmatschof’s being banned from his profession, which also meant that he had to give up the studio to which he had been entitled as a member of the artists’ association. Kosmatschof submitted an application for emigration, which required an invitation from a foreign country. Kosmatschof’s old friend Alexander Nay, who, after undergoing forced psychiatric treatment seven times, had emigrated to New York, provided this invitation. The authorities, however, refused to accept the document and demanded that Kosmatschof submit an invitation from Israel – which, since he was not Jewish, was a pure case of harassment. When, by means of circuitous channels, he was finally able to present the Israeli invitation, his application was again rejected, whereupon Kosmatschof wrote an open letter to Soviet Party Leader Brezhnev, in which he described the absurdity of his situation. The famous dissident and philosopher Alexander Zinoviev, who lived in Munich from 1978 to 1999, passed on this letter to the German radio station Radiosender Deutsch Welle, which broadcast its contents. Three months later, Kosmatschof finally received permission to leave the country, and he emigrated to Vienna, arriving in December of 1979. Since then he has lived and worked in Germany and Austria.

 

Constructivism today

 

Today, looking back on the various factors that influenced his work, Kosmatschof comes to the following conclusion: The cultural heritage of the post-war generation was no more than a pile of ruins, but he and his friends received – like Rembrandt’s Danaë – a “shower of gold”, a kind of spiritual gift that enabled them to put together the remaining available fragments of Russian modernism. This reconstruction work in archives and libraries gave the young artists a strong sense of the idealism and enthusiasm that had vitalized their avant-garde predecessors in the 1920s, and these energies were transmitted to Kosmatschof. For a long time now, the question of seeking new forms on this historical basis has been the central focus of his deliberations, which, as a logical consequence, have always led him to the latest technologies, such as those he now employs in his solar sculptures. 

 

The connection of the Soviet avant-garde with European object art today also implicitly poses the question as to which fragments of the constructive tradition in the West might also be part of this project. If we look at Kosmatschof’s sculptures of the past years, we can, in fact, see connections which show that his oeuvre is also rooted in non-Soviet discourse. From the monumental steel object “Konstrukta”, which Kosmatschof built in Ashkhabad in Turkmenistan in 1974/1975, to the designs and realized projects of today, which are presented in this publication, there has been a line of development that has brought several shifts in style as well as in content.

 

In “Konstrukta”, Kosmatschof’s method of operation was still very close to the role models of the early Soviet avant-garde. If we recall the fragile, apparatus-like objects of Alexander Rodchenko (for example the “space constructions” of 1918–1920, which were exhibited in 2006 at the MAK in Vienna), or works by Vladimir Tatlin, El Lissitzky or Georgii and Vladimir Stenberg (who, like Kosmatschof, had studied at the Stroganov School), the analogies are obvious: the artistic program consists in the design and construction of an abstract spatial composition which in content replaces the old figural and organic narrative with an optimistic, upwards-striving, future-welcoming enthusiasm for technology, and in material and gesture pursues a steely, puristic, space-activating rhetoric. Almost all the artists of Russian constructivism share this program as regards content and style, and it can still be seen almost unchanged in the vertical steel tubes and horizontally projecting surfaces and slats of Kosmatschof’s “Konstrukta” (as well as in the title of the work). 

 

Kosmatschof’s current objects, on the other hand, are stylistically associated with organic (“Vertical Impulse” / “Vertical Fountain”, Breathing Form”) and partly even with realistic forms (“Urban Heart”), and their designs incorporate considerably more complex technology than the comparatively antiquated steel sculpture in Ashkhabad. What does this mean? Has the early constructivist experiment lost some of its impact? Is it simply out of date? Quite the contrary. The old ideals of constructivism are still clearly recognizable today: the basic optimism, the use of newest technologies as a matter of course, the positive attitude toward the powers of nature (perhaps in contrast to the irrational activities of human beings) and the taking for granted that these positions must be displayed in public spaces – all this is still reminiscent of the euphoric spirit of imminent change which imbued Russian artists right after the Revolution.

 

A hundred years later: the experiment goes on!

 

But in between lies the history of modern sculpture in the 20th century, which for long periods was molded by Western influences. In the first wave of modern sculpture that appeared shortly before and shortly after World War I, both in the West in the Bauhaus school, the futurists and the De Stijl group, and in the East among the Russian constructivists, a certain constructive dominance was certainly unmistakable. But in the 1930s, the traditions of East and West began to develop in different directions, and in the West, in addition to the old figural camp and the constructive camp of modern sculpture, an organoid, surreal one soon emerged, as manifested in the works of Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Lipschitz, Hans Arp, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore and many others. In the post-war period, these developments branched out into a variety of more highly differentiated movements: “informal” sculpture integrated principles of chance and the culture of everyday materials into modern plastic art, New Realism brought process-oriented positions, and the “social sculpture” of Joseph Beuys and Viennese actionism gave expression to social criticism. From the USA came the new minimalist movement, a key event of which was the “Primary Structures” exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York in 1966, and land art radically broadened the canon of contemporary object art. 

 

That did this mean for a Russian object artist who came to the (Central European) West in 1979 and was confronted, first of all, with remainders of pop art, with New Realism, with actionism and social sculpture? The most important adjustment he had to make concerned the relationship of the artist to society. Whereas in the Soviet Union, the regime made it virtually impossible for an artist to initiate any kind of communication with his clientele, namely the beholders of sculptures in public spaces and museums, thus nipping any kind of effect on society in the bud, in the West the exact opposite was the case. Starting in 1968 if not earlier, art was forced to take a stand on social issues, particularly art in public spaces, where it had to hold its own in the midst of a plurality of opinions and wishes. If we consider the fact that the early Soviet avant-garde was also explicitly sociopolitical in its outlook (a new art for new people through new technology), an unexpected congruency of opinion emerges regarding the role of art in society: there is no doubt that what Kosmatschof (also) valued in the early Soviet avant-garde was once again in demand in the 1980s and 1990s in the West. 

 

In looking at the universal theme of natural resources whose potential can be demonstrated in technologically charged artistic installations, we can see a connection between the present day and the historical avant-garde – despite the hundred-year history of modernism that lies in between. Kosmatschof’s collaboration with the architectural firm Veech Media Architecture in designing and planning these new solar sculptures represents an interdisciplinary cooperation between art and technology that has a promising future. Thus it has been possible, at the beginning of the 21st century, to continue the experiment that, due to historical circumstances, so swiftly came to grief at the beginning of the 20th

 

 

 

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Vision, Construction, Demonstration (English)

 

Vision, Konstruktion, Demonstration (Deutsch)

 

 

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02

A Question of Form

Georg Schöllhammer

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In the Soviet Union, the late 1950s saw the emergence of the first artistic programs and architectural concepts that essentially followed the examples of Western European countries. The post-war era was, to a major extent, marked by the Cold War rivalry between the two superpowers, with their respective political systems. Nuclear power, aerospace technology, and outstanding durable consumer goods such as washing machines served as powerful symbols of this rivalry. As early as the late Stalinist period, the promise of mass consumption increasingly began to replace the prevailing ideology of asceticism in the Soviet Union. 

