• Visual arts in the urban environment in the German Democratic Republic.

Jenkins, Jessica, 2014, Thesis, Visual arts in the urban environment in the German Democratic Republic. PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

Since the unification of East and West Germany in 1990, most of the urban fabric of the former East Germany has been altered beyond recognition or completely dismantled. However, during the four decades of the German Democratic Republic, public spaces and the works of visual arts within them were the subject of intense critical discussion, and formed the basis for the development of theories on the socialist character of art and architecture, which evolved from the late 1960s as Komplexe Umweltgestaltung "Complex Environmental Design".
This thesis makes an original contribution to knowledge by making visible and elucidating the cultural-political significance of that urban visual culture, dematerialised and dispersed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It examines the political, social and artistic function of murals, paintings, sculptures, applied arts, form design, and visual communication within East German architecture and public spaces, and seeks to complexify the commonly understood historical narrative which traces a rupture from the doctrine of an extravagant Socialist Realism to a form of impoverished Modernism. This change is better understood as a gradual and halting evolution, in which art as a medium for projecting the ideal of socialism was displaced by an understanding of design as a means of sustaining the experience of it. Furthermore, the narratives, formal and material qualities of some of the works examined – overlooked even in contemporary re-appraisals of East German art history – rather than being marginal to Socialist Realism, actually opened up spaces for its development.
The thesis centres on forms of public art during and after the transition to the industrial mass production of architecture in the mid 1950s. The early phase in the 1950s is illustrated through the two first industrial cities, Eisenhüttenstadt and Hoyerswerda, built to serve iron and coal production respectively. The "scientific and technological revolution", proclaimed by SED first secretary Walter Ulbricht in the 1960s, was to accelerate the process of modernity, in the understandings of the function of urban planning and the role of design for planning, architecture and consumer culture. This change saw a move towards functionalist-oriented planning for Halle Neustadt (from 1964), the centre of new chemical and synthetics production, and a radical move to modernity in the re-construction of city centres up until 1969. This radical change exposed the conception of architecture as an art (Baukunst) favoured by traditionalists in the Bauakademie in particular, to challenges by modernisers who held that art should be considered as primarily functional and thus separate from art.
Complex Environmental Design, as this work will demonstrate, gradually replaced the Socialist Realist ideal of Baukunst and the "synthesis" between art and architecture, and became established by the mid 1970s as an interdisciplinary practice in which all visual art forms – architecture, fine arts, crafts, form design, graphic design and landscape design – were to be integrated within the complex planning of the built environment. I shall argue that this inclusion of all artistic disciplines in the design of the built environment formed a compromise between competing ideas between "synthesis" or the separation of art and architecture. Halle Neustadt was key in the conceptual transition to complex environmental design.
The thesis goes on to look at how the artistic conception of the 1973 World Festival Games took up a form of complex environmental design, which functioned as both
a new form of monumentality, as well as opening up a space for more democractic forms of public art.
Methodologically, the research seeks to understand the influence of key actors in the field who were not resistant to the cultural political framework but sought to mediate change within it. Interviews with architects, critics, artists and designers, including architectural critic Bruno Flierl, architect, Sigbert Fliegel, artists Willi Neubert and Manfred Vollmert, designers, Rolf Walter, Lutz Brandt and Axel Bertram together with analyses of their work, and how their ideas were
represented by themselves and others, particularly in professional fora, form the basis for an examination their influence. By looking at historical moments in different loci, it becomes apparent that what I term "clusters of influence" formed which pushed forward conceptual transitions. Key sources are the professional journals in which art and architecture were discussed (Deutsche Architektur, Bildende Kunst, Form und Zweck, Farbe und Raum and Neue Werbung) as well as some news and features aimed at the general public such as Neues Deutschland, Neue Berliner Illustrierte and Für Dich. Archival research has focused on the seminars and congresses organised by the professional institutions, the Verband der Bildende Künstler (Artists Union) and the Deutsche Bauakademie (German Building Academy) as well as the records of the local SED in Halle and a number of offices for architectural art which were established across the GDR in the late 1960s.
The search for socialist character both in content and form which had an impact on the visual arts of the built environment in the GDR was informed by shifting definitions of the concepts of "function" and "beauty", in which historical legacies, in particular, the Bauhaus, were critically appropriated in a way which served the sometimes involuntary and sometimes intentional interplay between artistic disciplines. The research reveals how these concepts and legacies were drawn
together, and plays particular attention to the way in which colour and ornament emerged as central in serving the need for the constituent parts of the urban landscape to be socialist, functional and beautiful.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design > W990 Creative Arts and Design not elsewhere classified
Date Deposited: 12 Jun 2015 14:21
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2018 15:45
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/1681
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