Projectionism

Ekaterina Tewes’s doctoral project “‘Projectionism’ and Rhythmic Organization in Art, Theater and Labor Science” reconstructs and examines the theory and practice of Projectionism, an avant-garde aesthetic-epistemic method conceived by Solomon Nikritin. Besides Nikritin’s theoretical positions, the study also takes into consideration the artists’ group of the Projectionists that formed around Nikritin in the early 1920s at the VKhUTEMAS (i.e., Higher State Artistic and Technical Studios) in Moscow.

The Projectionist group has been studied in a rudimentary fashion at best, while Nikritin’s writings, and the visual materials belonging to his projectionist artistic practice, remain largely unexplored and unpublished. Tewes’s study builds on the archival materials held in the Russian State Archive for Literature and Art (RGALI), in the Manuscript Department of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, and in the Costakis Collection at the State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki.

Art, proclaimed Nikritin’s projectionist manifesto, is “the science of the systematic organization of materials.” The Projectionists developed this definition of art into a transdisciplinary method, which they tested out in the visual and performative arts. Nikritin’s “organization of materials” involved exploring, optimizing and symbolizing the rhythmodynamics correlations between the formal elements of given artistic genre. Color, line and form, as well as body movement, stage space, sound and light stood to be analyzed, intensified, dynamized and ultimately integrated in an optimally functioning system of reciprocal and polyrhythmic interactions.

But Projectionism was not only marked by its confrontation with the medial and aesthetic conditions of art. Another essential principle of projection involved the “projection” of the method of rhythmodynamic organization onto mass spectators. On the surface of the image as well as in the theater, Nikritin thus wanted to bring the “production line into the everyday”. Art was supposed to create and present “ideal models” so that observers could adopt these methods for the optimal organization of systems and apply them in their everyday lives.

In its oscillation between experimentation and the formation of instructive models, Projectionism stresses the tension between determinacy and openness, both in its artistic production and its aesthetic reception. The central projectionist practice, however, can be described as its preliminary and anticipatory form of thinking and acting in drafts. These drafts, trials and essays, each provoke new medial determinations in turn. In this sense, projection perfectly adheres to the original Latin proicere, (meaning “to throw forth”), both in a spatial and temporal sense (encompassing aspects of planning and gauging future possibilities).

The case study of Projectionism is of particular interest for the entire project inasmuch as it pinpoints the link between the concepts of rhythm and projection. It reconstructs and analyzes how Projectionists applied these concepts and frames their work in the aesthetic-epistemic discourses of the Soviet avant-garde in which they were embedded. The Projectionist paradigm also connects the artists’ group’s manifold crossovers to underrecognized techno-philosophical and media-anthropological approaches. These include (to name only three key intermediaries) Alexander Bogdanov’s tektology, Pavel Florensky’s organ-projection and Aleksei Gastev’s scientific organization of labor.  By way of the Projectionist movement, the study thus reveals the complex networking of the artistic and scientific discourses in the early 20th century.