 

It was in this political and social climate that Vadim Kosmatschof began his artistic training. From 1951 to 1958 he was a student at the Moscow Secondary Art School. There he worked on the development of his first spatial concepts, which even then were conceived in relation to architecture and in contemplation of the standardized public spaces of the Stalin years. In his early sketches, Kosmatschof developed the concept of space that was to be determinative for his entire artistic development: the space occupied by the sculpture is conceived as a resource and a means of organizing experience in order to develop a processual form of aesthetics. The buried tradition of Russian constructivism thus became a kind of fossil fuel which inspired and empowered the young art student’s work. In the cellars of the nearby Tretyakov Gallery, originals from the 1920s were still stored, and the students were clandestinely introduced to this heritage by some of their teachers. This opened for Kosmatschof, during the restrictive years of Stalin’s neoclassicist socialist realism, a formal cosmos which, hidden from the prevailing doctrine of aesthetic reason, he lifted out of preconsciousness into a formalized state. The interfaces between radical abstraction, technological and vegetative structure, and the sparse information that conveyed some of what was happening in international modernism in the post-war years formed the foundation upon which Kosmatschof’s work in these early years was based.

 

A radical change in the aesthetic paradigms of the USSR art world followed upon Khrushchev’s election as First Secretary of the CPSU in 1953, which had far-reaching consequences for fine arts and architecture in the USSR. The languages of forms that had emerged in modernism were transposed into free art, primarily by way of architecture. From the end of the 1950s, French and Soviet urbanists engaged in an intensified exchange; France became the USSR’s most important Western European partner. For a time, Russian architects maintained contact with professional colleagues in Paris who were then planning the new office district La Défense. The brief thaw in the Cold War in the 1950s was followed by the rigidification of the Soviet state in the Brezhnev era, with its bureaucratic and structuralist excesses. The Soviet occupation of Prague in 1968 also fell within this period. During these years, from 1965 to 1969, Kosmatschof attended the sculpture class at the Stroganov School of Industrial and Applied Art in Moscow, where he soon came into contact with architects. At this institution, Kosmatschof began to experiment with the idea of large-scale sculptures in outdoor spaces, but not in the context of the rhetorical monumental sculptures that occupied the memorial spaces in the parks and squares of the Soviet imperium. He was interested in more organic interfaces. It appeared to him that the design processes of architecture would serve as a suitable methodological instrument.

 

The most important sources of external influence that characterized the new climate in the Soviet Union came from the socialist countries of Eastern Europe, and gradually found their way from the peripheries of the Soviet imperium to the centre. The aesthetics of everyday life in the Soviet “Thaw” period was influenced above all by publications from Czechoslovakia and Poland, where the modern movement in architecture and design – in contrast to the Soviet Union – had proceeded. The existential angsts that had built up under the dictates of Stalinist realism had already found their first release there after 1956, in the extreme subjectivism of tachist painting. The groups and positions that now emerged, with their objects, light installations and structural and geometric abstraction, were finding their way back into the international canon of modernism.

 

Information from these milieus also reached the Stroganov School and so, also, Kosmatschof. And now architecture, too, began to take an interest in elements of the “constructivist” phase of the 1920s, which Kosmatschof had become acquainted with in the underground storage rooms of the museum, in defiance of Stalin’s prohibitions. Starting in the 1970s, there was once again more intensive collaboration between the fine arts and architecture. Architectural details from the 1930s reappeared. In the various Soviet republics, individual architectural styles developed, manifesting expressive stylistic elements in combination with influences from the respective national traditions. 

 

It is therefore not just a biographical coincidence that Kosmatschof’s first key work appeared not in Moscow, but in one of the Turk republics. The regional authorities, in fact, managed to retain a certain degree of independence, evinced primarily in their ability to circumvent clearly defined government policy when it came to specific administrative practice. Decisions on economic plans and fund allocations were made in Moscow, but ultimately it was the subordinate administrative machinery that decided how the available resources were actually put to use.

 

With a commission for a sculpture on the square in front of the new national library in Ashkhabad, the capital of the Republic of Turkmenistan, Kosmatschof was able, for the first time, to transpose his formal experiments from the studio to large-scale form in a public space – and this genre is still the central focus of his work today: monumental, space-activating sculptures in outdoor spaces. The Karl Marx State Library was exemplary for the new movement in architecture. It was built in 1975 by the architect A. Akhmedov in close collaboration with the civil engineer S. Saparov and the head of the construction brigade, M. Danieljanu, and was awarded the USSR State Prize. In his design, Akhmedov succeeded in creating a uniform, flowing space by means of ramps. The deeper one penetrates into the interior, the more intensely one experiences an association with traditional forms and motifs that appear to derive from the jewelry designs typical of the region. Akhmedov asked the young Kosmatschof to create a corresponding symbol for the outdoor space.

 

Kosmatschof’s steel sculpture “Konstrukta” (1975) was the first large-scale sculpture realized in an outdoor space in the Soviet Union that was not devoted to a specific theme. The work is an improvisation on organoform motifs and constructivist spatial configurations, which Kosmatschof had developed in sketches. It is, one might say, a large, abstract construction extemporized into space. Technologically, too, the work presented a challenge, since it had to be assembled by the laborers of a penal colony, working only from a number of loose sketches, in a minimally equipped workshop. Conceived in 1973 and realized in 1975, this procedure was also a comment on the standardizing seriality and technological limitations to which art and architecture were subject in the context of the large design studios, which were organized like factories. The title of the work alludes to the enthusiasm of the constructivists in the 1920s for integrating art into everyday life. Moreover, the use of non-structural, organoform elements symbolizes, even in this early work, Kosmatschof’s rejection of the rigorism of functional architecture that was typical at the beginning of the Brezhnev era. 

 

Kosmatschof freed himself from the technologically abstract forms of the new genre which had developed in association with architecture and to which many of his colleagues still felt bound, and was able to initiate an accelerated stylistic development. For him, the reference to Russian constructivism also meant taking the constructivist propensity for symbolism as well as the constructivists’ interest in the interface between form and the outside world a step further, and making selective use of them. The contrast between serial production in architecture and the improvised assembly of the elements of Kosmatschof’s sculpture was almost symbolic for the restrictions placed on the range of artistic expression in the Soviet state.

 

Rebuffs from the official system of artistic unions and competitions soon put a damper on the optimism that had been awakened in Kosmatschof by the success of his sculpture in Ashkhabad – for example, when he was not permitted to realize his designs for large-scale sculptures outside the new Soviet embassy in Mauritania, which he had developed in porcelain. Kosmatschof had created a series of studies for this work, which he was able to produce in a ceramics studio: man-sized sculptures or groups of sculptures which decline mechanic/organic themes in a surrealistically schooled vocabulary of forms and which in today’s canon can be placed, in retrospect, between Oldenburg, Luginbühl and New Realism. Nevertheless, the work’s language of forms, which, as well, is always developed from modular assemblages, is original and foreshadows his later development in the direction of large-scale sculptures created as interfaces between technology and organic forms.

 

For this work, Kosmatschof had been experimenting since 1972 in a sanitary porcelain combine. However, this was an exception; the “new” art was still subject to state regulation, and its developments were dictated by the major construction combines. Artists had to gear their designs to a catalogue of prefabricated elements, which offered such a limited selection that there was not much scope left for design. In this climate, Kosmatschof’s surreal, constructive sculptures only met with a response outside of the nomenklatura of the Soviet art world.

 

Other representatives of this generation also attempted to formulate the heroic image of the Soviet regime in an international language of new aesthetics, but in a simplified form and within the limits of a group of themes whose core consisted of the conquest of outer space and the Antarctic, the opening up of Siberia and the new terrain of scientific revolution. Often, art that followed up on the great avant-garde traditions of the 1910s and 1920s had to be masked as applied arts, for example as the design of a suspended ceiling in a Party villa, as decoration in the foyers of youth or sport halls, or as structural ornamentation in the building lines of a provincial winter circus. Economics, technology and construction management were linked with artistic commissions and quality issues.

