Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart’s “incomparable mechanization” (1927)
Translated from the Dutch by Hans L.C. Jaffé.
In De Stijl. (H.N. Abrams. New York:1971).
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i studied and got a firm hold on this subject during my stay in paris in the winter of ’25 – ’26.
we are experiencing the final dismissal and departure of certain art forms.
a sharp distinction must be made between truly modern art and ‘latter-day art,’ it sometimes happens that a subject of apparently timeless significance is given a contemporary form and treated from a contemporary point of view, but this only amounts to putting a fresh coat of paint on the matter to make it a lovelier funeral.
the fact that the role of mechanization in art is continually being given labels which are designed to reduce its importance to that of just one factor, related to its social and economic achievement and potentiality, such as: convenient, mechanical, a bit cheaper, equally enjoyable, reproducible, substitute, transferable, etc., betrays just how dangerous and false are the interpretations and estimations that have been made of the mission and purpose of mechanization.
among all the fuss and the defense of the problem of mechanization, i always declare that the most important, the most significant factor has been avoided and disregarded: the elimination of chance (which now, at last, makes possible the liberation of matter).
‘individual’ temperament and the delightful vagaries of the personality cult (both of them factors which affect creation and yet have nothing to do with art) are eliminated herewith, once and for all.
freed of the totally misconceived and totally unnecessary ballast, the incisive, consequential, forward-looking and confident progress towards the development of absolute creation has succeeded in reaching the basic essentials in the way of components and materials (sound, color, light, surface, time, space, movement, interval), similarly, thanks to mechanization, pure, absolute creation is now, at last, enabled to reach the most concise, the surest, the most precise interpretation.
mechanical creation will only be positive and fascinating where it can be achieved with only those particular means, in other words, where it cannot be translated or explained in the terms of a different genre. ‘only,’ not ‘also’ or ‘and,’ creatively possible in this particular presentation.
the subject of mechanization, which has become so ‘contemporary’ and urgent, is given too much importance in certain cases (as a result of misunderstanding), for example, even in the field of ‘visual art’: it seems to me that, since it has been established that the particular origin of colors and all the other creative materials makes no difference, the value of mechanization is often overestimated and people expect something world-shaking in this respect.
far more likely is the danger of forgetting the purpose in admiration of the means, or of becoming purely ornamental.
there is no such thing as mechanization ‘in’ art. mechanization as a means of artistic expression — sound, color, light, etc. — is really new. the following development in the relationships between genres is worth watching: the purposes and preserves of the particular art forms which we have acknowledged till now are changing and are being exchanged! e.g., the stimuli and laws of composition of painting have turned up in the territory of choreography, where we see them revealed for the first time in the art of our day in their most attractive strength and most powerful tension.
everywhere in the next few years we shall see the genres and subjects of a century’s standing completely dissolve and disappear, (the century of weary men and latter-day art.)
mechanization will produce totally new laws and stimuli in absolute creation, which will certainly exercise a strong influence by their intensity and conception, creative man has a need, a right and a duty to use these and all new creative materials, to investigate them and to develop them. mechanization does not entail superiority to the hands, the body or the person, does not compete with them, and is ‘incomparable’ in both senses of the word.
the subject of mechanization is new! comprehension and criticism of its place in creative art require an entire, independent culture, which is as yet the prerogative of only a few people.
[From De Stijl, Jubilee Number, 1927, pp. 106-108]