Why Unovis today?
November 27th, 2013 by Willem Jan Renders
(Late again with this post!)
So why would it be a good idea to bring the Unovis movement to life again? First of all I think because there is a lot of inspiration and fresh ideas to be found in Unovis. We are talking about a crisis now, but we can hardly imagine the social situation in which the members of Unovis were working in Vitebsk at the time: post revolutionary civil war, lack of food and other basic materials, hardly any paper etc. Considering these circumstances it is the more remarkable to see what artistic ideas and plans were developed by Unovis. To put art in service of the development of a new society for instance, is an idea that is still very inspiring, at least to me. (Fortunately to some other people too!)
And then we must also take into account that Unovis was never fully developed. The movement ended much too soon because the contemporary authorities considered it too radical and more important: they thought that the art of Unovis would never be understood by the masses. The movement has never fully been able to prove its use. This was more or less the message of my short lecture.
(You can find the Dutch and Russian text of my lecture here. Unovis NOW lecture Dutch and Russian Sorry, no English this time!)
I announced that together with a few other museums we are working out the concept of an exhibition on Unovis (still very preliminary, but a serious and very big project). And I suggested that it would be a good idea on the other hand to bring Unovis as a movement back to life again in Vitebsk and see if its ideas could be applied to the present situation. There were some interesting questions after my lecture, but so far no one has come to me or mailed me to say that he or she wants to participate. So let’s wait and see what comes out of it. If no one in Vitebsk is really interested in our proposal, we will not go on with it of course.
On my first visit to Vitebsk I saw a lorry – one of these heavy stinking machines with a simple big box built on the back – and on it only one word was written: ХЛЕБ (BREAD). I had never before seen such a functional indication of the content of a lorry. And I saw one of these lorries again on my last day in Vitebsk, walking over Victory Square to my hotel after many toasts on the future of the arts in Vitebsk, on future collaborations and on the Unovis revival. This time the word was painted in a different Cyrillic font, but still it simply stated: ХЛЕБ. When I came back in my hotel room, I noticed that the soap and shampoo wrappers were stating their content in the same functional way and I realised that I like this kind of direct no nonsense very much. The container just states what’s in it.
The alarm clock woke me at 3 a.m. and half an hour later Alexander was there to pick me up with a car and chauffeur. He had arranged this for me because of my long trip from Minsk to Vitebsk that I described earlier. There would be no receipt of course, but for a relatively small amount I would go directly from my hotel to the airport 500 kilometres away. I had told Alexander there was no need to come along, but he insisted. So together we started our ‘Voyage au bout de la nuit’ over endlessly straight and dark Belarussian highways. The good Alexander had brought some sandwiches that tasted deliciously and most of the journey we did not speak. After a very pleasant silence of about four hours on the road I said goodbye to Alexander on the airport in Minsk and tried to sleep a bit in an uncomfortable chair, waiting for the check-in to open. At least I was in time for my plane…