 

In 1976, on an office building in Moscow, Kosmatschof created a work that looked like an apparatus for measuring the spheres, carried pickaback by the building itself – a kind of imaginary instrument for measuring and analyzing the structural and ideological tensions between the private utopias of Soviet citizens and those of the apparatus. But Kosmatschof’s political and aesthetic insubordination prevented him from getting other commissions, and he applied for emigration.

 

In 1979, Kosmatschof emigrated to the West via Vienna and Graz. Here, in a post-pop milieu associated with the creative ORF Director Kuno Knöbl and the multi-talented Horst Georg Haberl, he found acceptance and a studio situation which permitted him to work off the traumas of being forced out of the official Soviet art world. A direct consequence of Kosmatschof’s emigration was a work that he conceived for public space in the city of Graz as part of the contemporary art festival steirischer herbst in 1981: a negative of the visa that had enabled him to leave the Soviet Union, in the form of a black-and-white, billboard-sized acrylic picture. Formally this appears to be an erratum among all his other works, which otherwise form a series of organoform abstract creations. In content, however, it fits seamlessly into the figure of thought of a reciprocal relationship between sculptural logic and cosmological imagery, which Kosmatschof developed in the West, where he lived from 1983 in Mainz and from 1994 in Wiesbaden, his current place of residence.

 

In his later works, Vadim Kosmatschof embodies cosmologies of aesthetic and technological transformation energy. The new technological possibilities at his disposal have contributed to an increased precision of workmanship and brilliance. The parallel worlds of sketches and small objects that accompany the studies for his major project, recognizable since the mid-1980s, of directly integrating processes of nature and aggregation states into sculpture for outdoor spaces, evolve into meditations on man/technology/nature in their own right. His very first large-scale commissioned work in the West, the sky-measuring object in front of the police headquarters in Mainz (1984), indicated the direction in which Vadim Kosmatschof was headed. His work gradually moved away from the surreal, imaginary apparatuses characteristic of his art in the 1970s, which, for example, can still be clearly seen in the fountain sculpture “Klepsydra” in Pirmasens (1985). The last great emanation of this art is the “Kugelstoßer” (“Shotputter”,1987) in front of the Landeszentralbank in Mainz, which once more recapitulates the motifs of Soviet modernism and constructivist spatial configurations.

 

The network of similarities and structural correspondences with which Kosmatschof manifests organic motifs ultimately becomes a techne poetike. It is a system of equivalences, correspondences and hierarchies that has developed into a new sculptural project which achieves a differentiation between organic and technological themes: the huge, almost breathing and pulsating objects which Vadim Kosmatschof is creating at the present time − a project unequaled in art today.

 

 

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03

The Sculptor Vadim Kosmatschof

Dieter Ronte

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Kosmatschof, a resident of Germany since 1983, has achieved considerable acclaim through his participation in a number of major international exhibitions, such as the 1978 Venice Biennale where he took part in the show on unofficial Soviet art. Certainly the traces of his origins remain legible. The discerning will be aware of the constructive element in Suprematism (until banned by Stalin), the aspect of playfulness, and, on a more fundamental level, the departure from the pure realism of Petersburg impressionism which lie in contrast to the Socialist Realism of late post-revolutionary art in Russia.

 

Kosmatschof is not involved in an inherent conflict about realism, nor is he a fanatical proponent of abstraction. Rather, one might call him a pragmatic realist, a poetic dreamer, an engineer enamoured of challenges. For the art itself, for the understanding and reading of the individual works, any national predisposition is of secondary importance, the Russian characteristics having no defining quality. Instead, the decisive element is rooted in the artist´s individuality; the striving for art (Kunstwollen) is given precedence over the pleasure of playful construction, the subjective defamiliaristion of known static, as well as, energised components. In the works of Kosmatschof we are confronted with a rare kind of freedom available only to art. Whether Kugelstoßer, Rotor, Diagonale or Dreieck, whether Hand, or Waage, Zündholz, Cottbus or Blitz, Kopf or Klepsydra; in every case seemingly familiar technological elements gain a renewed freedom that leaves narrative behind. Far from opening itself to facile or immediate interpretation, the work calls for a more considered reading. The artist´s multifaceted options need to be contemplated, felt, and experienced from all angles, and the sculptures´ prescribed movements impose their own peculiar chronology on the process of viewing them. Apart form the free, autonomous positions he assumes as a painter or draughtsman, the artist is equally and unabashedly fascinated by the idea of the commission. He seeks involvement with decisive social, substantive, or architectonic positions which require a correspondingly specific work of art, whose critical virulence is entirely dependent on its actual environment, on the here and now. This particular type of involvement has beome rare as it does not so much imply compliance but, rather a kind of projection seeking to impose a new dominance of the art work from within. Kosmatschof has no reservations about lending a voice, a new resonance, to this primacy of the artefact. Whilst making it legible in a language which is comprehensible to those inhabiting these places, he, at the same time, visibly reflects the context of the surroundings.

 

With this end in mind, the simplest expedient often lies in a dazzling garishness, a kind of fast-food aesthetics that quickly becomes outdated, a process that necessarily extends to the product itself. With Kosmatschof, on the other hand, it is of little consequence if the work has been conceived in the 1970´s or the 1990´s; its topicality remains undiminished due to its ties with the individual site. As this relationship is continuously recharged the work acquires a dimension of near timelessness. One might say that the artist operates with several intersecting layers of production. Though subscribing to the concept of art´s autonomy, he demonstrates that this autonomy may be integrated without being compromised. This line of argument is supported by Kosmatschof´s choice of materials which, whilst avoiding the use of the term eternal, seem to guarantee durability. In striving for future radiance he averts the patina of the present.He knows that the exactitude of his expression in itself yields a certain energy. In this way, considerations of craftsmanship regain their relevance for art: having been regarded pejorativily as a criterion for the quality of art ever since the Renaissance.

 

Kosmatschof´s work is distinguished by the desire to unify endeavor, idea and craftsmanship, whether executed by himself or others. Nevertheless, this does not reduce the artist simply to the role of a craftsman in the traditional sense. On the contrary, in his striving for art (Kunstwollen) the primacy of invention is not called into question. It is the invenit that matters, not the fecit; - the concept, the primary concept, the originality of the prima idea, which only then manifests itself in the art work for the future. High spirits, irony, or playful elements need not be negated to this end, because Kosmatschof feels very much at home in his almost Baroque minimalism based on technological principles.

 

Serenity, literature, erudition, and knowledge are all inscribed into these works and further enhance their potential. On a formal level the various choices evidence the development of this artist´s oeuvre and show the basically indelible mark of this individual biography. However, in the final reading, these choices convey the firm conviction that art, even when it is highly localised, can only be of consequence provided it finds a truly international form of expression, provided its language is itself global.

 

 

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The Sculptor Vadim Kosmatschof (English)

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04

The Phenomenon of Analytical Optics as a New Visual Instrumentality

Vitaly Patsyukov

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Vadim Kosmatschof’s philosophy of the visual is inseparable from the modern scientific paradigms of space and time, disclosing as it does imaginative actualities in their intellectual layers. The position of the observer in Albert Einstein’s relativity theory naturally reveals itself in the “testimony” of the artist transforming the observer’s point of vision into a living reflection and providing a specific context for it. Changes in the observer’s position not only affect the artistic coordinate system, but also integrate the previous and potential successive states of visual experience, continually translating the sensual into the conceptual, and returning the latter to imageful reality. In the same manner as in Albert Einstein’s relativism, the energy of this reality is raised to the absolute by light, by the light’s ideal velocity transformed into information, into a “world picture,” in Martin Heidegger’s words.

