Då och då hjälper jag till med att fotografera böcker åt ett antikvariat som är specialiserat på böcker om konst och arkitektur. Häromveckan fick jag därför chansen att titta närmare på en, i flera bemärkelser, fantastisk bok: Jakov Chernikovs Arkhitekturnye Fantazii, tryckt i Leningrad 1935. Just det här exemplaret av Chernikovs sista bok var enastående välbevarat och verkar knappt ha öppnats under de 80 år det gått sedan den trycktes.
Chernikovs ”arkitektoniska fantasier” är väl just detta: drömmar och visioner, knappast tänkta att förverkligas i glas, stål och betong. Teckningarna är ändå utförda med stor omsorg och precision och kanske är det just den kombinationen som gör dem så fascinerande.
Jag blev också lite förvånad över att ett verk som detta kunde publiceras ännu vid 1930-talets mitt men det är tydligen ett av de allra sista exemplen på sovjetiskt avantgarde.
Architectural Fantasies was the last and most spectacular of the Chernikov books published during his own lifetime, illustrating his utopian visions of modern architecture with greatest brilliance. As a Constructivis he was possessed by the powers of abstraction and geometry, but his singular, expressive designs go far beyond mere constructism in visionary ingenuity. Fo Chernikov, fantasy drawing offered the architect an effective means of liberating himself from convention and imaginig a future reflecting the avant-garde culture of the new Soviet Union. But his unusual ideas were distrusted by the Soviet regime, and the Architectural Fantasies was one of the last avant-garde art books to be published in Russia during the Stalinist era.
Senkevitch, Anatole. 1974. Soviet Architecture 1917–1963. A Bibliographical Guide to Source Material. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia
Then came Architecture Fantasies (1933). This was the most vigorous and powerful manifestation of his talent. Two thousand two hundred and twenty-two (!) graphic sheets at the preliminary exhibition, and in the book. Ten sections — from ornament to landscapes to architectural fantasies. Astounding: the forms, compositions, colours, technique. An inexhaustible multitude of combinations. One loses direction looking at it. Where does he go? What is he trying to achieve? What are the rules?
But then again, who cares?
Even so. is it architecture? There was no brief, no site, no constraint — just a vision. In itself, not so novel — think of Ledoux, Piranesi, Sant’Elia. But the sheer quantity is new: hundreds and hundreds of dazzling sheets, almost of equal strength (making it difficult to make a selection for this blog).
But this enormous quantity of plates, each of which fights for the status of the most original, gave the opposite effect. In the eyes of his contemporaries the quantity degraded the quality. This was not graphic art; it was graphic madness.
Chernikhov believed that fantasising is useful for any architect. Not at all utopian or romantic, it was practical. Fantasies should be part of an architect’s activity. According to him, they showed new compositional processes and new ways of representation. They nurtured a sense of form and colour, trained the imagination, stirred up creative impulses, and lured designers towards new creations and solutions. Forget the limitations, the programme, all the excuses. Be free.
He was also always teaching. But remarkably, never in architectural design, only draughtsmanship.
Then came 1935. The wind was changing. The avant-garde, revolution, radicalism — all that was subdued and overwhelmed by a new and vaguely classical agenda. Chernikhov’s uncontrollable explosions of incomprehensible energy came to seem dangerous and unwelcome. He was gradually sidelined by his peers, as well as by the authorities. His books were removed from libraries. His laboratory was closed down. His income vanished.