Abstract- Irina Aristarkhova

Stepanova’s ‘Laboratory’

‘The art work is transformed into an experiment, a form of laboratory work’, said Russian-Soviet artist Varvara Stepanova in her lecture at INKhUK on December 22, 1921. This paper will examine Stepanova’s participation in the conceptualization and realization of what I would characterize as the ‘laboratory period’ of the early 1920s Soviet art. I will focus on three main case studies and specifically on how these relate to and helped define some of the other concepts like ‘production’, ‘technology’ and ‘industry’ that she developed in her lesser-known writings (among them “Program Seminar: ‘The Bases of the New Consciousness in Art”, 1921). The case studies will be: 1. Stepanova’s participation as ‘constructor’ (___________) in Meyerhold’s “The Death of Tarelkin” comedy (1921-1922), and how it was formative in the development of her notion of art as ‘production’ (with S. Eisenstein serving as ‘lab assistant’); 2. Stepanova’s pedagogy as a professor of the textile division at VKHUTEMAS (______ _____________-___________ __________, Highest Art-Technical Workshops) in 1923-1927, with particular emphasis on her exercises for students, targeted at making them part of the evolving factory culture then, as well as of the systematic analysis of the body-clothing context; and finally, 3. Stepanova’s work (together with Popova until 1924) at The First Textile (Chintz) Printing Factory, upon the invitation of its Director Arkhangelsky and Professor Victorov, that led art critic Osip Brik to claim in his essay “From Painting to Chintz” (1927, _____ ___) that “future art culture is being made in factories and production plants, and not in art studios”. I will argue that her formulation of the artistic processes being analogous to and benefiting from its contextualization as a ‘laboratory’ for the systematic exploration of ideas, materials and socio-political engagement provides a critical genealogy of contemporary media art attempts to associate art and technology in the laboratory context.