 

In fixing reality, in denoting it, the artist’s position precariously balances on the borderline between the objective and the subjective, between the observer and the participant, his personal experiences concealed by the detachment and asceticism of the testimony. It is capable of bringing reality closer or relegating it farther away; in the process, it acquires certain properties of a “vision machine”: camera-like, it can zoom in or out, combining computer intelligence with artistic creativity.

 

The powerful ethical core of Vadim Kosmatschof ’s visual representation is immersed in the depth of the image, in the phenomenon of its stratification. It goes deep into the intellectualization of scrutiny, renouncing any obvious manifestation, compacting the spatial layers of the visual, and imbuing them with time and history. The process is not unlike development in photography, as in the dramaturgy of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blowup, revealing the hidden reality with the aid of optical instruments that far exceed the potential of human vision.

 

Within these coordinates the visual-acoustic installation The Heart (2006-2007) becomes precisely this kind of “curvature radius” that is the basis of heterogeneity in our space as the history and “physiology” of civilization. The vectors of observing the latest artistic reality that are parallel in classical art, in Vadim Kosmatschof ’s optics form a non-Euclidean geometry, intersection points, energy nodes, an actuality focus highlighting in the revealed a singular light resonance where time and space are one. The glow of the artist’s spatial compositions in his video techniques displays quantum visuality, a discrete sequence of information transmitted into our consciousness in a pulsating progressive persistence, provoking the cultural memory.  Its signals, like sudden flashes, like Zen koans, destroy the stability of clichés from previous visual strategies, tripping over a sense of “something wrong.” Formally modeled on traditional imagery as a set of visual ready-mades, they clearly establish the inner radical change in modern vision and the space of our existence going through an endless succession of disasters. The neo-constructivist view of Vadim Kosmatschof  ’s art in fact reveals instant equilibrium in the unbalanced changes of reality, pauses, shifts and rents in its texture where the past and the future congregate and meet. The artist requires new technologies as a set of new optical instruments capable of registering the quakes, rocking and vibrations of our virtual civilization and at the same time of its actual physical essence, its “cardioactivity.” The non-linearity of these states, their displacement relative to the history axis are difficult or impossible to detect by the naked eye encumbered with conformism and habitual logic of vision that shuns conflicts and retreats into gloss.

 

Preserving fundamentality, Vadim Kosmatschof s art far exceeds the limits of guaranteed imagery. Taking bold risks, it goes back to the archetypes, to the lost canons, the symbolism of early Christianity imparting to it the profundity of context involving mutation, cloning and new biomechanics phenomena. The human heart, as the image of destiny and historical energy, “flickers” tirelessly by means of its dual presence in the pulsating inner dimensions of Vadim Kosmatschof s art, constantly “exercising” (as a subject) its tragic choice while never transcending its borders – in metaphysical hovering, in our eternal nostalgia and mirror recognition of our selves. Its ecological construction is immersed in a faltering dulling of anxiety, in the poignant immortality within that endless standing in front of the reality of culture and life itself. One cannot distance oneself from it, it belongs in its entirety to the continuity of being, to its knots, the family, the human race, restoring its planetary scale. Its open visuality reveals its depth, but does so while concealing it; it gets hidden, but in the process attracts us to itself inducing an encounter in the extent of its layers – in the experience of a surgeon’s and an angel’s vision, of pain and desire. The image of the heart is part of the universal tradition, but in the Vadim Kosmatschof dimensions it transcends the contours of culture and emerges as an immediate meaning of man in history’s temptations remaining in the ascesis of higher judgment. The testimony here is given by the artist’s art, which is also the poet’s incantation speech forever asking “Who are we? Where are we from? And where are we going?”

 

The video installation as naked evidence of the extreme condition of time and culture unembellished by painting that would convey well-being and illusory calm, it is precisely the technological phenomenality of Vadim Kosmachev that manifests the critical point, the ultimate measure of the world, its ruinousness, its inflation and its splendid illusoriness. Its laminar nature conceals spatial paradoxes where confront the document and the reality of human presence in the world, technology-doubled and trebled and thus rendered different. Its dynamic forms perceive their own testimony as a light signal in terms of its intensity, intellectual tension and indisputable authenticity. They confirm the intensity of logos and its information phenomenon by shifting emphasis, by denying the image the profanity of cause-and-effect ties, and the banality of dramatic composition, by pointing to the lost sensuous positions of light and shade that exist already in the empire of signs. These positions are replaced by utterly new formally extra-aesthetic modules that owe their emergence to the swift pixel alignment that make up the digital representation code. To decode one of these pixels it is necessary to analyze also the preceding and subsequent phases of its “memory,” forming a computer vision mechanism. Scanned within these visual-technological strategies, reality acquires a completely new “resolution” precisely in the meaning of optimum “image resolution.” It is revealed in our immediate vicinity, attacking our feelings, without any preliminary proof, in direct artistic action.

 

The abstract picture of the “ideal avant-garde” within this system of plastic values is getting increasingly shabby and commercialized. Its “spiritual sensuality,” its baroque folds turn into an illusion of the real and get objectified. Its space moves toward the surface that, far from revealing the world, covers it instead. “Cezanne’s pictures prevent me from seeing Mount Sainte-Victoire,” Marcel Duchamp complained a century ago. Kazimir Malevich echoes his French counterpart, exclaiming: “today painting is out of the question,” and discovering “new systems in art” that view reality as a structure with a voice and aspect of its own, with its own genetic code and inner meaning. Vadim Kosmatschof ’s Abstract Painting, the imagery of its design, scheme, outline, construction revert its abstractness to contemporary “post-history” culture, but this time in another interpretation different from the traditional pictorial understanding. It is colored by reflection, its plastic quality is rendered intellectual and is devoid of anything corporeal doomed to dying or mutation. Its forms graphically emphasize the qualitatively new connections between art and philosophy of language where vision encounters pure consciousness that does not require the authenticity of tactile gesture. Abstractness here is associated not with the infinity of matter, but with the infinity and variability of conceptual visual meditation on the quality of our environment, of its stratification in need of special dialog, which proved beyond the powers of monolog-based avant-garde. The artist is interested in the picture not as a Renaissance window but as a system of communication links, as an integral of meanings, as its context that can be disclosed only through the fullness of visual intellectual experience.

 

The three-part composition “Heart” (2007), within this visual-plastic conception, takes on an iconographic and iconological aspect. It carries a special type of metrics and a starting point in the artist’s creative coordinates, observing all of its subjectivity and getting suffused with the super-personal. The graphic quality of its scheme suggests a living evolution of culture, the immutability of its processional phenomenality and simultaneously with that, the intellectual exploration of its analytical spaces by Vadim Kosmatschof himself. Its construction gradually builds up a gravitation of art history meanings making up a wave phenomenon of time, its “moving text display,” the geometry of its blood streams, and at the same time representing the discreteness, the atomized nature of its processes, establishing the role of a specific creative personality in the sovereign artistic gesture.

