Avantgarde and Psychotechnics.
On the Convergence of Science, Art and Technology in the Russian 1920s.

In post-revolutionary Russia, life has become an experiment. The Russian Avantgarde took the new communist society as a quasi-artistic attempt and followed the formalist idea of "Art as a method" for visualization, trying to free the automated perception of the suppressed worker by way of artistic alienation in order to produce an "enlightened Proletarian" (Viktor Shklovsky).

At the same time the Russian Revolution gave the impuls for a fundamental reconfiguration of all the disciplines which seemed important to the new regime. Thus a complex interdisciplinary state arose which allowed for the transfer of methods and practical knowledge particularly between psychology, physiology, architecture and film. The result of this, so far the main thesis of the project, can be observed in the spread of a new scientific application, psychotechnics, which basically had one major vision: to build a new world for the new, revolutionized human being – which again first of all meant to produce new preconditions for visual perception. Arts and life-sciences apparently have become entangled in one common, experimental set-up.

To analyse how artistic and scientific activities interfered in the experimentalization of the senses, the project is not only looking at their products, but extends the inquiry to their experimental practices and places of production (laboratories, studios, institutes). In doing so, both the objects and agents of the arts and sciences and the density of their disciplinary borders are challenged.

The first investigated location is the "Psychotechnical Laboratory" of Nikolai Ladovski, an architect and central pedagogue at the VChUTEMAS (Higher Artistic-Technical Laboratories) in Moscow. In order to study and train the visual perception of architecture via lines, angles, volume and space, Ladovski in 1926 installed a series of instruments in a room painted completely black, the so-called "Glasometry" (eye-meter). Ladovski's experiments on human perception are compared to contemporary experimental practices and instruments and can thereby be connected to psychotechnical approaches in Harvard (Hugo Münsterberg) and Berlin (Walter Moede), and to Avantgarde artists like Le Corbusier, El Lissitzy, Vassily Kandinsky and Mikhail Matyushin.

The second crucial site of interaction is Ivan Pavlov’s physiological laboratory in Leningrad, where in 1925 Vsevolod Pudovkin, the well-known realism filmmaker, started to shoot his first film "The Mechanics of the Brain". It is outlined how Pudovkin, while representing reflex conditioning, tried to practice reflexology by the medium film. Having learned from Pavlov’s laboratory routine, Pudovkin at the same time imitated the viewer’s visual activity with his camera aperture and disrupted it by repetition and aberration in the montageline. As the experimental system of the architect, the medium film was used to stimulate the nervous system of its user.

The third case deals with Alexander Bogdanov’s Institute for Blood Transfusions, founded in Moscow in 1926. Bogdanov’s unique practice of mutual blood transfusions is incorporated as well in his philosophical engagement as in his practical ambitions to realize a cultural transformation of the new society by the help of artistic experimentation. The latter so called Proletcult-movement, quite well known to every Avantgarde artist at the time, provided the dispositive for the equation not only of artistic and scientific activities, but also of theory and practice, nature and technology and even life and death. Producing art had become an enterprise not only of artists but also of psychologists, psychiatrists and eventually physiologists.

After the transfer of psychotechnics into the artist’s laboratory through experiments with space, and the transformation of reflexology into psychotechnics via film, the project opens up a fairly new form of psychotechnics by way of blood – one which could not find correspondents in any discipline and which epistemic status can only be described along the entanglements of artistic and scientific practices.