For this issue of Decorating Dissidence we wanted to reflect on last year’s centenary of the Bauhaus. Now at 101 years, the celebrations may be over but the movement’s legacy still offers much to be learned, developed and reflected on.
Building on the themes of our exhibition Weave It! we want to create a space to keep an ongoing record of the Bauhaus’s influence on craft, decorative making and beyond. We will be taking rolling submissions on these themes throughout 2020, working towards a publication at the end of the year that will feature some of this online content.
Weave It! centred the experience of the women’s weaving workshop as a starting point to explore the legacies of modernist making in the contemporary moment. In ‘The Event of a Thread’: a recap of Weave It! Lottie Whalen (one of the three curators, alongside Jade French and Suzanna Petot) reflects on the exhibition’s key themes and concerns, exploring the ways the exhibiting artists open up new perspectives on the Bauhaus legacy. Offering a indepth introduction to the histories of the weaving workshop, Ellen Brown’s complimentary article unpacks the influence of women such as Anni Albers, Gunta Stölzl, Otti Berger and Gertrud Arndt in various mediums across the different Bauhaus schools.
Geographically, this issue touches on the impact of the Bauhaus in the UK, Germany, India and Mexico. Caroline Knighton’s deep dive into Bauhaus legacies in London uncovers an extraordinarily rich cultural heritage and reveals the fascinating story of the Peckham ‘Pioneer Health Centre’. Polly Hember’s review of the RIBA exhibition ‘Beyond Bauhaus: Modernism in Britain 1933 – 66’ picks up on the spread of Bauhaus influence in British culture. Hember explores how the curatorial choices of the exhibition – with information revealed through cut-outs, peepholes and columns – makes for an interactive and illuminating experience.
The Bauhaus centenary celebrations were, of course, centred in Germany and Alexandra Chiriac’s review essay Does the Bauhaus Belong in a Museum? examines the different approaches taken by museums in Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin in their commemoration of Bauhaus legacies. Chiriac calls for the importance of staying faithful to the school’s experimental attitude, reminding us of that’s it’s crucial to innovate and update avant-garde practices and ideas if we want to keep them alive. In her review of the William Morris Gallery’s exhibition ‘Pioneers: William Morris & the Bauhaus’, Jade French invites you to sit down and think about the simple power of the chair. French examines the ways in which the chairs on display hold within them the manifestos of both movements: to make utilitarian, affordable and mass produced objects that convey a powerful aesthetic. Her review argues for the importance of looking backwards as well as forwards, remembering the old as well as the new, as ‘innovation isn’t created in a vacuum’. Elsewhere, chairs reflect the changing art market – in our spotlight on the Chairs of Chandigarh, we look at how chairs created in an imagined egalitarian, utopian makeover of the city have been transformed into high value art objects. The chair’s fate sum up that of so much of the Bauhaus’s work and legacy, and prompt us to consider how best to make and revalue art objects outside of the rampantly inflated art market.
Finally, our second spotlight on the work of architect Tatiana Bilbao takes us to Mexico, a hugely influential site for Anni and Josef Albers, to see how the Bauhaus’s architectural impulses continue today. Bilbao uses collage rather than digital renders to show her clients a vision of their future buildings, favouring analogue techniques over glossy tech. With a belief in communication and collaboration, her work takes on some of the more utopian aspects of Bauhaus, applying their concepts to contemporary concerns regarding environmentalism and sustainability. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius preempted this need for design to meet the needs of the ecological sphere in a lecture from the 1950s: “Man has evolved a mutual relationship with nature on earth, but his power to change its surface has grown so tremendously that this may become a curse instead of a blessing”.