 

The imagery in the polyptych “Heart” is strictly linear; within it unfolds the dramaturgy of our consciousness history, of the history of our vision and its shape-forming and text fullness. Its horizons conceal a camera obscura, inventions by Roger Bacon, discoveries of the innumerable optical instruments – microscopes, lenses, astronomy devices, mirrors and, finally, electronic optics technologies. Its layers are filled with a visualized heartbeat, an acoustic cardiogram; they hide the sounds of “pointillist minimalism” – Anton Webern and Steve Reich, John Cage and Philip Glass. Formally resembling a computer monitor and an oscillogram scan, the installation of The Heart insists on having a witness, an observer and that special vantage point around which the entire relativity theory of Albert Einstein revolves. In its transformations, the artist becomes a natural tool of time and space; he records every minute change undergone by the culture organism during its historical development, the way a cardiogram will register the heartbeat, warning about fundamental alterations in the structure of our civilization and its spiritual corporality. In his images the makeup of civilization, or rather its ethical component, appears identical with “the heart” – that archaic understanding of the essence of cosmos that already in ancient cultures used to be denoted by special organic machinery – the biomechanism. The consciousness of a human demiurge, his creative process within this kind of system of values manifests itself in the passive voice paradox opening toward reality and admitting reality into itself, into its own space. The artist in this conception sees himself as the perceiving and the perceived, who not only does the “looking,” but more importantly, who is “being looked at” and on whom the eye of being is focused. The presence of reality in this ecological artistic behavior is seen as its organic life. It materializes in the rhythmic states of inner energy balance and pulsation, like the ebb and flow, coming and going, inhaling and exhaling, where Yes constantly alternates with No, changing polarity and reverting to Yes. And the analytical technique used by Vadim Kosmatschof  represents precisely the kind of modern actual art that is built on the internal digital structure where the number, as in antiquity, is a metacode of culture. Changing its strategies, it becomes in this art model a structural recording of its visual image’s natural existence (appearance vs. disappearance), a universal dialog between 0 and 1. Its dramatic quality within the boundaries of the conceptual visual mechanism is clearly seen in the scanned projections of the working of The Heart (2007). 

 

The art of Vadim Kosmatschof has a rare gift of emotionalizing the image of night, its flickering curtain when the world loses visible stability and its essence is teetering on the brink of helplessness. Renouncing the corporeal, the night’s soul gets lost in the immediate vicinity of ourselves, eluding us and heading for the depths of its own birth. It dazzles us momentarily as it makes a “remembering” turn, in the borderline situation between “the living and the artificial,” in the space of salvation, giving new life to the lost. The artist registers this unique “in front of – inside” phase of image state, its “photon” vectors and light resonances.

 

We stop before the interminable threshold of the artist’s look poised for the return of that which seems to have vanished but really is simply waiting for its next term of presence. The heart is a true model of the potential planetary unity of the future humanity, an organic clot of cosmos, a “mechanism” of created and indestructible life, a concentration of human love and its boundless energy, the iconology of future culture.

 

 

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The Phenomenon of  Analytical Optics as a New Visual Instrumentality (English)

 

Das Phänomen der Analytischen Optik als Neue Visuelle Instrumentalität (Deutsch)

 

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05

A few words about myself

Vadim Kosmatschof

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On setting out to write this text, I decided to highlight only that which has determined and still determines my fate as an artist brought up in the heart of European culture, broken into two parts by well-known political differences. This fracture also divided my life into two nearly equal periods: the first in the USSR, from birth to emigration, and the second in the West, mainly in two central European countries: Austria and Germany.

 

It all started on the day of my birth, not long before the war, into the family of a Red Army officer, a professional military pilot. That is why, from my early years, I got a glimpse of all possible types of aircraft, wrecked planes, which often replaced the attributes of children’s playgrounds. I remember we also had footballs made from defective weather-balloons used to measure air currents above the airfields.

After our wartime wanderings, my family found itself in the city of Tula, which in many ways changed our nomadic way of life. Here I was enrolled in an elementary school crowded with overaged kids, damaged by the evils of recent times. 

In this provincial town ravaged by battles, I somehow became entirely involved in two pastimes: the Tula Regional Drama Theater and, two steps away from it, the club of aircraft-modeling enthusiasts. The theater’s repertoire was modest, and I still remember those plays (Russian classics) in detail. The construction of airplane models (so-called schematic models) gave me a knack for handling simple tools and materials, which became very useful later, when designing models of a completely different kind.

 

After my father’s redeployment in the summer of 1949, we wound up in the capital. This was the beginning of my life’s formation. Here are its main milestones.

My passion for theater introduced me to the visual arts, and with that came the desire to build something, to draw, to try to represent the models I imagined. This led me to the Moscow Art School - an elite institution (there were only two in the entire country) for specially talented children, as they used to say at the time. In 1951, at my second attempt, I became a pupil of this ”greenhouse,” superior in the level and scope of its education to the regular schools of those years. The school milieu itself – composed of the children of eminent people: painters, artists, writers – was out of the ordinary.

 

There naturally appeared a sense of chosenness, which formed the basis of the character of the future artists and their claim to be first. And the main factor of our formation was the school’s address on Lacrushinsky Lane – just across the street from the State Tretyakov Gallery.

As the years of training went on, we, the students of the MAS who belonged to my circle, began to open our eyes to the problems of the dull methods of teaching painting, drawing, modeling. And just then, thanks to political changes in society, the Tretyakov Gallery gave access, at least for a small audience, to its vaults, where the treasures of the Russian Avant-garde, wiped out in the mid-1930s, were stored.

Our school pass gave the senior students nearly unlimited access to this world of great discoveries of 20th century Russian culture.

 

It was this unexpectedly acquired opportunity that determined the development of the creativity, and the very fate, of the students of the MAS, whose sharp minds were by then filled with the lines of Nikolai Zabolotsky’s poetry and Daniil Kharms’s old ladies flying off the roof, while Samuel Beckett and Kafka (still forbidden) taught the curious how to extract the choice bits from the stew of surrounding reality.

The last year of school revealed to us - thanks to the ”street pranks” of the Russian futurists, described by Benedikt Livshits in “The One and a Half-Eyed Archer” - a new way of applying our forces. In 1957-1958, we began to hold artistic demonstrations in the center of Moscow. Their main participants were Lev Nusberg, Evgeny Izmailov, Alexander Katin, Lenya Vlasov, and the author of this text. These demonstrations, often spontaneous, occurred, unbeknownst to us, simultaneously with the famous demonstrations of Viennese artists held at the same time. These artists, having more experience and being better equipped technically than ourselves, were able to document and describe their actions, which largely explains the timely recognition of their contribution to contemporary art in the mid-twentieth century. (Our demonstrations are described in detail in other texts.)

 

After graduating from the MAS, I began searching for a way to pursue my training. The choice was not easy: academic institutions, due to their ideological educational systems, seemed closed and of little interest to me. I had to search for an obscure niche, and I succeeded in finding one. It was the ceramics department of the Moscow State University of Arts and Industry (MSUAI – formerly the Stroganov School), with an inclination to monumentalism. In 1959 I passed the simple exams and became a ceramics student. I must say that, fortunately, at that time there were among the teachers of the school some remnants of VKHUTEMAS, the “Higher Art and Technical Studios.” I remember the director, N. Bykov, who left his mark in the history of avant-garde design, Professor Laktionov, who had served his time in the camps, the dissident Genrikh Ludwig, an associate of Konchalovsky, Professor Vasilyev. All of them had been quite badly hurt by life and by the pogrom which steamrolled over the avant-garde. But they were allies even so. They had something to tell and something to teach.

