RHYTHM AND PROJECTION. THINKING POSSIBILITY IN THE SOVIET AVANT-GARDE

A research project of the Peter Szondi Institute of Comparative Literature, Free University Berlin. Supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG)

The project “Rhythm and Projection” aims to reevaluate the Soviet artistic avant-garde of the 1910s and ‘20s. Rather than following the deterministic concept of utopia, we see the movement’s foundational gesture in its provisional, open-ended mode of thinking and acting – a mode that took the shape of drafts, plans and projects. The concepts of rhythm and projection condense and intensify this sense of the possible. The project explores both as interfaces between different discourses and practices: artistic and media-theoretical, social and political.

The project combines two methods. On the one hand, it reconstructs the conceptual applications of rhythm and projection within discursive history; on the other, it comparatively examines artistic practices and their mutual crossovers. We also stress the avant-garde’s integration within international discourse networks and its links to artistic and political practices in the present.

Rhythm and projection present numerous interdependencies. Training practices of rhythmic movement, for instance, also involved the priming of students’ anticipatory consciousness, while psychological studies of the subjective experience of rhythm revealed its links with projective ‘expectation’. Rhythm provides a platform for translations not only between the different artistic genres, but also between different forms of social, political and artistic movement.

Concepts and practices of rhythm mediate between the most diverse discourses and disciplines: between psychology, ethnology and the paleontology of language; between poetics, music, choreography, film and theater; and between the ‘body culture’, dance and gymnastic movements of the early Soviet Union.

Rhythm is a political power. It is at once the condition for stabilizing routines and for training flexibility. Rhythm’s kinetic resonances produce collective bodies: it constitutes both the schoolhouse and the playground of collective dissonance.

Practices and theories of rhythm must be understood in their creative and facilitative role, not just in their reduced sense of means of conditioning subjects (e.g., training and automatization in gymnastics, labor organization, dance and theater). Within the modern aesthetic and anthropological discourse, rhythm appears as the form whereby change and renewal can be experienced. It is a “transformative” force, an “impulse” that sunders boundaries and provokes a constant permutation and migration of forms. Psychological research on the perception of time also emphasizes the open-ended, future-oriented, anticipatory moment of rhythm. Here one can situate a fundamental tension of avant-garde theory and practice with respect to rhythm’s effective dimension. A fundamental polarity exists between rhythm’s immersive and reflexive effects, respectively: between the sensorimotor and affective overpowering of the subject on the one hand, and the intensification of the rhythmatized perceiver’s form-awareness and introspection.

As stated above, projection offers a counter-concept to utopianism. Projection entails a provisional style of thinking that operates in variables and possible alternatives: a tentative and experimental practice of anticipation, the invention of experimental set-ups with open results. At the same time, it touches on the technical apparatus of optical projection, exemplified by the guiding medium of cinema. Both of these aspects are interwoven in the discourse of the avant-garde and its iconographic repertoire (spirals, rays, transmission masts, spotlights, sketched diagrams, etc.).

The project will investigate the issues discussed above concretely via the following topics:

  • Rhythmic movement pedagogy (dance, rhythmical gymnastics, labor training) and its like to reflexological movement research (Nikolai Bernstein, Nikolai Tichonov)
  • The close cooperation of these studies with the avant-garde (literature, theater, film)
  • the “energetic” discourse in physiology (Vladimir Bekhterev) and philosophy (Pavel Florensky, Aleksandr Bogdanov) and its significance for transformative conceptions of rhythm
  • “Model” and “method” as guiding categories of projective thought (as in Bogdanov’s “organizational science”)
  • The rhythmic experimentation of the theatrical avant-garde (beside Meyerhold’s “biomechanics”, the hitherto under-researched “projection theater” of Solomon Nikritin)
  • The connection between rhythm and projection and film (Eisenstein, Vertov, Ermler, Dovzhenko)
  • The adaptation of experimental psychology’s research on rhythm within poetic and artistic theory and practice (at the “Institute of the Living Word”/IZhS and the “State Academy of Artistic Sciences”/GAKhN)
  • The connection between early, phylogenetic forms and later, culturally and technically elaborated forms of rhythmic praxis, as was discussed intensively in the scientific and artistic discourses of the era.

The project “Rhythm and Projection” is divided into three parts:

Anthropologies of Rhythm (Elena Vogman)

Form and Effect (Georg Witte)

Projectionism (Ekaterina Tewes)