Visions of Avant-Garde Film: Polish Cinematic Experiments from Expressionism to Constructivism

By Kamila Kuc | Go to book overview

7
Polish Avant-Garde Film
and Constructivism

In his essay “W Bauhausie” (In the Bauhaus, 1927), Tadeusz Peiper (known in Poland as “the Pope of avant-garde”) recalls a certain afternoon with Bruno Jasieński at Café Esplanada in Kraków. The year was 1923 (which officially marked the end of Polish futurism). At their table, out of the empty cups, saucers, and spoons left by previous customers, somebody had created a structure, which earned admiration from Jasieński, who expressed the view that the plastic arts were “unnecessary when compared with the beauty of utilitarian objects.”1

This anecdote serves as a manifestation of a new artistic consciousness that began to develop among Polish artists. The shift was marked by the transition from futurism (exemplified above by the pure geometrical, aesthetically arranged forms) to constructivism (1921–1936; exemplified by Jasieński’s stress on “utilitarian objects”), which had emerged in Poland in 1921, although the futurist legacy continued to have an impact on numerous filmmakers’ work until the 1930s, as shown in chapter 5. Whereas Polish futurists were enchanted by Vladimir Mayakovsky, the constructivists considered Kazimir Malevich one of their key influences. This link between Polish and Soviet constructivism is best exemplified in the long-lasting friendship between the leading Polish constructivist, Władysław Strzemiński, and Malevich.

The artistic and personal friendship between the two men had much to do with their status as native Poles, despite their foreign origins. The subject of the national identity of Polish avant-garde artists was problematic, due to Poland’s fluid borders. Both Malevich and Strzemiński came from families that lived at the borders. Strzemiński was born in Belarus and was trained as an officer in the Russian army. He then worked as a Russian artist in Smolensk and fought on the Western Front in the war against Poland. From 1922 he lived in Poland. Malevich’s father, on the other hand, was a Polish patriot who was forced to live in Russia. After his father’s death, Malevich remained in Russia and studied in Moscow. In 1920 Strzemiński and his wife, Katarzyna Kobro, moved to Smolensk to be closer to Malevich, who often emphasized his “Polishness” by signing his paintings in Polish “K. Malewicz.”2

Strzemiński’s ideas of unism were influenced by Malevich’s suprematist compositions. The two artists were close friends, and the bond between them

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