 

I had the luck of spending my years at the MSUAI, almost up until the defense of my degree, with one of them, Professor Vasilyev, under his pleasant, intelligent guidance. Vasilyev offered me a level of freedom which very few people managed to obtain in such institutions. And I used this luck to create my own style, in opposition to the aesthetics of mass-produced foreign design and its local Soviet copy, which lagged behind both in time and in means of execution.

The essence of the style born in my hands was free design, on the verge of absurd combinations of mutually exclusive elements. It was fun to see my fellow students, surprised and shocked, surrounding my desk, where in a matter of minutes a dazzling result appeared from a piece of clay. Dima Prigov, Volodya Petrov, Alla Durova are among the people I remember.

 

By the time of my thesis defense, director Bykov had been replaced by the architect Zakharov - a rather incompetent epigone of the academician Zholtovsky, and professor Vasilyev was no longer living. My thesis was a large-scale relief for one of the façade walls of a children’s theater in Artek. The detail of this relief, executed on the scale 1:1, stood out among the works of other graduates by the unusualness of its modelling and color. That was probably the reason for the jury’s outrage, and as a consequence, the lowest possible passing grade. However, not everyone shared this view. Thanks to the efforts of the teacher and talented artist, E.S. Lukinova, my work was later presented to the exhibition committee, collecting unusual experiments for an exhibit of young Moscow artists. The committee enthusiastically approved my work, and soon after the opening of the exhibition, an article was published in the journal DA (“Decorative Art of the USSR”) welcoming a new style in ceramics of the late 1960s.

 

This style attracted the attention of young architects from the 9th workshop of Mosproject, who invited me to execute a huge high relief for the movie theater being built in the town of Tushino. Thus my works – first in clay, later also in metal – began to fill the niche I had discovered, in which till then I had been able to enjoy almost total freedom of expression.

In 1969 I became a member of the Union of Artists of the USSR, which expanded the possibilities of my creative activity, by eliminating many bureaucratic obstacles of a social order.

Since the early 1970s I had been working with hard-paste porcelain, and here specifically, having studied the achievements of Kaendler, who in the 18th century created a series of large-scale multi-figure sculptures in the Meissen factories in Saxony, I achieved great results. These works became the key to my innovative discoveries in sculptural ensembles and mobiles, set in motion with water and using, as construction elements, metal bands and joints, placed outside the sculpture, yet making a united ensemble with it. 

 

Metal progressively became the dominant material in my new projects, and the culmination of this trend was “Konstrukt” - a twenty-meter-long cable-stayed composition for the signature complex of the National Library in Ashgabat. The architect, A.R. Akhmedov (an admirer of Le Corbusier and Kenzo Tange) chose me, a relatively inexperienced sculptor, from among older and better-known colleagues, having noticed the main distinctive aspect of my artistic stance - the absence of an illustrative tendency in my work – as well as the ability to find an organic integration of the object with the architectural body and the surrounding space, and that in the correct scale.

 

However, the uproar produced by this sculpture, placed in the central square of the capital of a Soviet Republic by a library named after Karl Marx, provoked, along with a flood of compliments, also a number of scandals caused by the obvious contrast between the “Konstrukt” and the dominant stylistic tendencies of the monumental works of socialist realism. And only thanks to the unprecedented efforts of fellow architects and several critics from DA (L. Nevler) was it possible to defend the right of “Konstrukt” to exist. It soars up in what is now another country, near a library - a building called the Ashkhabad Parthenon - under the auspices of UNESCO.

 

I returned to Moscow after a year away and faced the eternal Russian question: “What is to be done?” in all its magnitude. A metal-and-light construction with a spherical symbol made of hard-paste porcelain, completed in 1976 for an administrative building in the suburbs, barely survived (it was later destroyed). I was not allowed to travel outside Russia to install four mobile-sculptures for the embassy in Mauritania, a commission thrown to me like a life-saver.

Many cultural figures left the country in the 70s. After seeing many friends leave forever to distant countries, I, together with my family, decided to take unpredicatble risks – to continue our creative activity where it could be welcomed. In December 1979, after two years of hassle and losses, we, myself and my wife Alena Koneva, also an artist, together with my teenage daughter Masha and Alena’s gravely ill mother, found ourselves in a new world, where a lot had to be rebuilt from scratch.

I will not describe the difficulties of initial adaptation which any displaced person like ourselves, without citizenship or means of subsistence, meets with. I’ll begin straight off with an incident that gave us a friendly wave of a hand. One year after the geographical change, I became acquainted with Kuno Knobel, a writer, a scenarist, and one of the heads of an Austrian television company. Kuno invited me and Alena to join the work of the group of artists in his Fischapark – an enormous former factory complex built in the epoch of the nineteenth century industrial revolution.

 

I had at my disposal a studio and a small but very necessary upkeep. And the work was at a boil. Sculptures emerged from the materials I had at hand, but the main theme, which relieved me of the burden of painful memories of our drastic change of habitat, was a black and white series of objects and canvases under the general title “Exit Documents” - among which “Stamp,” “Visa,” and “Family Portrait” stood out.

 

This series was shown at an exhibition entitled “Andy Warhol and Russian artists: Mikhail Roginsky, Elena Koneva and Vadim Kosmatschof.” Kuno organized it in the enormous industrial area of his Fischapark. The newspapers wrote about the exhibition. One of my works, the “Family Portrait,” was acquired by the Museum, and in addition to that, I was invited to participate in the Graz annual culture festival Steirische Herbst - with the construction of a mobile sculpture, “Tree” (8 m, steel).

Following these events I was invited to take part in a major international symposium-exhibition in Lindau (FRG) on Lake Constance. The theme was figurative sculpture in plastic. The clean page of my new life in the West thus began to gradually fill in. Among the participants of the symposium I remember the works of Niki De Saint Phalle and the German hyper-realists. My object – a white polystyrene figure with an expressively raised leg and outstretched arms and an inscription filling the whole wall – was on a decent competing level. We agreed to meet with some colleagues in Germany. The trip, which took place at the end of the summer of 1983, had an extraordinary impact on my fate. It resulted in an invitation to participate in a contest for a sculpture by the new building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Rheinland-Pfalz region in Mainz. It was a rare chance for an emigrant, which I was honored to get and, as the Mainzer Allgemeine Zeitung wrote later, “to perform brilliantly.” Later that year, I had the luck to win a contest in Cologne at the headquarters of the DEVK Insurance Company. Out of thirty projects, two were selected – one by the Venezuelan installation sculptor Jesus Rafael Soto, and my “Blitz-Lightning,” which struck through the glass pyramid of the cupola into the granite square of the floor.

 

Plucking up our courage, we bought a house with a studio near Mainz and moved to Germany (Masha remained to finish her architecture course at the University).

In these new conditions, which, in comparison with the former ones, opened up wider possibilities, I began working intensely. My participation in exhibitions and successful implementation of numerous projects through the end of the 1980s led to an offer from the regional authorities of citizenship in the Federal Republic of Germany, “for his contribution to the culture of the country.” By that time Masha had become an Austrian citizen and had completed her education at the famous architecture school of London, in the class of Zaha Hadid.

It was during that period that I met Stuart Veech, a student from the same school of architecture Masha studied at. In 1990 Stuart, after obtaining his diploma, came to Germany and became my assistant.

