Mart Stam’s “Collective Design” (1925)
Translated from the Dutch by C. v. Amerongen.
From Mart Stam: A Documentation of His Work, 1920-1965.
(Royal Institute of British Architects. London: 1970).
• • •
The dualistic view of life — heaven and earth, good and evil — the idea that there is an eternal inner conflict, has thrown the emphasis on the individual and drawn it away from society.
This can be seen in all forms of artistic expression since the Renaissance, and we still find it today in the individualism of painting and architecture. The individual’s isolation has led him to be dominated by his emotions. But the modern outlook — to some extent already unconsciously accepted — sees life as the single reaching-out of a single force. This means that what is special or individual must yield to what is common to all.
The artist’s withdrawal from common life, as it occurred over the past centuries, could not fail to terminate in an unhealthy loneliness bordering on insanity. The modern artist’s new sense of meaning will enable him to feel himself to be primarily a part of the great living whole, a community whose problems will be his own. The struggle for survival is getting fiercer and under its coercion all nations find themselves stretched to their breaking-point. Production is the main ingredient of the struggle, and is closely linked to the steady increase in population. Its future involves progressively improved economy, that is to say, better use of materials, increased production in shorter time. By production I mean the production of foodstuffs, followed by equipment and shelter.
If an engineer wants rapid and profitable work done he organizes mechanical help and with the aid of science seeks out in every field the optimum means and the most economic way to combine forces. Artists ought to be standing at the engineers’ sides in their controlling role. For not only do they have to possess scientific knowledge of materials and understand economic requirements but also an intuitive eye, and ability to see within the material to its pure, elemental value.
On the one hand, the engineer can by the use of his rational faculties improve the system of production down to its minutest part, he can construct machines of ever greater consistency and efficiency. On the other hand he can originate new technical aids for the benefit of public and private life. In this way the scientific achievements of one generation come to form the springboard for the research and development of the succeeding ones. The machine, the whole production process, the whole of technology, supported by the researches of thousands of brains, steadily achieve greater perfection.
At the engineer’s side — the engineer who is rationally occupied with the characteristics of materials, who employs them scientifically and by combining them discover new characteristics and new applications — at his side stands the artist.
The artist needs to acquire more knowledge, to master scientific facts, but then his task is to comprehend materials, to comprehend the great organic interrelationship that redeems all things from the conditions of isolated objects and orders and subordinates them to that totality of laws which governs the universe.
Artists need to discover the nature of these laws in every object and thus acquire, better than the engineer can do, the ability to organize. In their work they will find the most basic form of expression for the nature of the undertaking, the quintessential expression of the undertaking, designed by means of appropriate materials in their appropriate form. This is how we shall get designs that keep well away from any formalist inclination, that are not born of some special gift of the artist or of an imaginative flash of the moment, but are instead anchored in the universal, the absolute.
This is how we shall get designs in which use is made exclusively of collective means for expression. Let the engineer and the artist build on what their fellows who came before them have completed.
This alone would make development possible.
[From ABC, 1925, No. 1]