Overall Art is a Good Thing
Thinking About the Domestication of Constructivism
Alexandra Hopf’s work is not only about fashion, architecture, music, art history and art, but also about one pair of overalls.
Two years ago I visited an exhibition by Alexandra Hopf. I believed that her art makes not only the current lack of utopian forms in art visible, but also shows that art is in need of illusions.
The artist unravels styles, narratives and refers to remaining fragments of history with forms that seem familiar. The outcome is a body of work that is recognizable but also ambiguous. Her exhibit ‘Future Show’ led to a cognitive dialogue between my thoughts and senses: Do the past, present and future co-exist only through intuition and imagination? Or can co-existence be achieved by blurring boundaries between fact and fiction? How could I find out more about the mysterious ‘Future Show’ in 1948 in New York?
In Alexandra Hopf’s work many narratives are told anew through the spirit of material. Hopf asks a very simple question: What do I see when I look at this? One example: What do I see when I look at her painting that looks like a poster, or the other way around, a poster that looks like a painting? Can we see her art as epistemologically driven? Truly, the artist distinguishes between belief and opinion. She looks carefully at the construction of things through observing their shape, analysing their form and history. She is fascinated by the style of art, especially that of artists who intended to redirect spectators’ attention towards the meaning rather than appearance of their work, which tends to lead to collective rather than personal understanding. Art was a vehicle, a vehicle that transported protagonists like Alexander Rodchenko and Warwara Stepanowa among other members of Constructivist movement. Art for the Constructivist was not only a political tool, but foremost a productive one.
“Constructivism is revolutionary not only in words but in acts. It is revolutionary by the very orientation of its artistic methods.” The movement lasted for a very long time, but in the 1930s, just one decade after its founding and nearly two before the ‘Future Show’ came to New York, it had already changed in character. Quite a few artists had deviated from their original ideals: the collective was driving away on the path of individualism, seeking personal, emotional meanings in their artworks.
At this point Alexandra Hopf starts to play tricks with the codes of modernist style and tradition. She drives the force of realism on the road of illusion and invention. Her thorough views into the histories of art enable her to play with the images we learn to take for granted. With Hopf these images learn to go in a new, deceptive way.
So is the case of the overalls: a pure workers garment that Stepanowa, Rodchenko’s wife, designed in a dynamic modern form. Developed originally for protection and comfort, its new futuristic design seemed to stress the unification of art and design rather than art and everyday life. Originally, the overalls were made out of wool and leather. Hopf’s overalls can be seen as a reconstruction of Rodchenko’s. Instead of wool she uses primed canvas and in doing so transforms them into sculptural objects. Three mannequins wear the overalls. Set as a triad without interaction, they possess spatial presence. Knowing that they represent workers, they become at the same time a manifestation of the absence of the individual and the collective – a fetishized display and a commodity.