 

In my studio together we designed and executed a large series of works under the general title “Wandagregaten.” The singular feature of their plastic design and material is reminiscent of Tatlin’s counter-reliefs: almost the same material (iron, often galvanized sheet, wires and recycled turnbuckles). Proceeding from Tatlin’s discoveries, these works developed the aesthetics of simple materials united by the dynamics of composition, creating over several years an independent style, which looked persuasive at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

The whole decade of the 90s was filled with the creation of large-scale sculptures in several cities in Germany and Austria. First and foremost, Mainz. Two signature works for the Central Regional Bank, LZB, in 1990: “Rotor” and “Kugelstosser” - after winning a contest. I will also note the mobile-sculpture “Window” with it’s four wind-moving glass panels, near the town of Linz (Austria). The irony of my last sculpture of the twentieth century is that it was executed by the same company, Treiber, from Graz, which had, twenty years earlier, created my first work in the West - “Tree” with it’s two rotating wind turbines.

The beginning of the new century was marked by intense work on developing the theme for projects that stage the use of solar energy. Priority undoubtedly belongs to my “Unfolding Square - the Square of Movement,” a three-dimensional bridge-object connecting the “icon” of the twentieth century, K. Malevich’s “Black Square,” with the technologies and the context of the new century - the beginning of the third millennium. 

 

This work, in the form of an operational prototype, was shown in 2006 at the opening of an exhibition at the Ritter Museum and was later exposed, along with graphic works, in the Landesmuseum of Lower Austria, at the exhibition “Love for Objects.” Currently “The Square of Movement” is part of the museum’s permanent collection. The Russian Museum in St. Petersburg showed “The Square of Movement” in photos and videos at the exhibition “Games with a Black Square.” In Moscow, the NCCA (National Center for Contemporary Arts) presented a considerable part of another project using solar energy, under the general title “Heart of the City.” These projects, or rather the greater part of them, are documented in the book Trans-mission, published by the Ritter Museum with the participation of publishers Springer and DBU - the German Environmental Protection Fund.

 

However, a first step toward realizing the project within urban or non-urban areas was the idea of building a series of relatively small sculptures with mobile elements, integrated, as much as possible, into the surrounding landscape. Together, that is all of us, all three generations, we decided to implement such a project on land we acquired in the foothills of the Alps.

 

This work has taken almost ten years of our common life and creativity. Currently, alongside the house, the studio, and the warehouse, a number of sculptures appear on several levels of the slope with built-in and perpetually moving mirror elements, under the common defining name “Heliographs.”

The exhibition scheduled for 2018 in the Tretyakov State Gallery will introduce the spectator of the capital to the project “The Breath of Sculpture” and, while I am preparing it, as for many of my previous ventures, I live in the hope of a friendly reception of my work in Russia, as has happened outside it’s borders.

 

 

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A Few Words About Myself (English)

 

 

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06

Transformation

Vadim Kosmatschof

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One of the most significant achievements of modern sculpture since the 1920s has been the introduction of motion into the sculptural object. Up to that time, static sculpture, mainly with figural subjects, represented a sculptural tradition that had endured for thousands of years, and the idea of periodic changes of form in sculpture was an absolute terra incognita. László Moholy-Nagy, with his “Light-Space Modulator” and Alexander Calder, with his mobiles, were pioneers in this new territory. Whereas the 1960s saw a predomination of kinetic sculptures on technology-critical themes, which satirized technological perfection with their no-tech construction (Jean Tinguely), Kosmatschof deliberately follows up on the high technological standards of the kinetic objects of early modernism. 

 

This also applies particularly to his work with the elements of nature. Just as Moholy-Nagy planned the modulation of light-generated forms, and Calder envisaged wind-generated constellations of his mobiles as the intangible consequence of their basic artistic physical construction, Kosmatschof often uses light as an energy source for the powering of his objects. The integration of the natural elements is an important characteristic of early kinetic art, in which high technological standards were demonstratively contrasted with the elemental powers of the universe. 

 

Apart from the aspect of using technology to integrate the powers of nature into works of art, the formal aspect is also of significance in the two projects “Unfolding Square” and “Moving Cylinders”. A change of outer form in kinetic art can be effected in various ways: The initial object can be linearly transformed from one form to another without ever returning to its original form, or it can continue changing form indefinitely. A third possibility is periodic transformation, which, because of its cyclic character, gives rise to certain associations with the cycles of nature. And if the transformation of the object follows a regular rhythm and, moreover, makes use of solar energy, a kinetic artwork of this kind enters into complete harmony with the processes of the universe. None of the possible forms which these objects assume are ever the result of coincidence; all the constellations are planned.

 

The two constantly transforming objects “Unfolding Square” and “Moving Cylinders” are conceived as large-scale sculptures for public spaces, a genre in which Kosmatschof has worked since the beginning of his career. They demonstrate both natural as well as artistic and technological achievements. The square is a construction comprised of a frame made of steel tubing, connecting hinges, and steel sheets which are intended to be coated with an organic photovoltaic layer that will provide the necessary energy for the movement of the object. The square slowly folds up, pauses while the accumulator recharges, and then unfolds again. A similar transformation cycle can be seen in the four hydraulically powered cylindrical columns which oscillate between two end positions, in each of which one of the columns is fully extended in the vertical direction and another is fully retracted, while the other two are in the one-third and two-thirds positions respectively.

 

The transformation of the square is extremely complex, since it involves having five mainly triangular steel sheets follow an intricately designed and calculated line of movement in order for the object to achieve its flat, folded-up position and unfold to its vertical position again. The transformation of the four cylinders, on the other hand, is less complicated – they “only” move vertically up and down. The link between the two works is their slow, rhythmic oscillation between an initial and a final form, and the fact that the largest change in form is shown by the height of the respective object. Their tranquil expansion and contraction suggests a somewhat uncanny animation and yet, at the same time, the gentleness of a breathing creature. On the other hand, the clearly technical character of the objects is unmistakable. One might say that these works illustrate the answer to a basic question regarding the use of technology in artistic works: beauty is created when artworks take on a “life” that moves in harmony with the rhythms of nature but nevertheless shows that it has been created by human beings.

 

 

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Transformation (English)

 

Transformation (Deutsch)

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07

Pulsation

Vadim Kosmatschof

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In the project series “Pulsation”, Kosmatschof/Veech approach the forms of life familiar to each of us with greater immediacy than in any other works. The projects of the series, “Gen”, “Urban Heart” and “Breathing Form”, focus on organic life at three levels of magnitude: In “Gen”, the molecular level serves as the generator of form. In “Urban Heart”, an individual element – or, to be more precise, the central individual element – or organ of life is the subject of the work. And “Breathing Form” gives the observer the sense of perceiving an entire living creature in its expressions of life. 

 

With these “quasi-realistic” portrayals of organic life, Kosmatschof/Veech make their clearest allusions to the traditions of object art. Whereas light and movement were the most significant innovations in early modernist sculpture, in the 1960s the repertoire of motifs in object art was expanded again to include action. For example, in 1968 the Viennese group Haus-Rucker-Co, with Laurid Ortner, presented the action “Yellow Heart”, in which pairs of spectators climbed into an organically shaped pneumatic space capsule with just enough room inside for two, in order to experience physical processes similar to those inside a body organ. Whereas the object of such actions in the 1960s was to create very specific physical experiences, which were realized through comparatively simple technology (e.g. pneumatic capsules), the objects created by Kosmatschof/Veech direct attention to considerably more general territories of the senses and are, moreover, constructed with greater technical complexity. The central theme here is no longer hedonism as a protest against mundanity and social constriction, but rather an aesthetic that truly promotes both insight and enlightenment. And the objects do not consume any externally sourced energy, but are powered by solar energy obtained by means of an organic, photovoltaic skin.

 

“Gen” is a simplified representation of a section of the well-known X chromosome form, which encloses human DNA and is involved in its replication. The construction rests on one “leg” and is illuminated from within. Solar energy causes a pulsating motion of the object, stretching and contracting the “supporting leg” and another “arm”. Although the real movements of chromosomes at the molecular level look different, this abstracted portrayal of life is effective: even as a static sculpture, as a kind of monument to life, this creation can have a powerful impact.

“Urban Heart” is considerably more elaborate in construction and its kinetic mechanism is more complex. For this project, Vadim Kosmatschof did extensive research on heart surgery (see the contribution by Hellmut Oehlert, p. xxx) in order to develop a realistic image of the anatomy of the human heart and the way it functions. On this basis it was possible to make more precise calculations for transposing the mechanism to an object of appropriate magnitude for a public space. The movements of the heart – the rhythmically staggered expansion and contraction of the two heart chambers – are also emphasized by light effects and surface effects, and the fact that the “heart muscle” itself is comprised of separate movable stainless steel slats can also be understood as a reference to the muscle fiber structure of a real heart.

 

The central theme of the final project in the series, “Breathing Form”, is another vital life process – presented, however, metaphorically and less realistically than the human heart in the second project. A reclining form, which seems to consists of two spherical bulges with a skin stretched over them, expands horizontally and immediately contracts again, in regular, rhythmic motion. This crouching creature, which gives the impression that one can actually feel it breathing, is in fact a complex mechanical construction: metal rings are mounted in succession on a telescope bar, which is moved pneumatically. The spaces between the rings are covered with a pliable metal mesh, so that the “skin” can stretch and contract without the large form’s being lost. 

 

Organic, luminescent, pulsating objects that look like living creatures or their primary building blocks – this is a formidable innovation as far as the history of object art is concerned, the more so because these artworks are energy self-sufficient. It has thus become possible to create abstract or realistic representations of life processes which up to now were only conceivable as more or less decorative appendages to buildings and their power supplies. Solar technology makes it possible to choose sites far removed from any electrical network – as well as to design and realize objects with monumental dimensions. Future perspectives for a biologically oriented artistic penetration of public spaces are auspicious, particularly also in architecture, which is still too static, too colorless and, where its approach to energy is concerned, far too archaic.

 

 

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Pulsation (English)

 

Pulsation (Deutsch)

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08

Light – Prism

Vadim Kosmatschof

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In the project series devoted to light and its separation into the colors of the spectrum, Kosmatschof/Veech have created two works that show different ways of working with the “material” water. The project “Rainbow” was designed, in a first version, for a competition at the Universität Trier in 1986. When the sun is shining, water is pumped by means of solar energy into an arc-shaped form, from which it is ejected through fine spray jets, thereby generating water vapor and an attendant “rainbow”. An alternative version provides for a pneumatic structure, which – again, only when the sun shines on it, and powered by energy obtained by means of photovoltaic technology – slowly inflates to its full form. In the evenings, the structure shrinks back to its initial form.

 

The “Spiral” works with similar effects. This object also originates from an entry in a competition and was originally designed for the main square in Wiesbaden. A large spiral form made of polished stainless steel lies in a pool of water. The progressively increasing radius of its coils results in an open cone shape, into which water vapor is blown. The sun’s radiation causes the colors of the spectrum to appear; if there is a light wind, the colorful clouds sway to and fro.

 

By integrating the elements of water and light into their kinetic solar sculptures, Kosmatschof/Veech show what a broad range of formal possibilities object art can have, even when limited to a few elementary forms of energy. The inclusion of wind and weather energies is done under controlled conditions; by no means do the artists use chance as a form-generating factor. The influences of the weather can only affect the artwork within a precisely planned scope. 

 

In this project series, Kosmatschof/Veech also show, however, how human beings can playfully reverse the forces of nature into their opposites: the “Rainbow” only rains if the weather is sunny – and in bad weather it reminds the beholder, through its inactive form alone, that rainbows only occur when the sun reappears. This can give rise to far-reaching associations and speculations: what if it were possible to be this creative with all natural forces, even the destructive ones? Essentially these projects demonstrate an optimistic viewpoint with respect to uncontrollable forces of this type: if we cannot influence certain things, we should at least be able to elicit positive side effects from them for the benefit of all. Moreover, the series shows – in spite of the technology involved – a certain aetheticization of nature that is reminiscent of Romantic paradigms. Here, too, the insignificant human being marvels at the great wonders of nature – but with a difference, because between Romanticism and the present lies modernism, which has given art new instruments of reception. The powerless wonder of the beholder has been replaced by an almost interactive relationship in which technological aids enable reciprocal relations between human beings and nature. These dialogues are the actual content of the solar sculptures by Kosmatschof/Veech: human beings are in the keeping of the cosmos, but no longer lost. relations between human beings and nature. 

 

 

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Light-Prism (English)

 

Licht-Prisma (Deutsch)

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09

Impulse

Vadim Kosmatschof

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The solar sculptures of Kosmatschof/Veech are engendered at the crossroads where natural, universally available energy supplies in a variety of manifestations meet the much less complex tradition of sculpture and object art. One of the ways in which they bring these two systems together is by attempting, first of all, to work with individual elements of natural manifestations of energy and integrate them into projects for public spaces. One of the simplest manifestations of energy in nature is movement, that is to say, changes of form; this was the subject of the project series “Transformation”. Another phenomenon often encountered both in nature and in everyday technology is what is called an impulse, i.e. the instantaneous release of accumulated energy.

 

In the project series “Impulse”, Kosmatschof/Veech integrate impulses in the form of electrical discharges of lightning into the solar sculpture designs “Vertical Impulse” and “Square”. There is also another version of “Vertical Impulse” (“Vertical Fountain”) in which the spectral colors are made visible by means of water vapor, thus enabling the observer to experience light as an energy carrier in all its complexity. 

 

Both projects are designed to draw their energy from an organic photovoltaic layer, thus creating harmony with weather phenomena from the outset. Sunshine activates the objects; under adverse weather conditions they are present in the public space in static form. 

 

“Vertical Impulse”, with its organoid form and undulated surface, gives rise to vague associations with plant forms. Like an overdimensional blossom, the upright, podlike form opens up lengthwise, splitting into two halves. Then the energy that has accumulated through the organic PV skin is discharged like lightning in the space between the two halves of the plantlike form. This process repeats itself periodically, thus manifesting a life rhythm of the object that is generated by solar energy.

 

“Square” functions on a similar principle. Here, too, the energy which is accumulated through solar radiation is periodically discharged between the two ends of an open, frame-like, square form, which, when the sky is cloudy, acts as a kind of window to the world that stimulates perception of the landscape. “Square”, too, is coated with an organic PV skin which supplies the needed energy.

 

In the fountain version of the vertical floral sculpture, solar energy is used for spraying water between the open arms of the plant form and thereby separating the sunlight that shines on it into its spectral colors. Thus, at the same time, the sculpture serves to help nature “present itself”; one might say it showcases the forces of nature. 

 

The project series “Impulse” marks a position of transition between the mechanical movement of the “Unfolding Square” or the “Four Cylinders” on the one hand and the project series “Pulsation” on the other hand. We see a progression from rhythmic movement through impulse-like discharges to more highly frequenced, pulsating movements – almost like life at a higher stage of development. From this point of view, the “impulses” may be seen as illustrating the old evolution theory – meanwhile replaced by the “black smokers” theory – of the “triggering” of organic life by lightening discharges in the primordial soup.

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