ISSN 2451-2966


Małgorzata Jabłońska

Spatial Rhythm in Time: Parallels between Vsevolod Meyerhold’s theatrical biomechanics and Katarzyna Kobro's concept of spatial composition

<i>Spatial Composition 4</i>, Katarzyna Kobro, 1928. Source: Wikiart.

Spatial Composition 4, Katarzyna Kobro, 1928. Source: Wikiart.

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The article is a comparative analysis of the concept of modern sculpture by Katarzyna Kobro (1898–1951) and the theatrical biomechanics of Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874–1940). The starting point is the alleged community of experiences of the artists' milieu and their affiliation (even temporary) to the constructivism movement. Jabłońska reconstructs Kobro's views based on the book Spatial Composition: Calculating the Spacetime Rhythm, focusing on the issues of formal shaping of space, spatio-temporal rhythm and architectural characterisation of sculpture, which becomes a theoretical model for composition of space interacting with the human body. Here the author sees the correspondence of Kobro’s concept with Meyerhold's theatrical biomechanics, which she understands mainly as a set of rules for actor's body composition in time and space, or in other words, the implementation of the principles of spatio-temporal rhythm in the body. In her analysis of biomechanics, apart from documents, Jabłońska use her own practical experience of this technique, focusing on such elements as playing with rakurses (forms, body positions visible from the perspective of a viewer) and rhythmisation of movement by its division into three phases (otkazposylstoika).

'Spatial Rhythm in Time: Parallels between Vsevolod Meyerhold’s theatrical biomechanics and Katarzyna Kobro’s concept of spatial composition

Katarzyna Kobro and Vsevolod Meyerhold probably never met. It is also unclear whether Kobro ever saw any Meyerhold performance. Perhaps Władysław Strzemiński, her partner in art and later her husband, could have, in St. Petersburg during his studies. Meyerhold was then already an established director, working with imperial theatres and developing his Studio on Borodin Street. However, fate had it that Meyerhold, after coming to Moscow in 1920, only presented his first performance on 7 November, while Kobro, having graduated from the School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture1 and participated in the National Conference of Teachers and Students of Art, went to Smolensk in June, or perhaps even earlier, in March. It seems they missed each other almost by moments. However, it seems far more unlikely that Kobro or Strzemiński, as active artists well informed within their community, had not already heard of Meyerhold and his achievements.

In 1917, Meyerhold had begun working with Vladimir Tatlin on a film, The Spectre's Charm, based on Fyodor Sologub's novel (the production was never completed, probably due to the revolution), and in 1919 he produced the world premiere of Vladimir Mayakovsky's Mystery-Bouffe, staged by Kazimir Malevich. Taking into account the fact that it was the premiere of the 'first truly Soviet drama', created to celebrate the first anniversary of the October Revolution, the production was surely broadly known and discussed. Therefore Meyerhold would have been known to Tatlin and Malevich, the two most renowned, influential teachers and masters of Kobro and Strzemiński. There is no way of knowing whether those two talked about these works with their students. We know, however, that between 1919 and 1922 both Kobro and Strzemiński exhibited works in Moscow, Minsk, Vitebsk and Smolensk, including their stage designs (such as the design for Mystery-Bouffe, in Smolensk in 1920).2 As stage designers, they also cooperated with Smolensk theatre companies (Kobro was even employed as a designer with the theatre of the local culture centre3), so it is safe to say that theatre was close to their interests. I think it may have been sufficient for them even to receive information about Meyerhold's further achievements.

Although these kinds of speculations and deductions can be fascinating, I think that tracing such influences is definitely less inspiring than a parallel perspective of looking at ways in which these artists, in their respective fields – visual arts and theatre – implemented postulates of the particular cultural formation that was the Russian leftist artistic avant-garde of the early 20th century. How did proposed solutions to problems posed to art by modern reality – with its rapidly growing sciences (including concepts of non-Euclidic geometry and alternative space models, then eventually Einstein's space-time) and with technology involved for the first time to such extent in the lives of everyday people, with growing, industrialising cities and new audiences gaining access to products of high art on the wave of the revolution – corresponded to one another?

The condensation of space

Kobro's most significant theoretical ideas were expressed in a dissertation written with Strzemiński, Kompozycja przestrzeni. Obliczenia rytmu czasoprzestrzennego [1931, Spatial Composition: Calculating the Spacetime Rhythm], as well as in her opinion pieces published in journals and magazines, including Europa (1929), Forma (1935, 1936) and Głos Plastyków (1937). These writings are the primary source for my analyses. Here, however, a brief explanation is necessary. According to Janusz Zagrodzki, one of the key experts in Kobro's work, her accomplishments have been unjustly left at the margins of critical and theoretical reflection for years. As a result of the tragic events of war, a large part of her artistic achievement was destroyed, while her theoretical work, due to her marriage to Władysław Strzemiński and his legendary artistic status, were ignored or attributed to his influence, sometimes even entirely to him.4 However, as Zagrodzki has shown, analysis of her works and the close reading of Spatial Composition: Calculating the Spacetime Rhythm allows an outline to made of the division between the ideas of the two artists:

The potential movement of forms or a single form in a complex was treated as a means to emphasise dynamics that were developing through the variability of the systems. The early sculptures by Kobro were therefore seriously entangled in the issues of time and space. Strzemiński, fascinated by the 'flatness of the picture' and striving to erase the dimension of time, was gradually deviating from Kobro's proposal. From then on, his paintings would become the expression of the subsequent stages of Unism, with the aim of archiving 'absolute peace and balance', while Kobro's subsequent work results directly from dynamic constructions shaped according to laws of contrast leading from texturally rich forms to open purist structures with the primary purpose of organisation of space.5

Following that cue, in this article I will refer mainly to ideas and achievements of Kobro, including her Spatial Composition dissertation co-written with her husband. At the same time, of course, one should constantly bear in mind Strzemiński's contribution to Unism, the concept of unity of sculpture and architecture with surrounding space, which is the starting point for this analysis.

In Kobro's texts, we find a belief based on Unist premises that the sculpture is not and should not be an aesthetic object enclosed within boundaries of mass expressing emotions or illustrating history (Kobro was particularly against any state monuments):

we should firmly and irrevocably realise once and for all that a sculpture is neither literature, symbolism nor individual psychological emotion. Sculpture is exclusively shaping of form in space. Sculpture appeals to all people and speaks to them in the same way. Its speech is form and space. Hence the objectivism of the most economical expression of form. There are no different solutions; there is just one – the shortest and the most appropriate. The sculpture is a part of the space in which it is located. Therefore, it should not be disconnected from it. The sculpture enters the space and the space enters the sculpture. The spatiality of construction, the communication between sculpture and space, extracts from the sculpture the sincere truth of its existence. Therefore, there should be no random shapes in sculpture. There should only be those shapes that bring it to space, tying it to space. [...] Connecting with space, a new sculpture should constitute the most condensed and discernible part of this space. It achieves this because shapes, by their mutual dependency, create a rhythm of dimensions and divisions. The unity of rhythm arises as a result of the unity of its computational scale.6

In this approach, we may already find some of the most characteristic features of Kobro's idea of sculpture: the postulate of abstraction and rationality and thus universality of sculpture, based on mathematical calculations and scientific knowledge; the postulate of the most economical expression of form referring directly to Taylorism; and belief in homogeneity and connectivity of space and sculpture influencing the perception of space thanks to the formal shape. The sculpture is not a separate entity, but a special kind of density, concretisation of space, which thanks to divisions and closures – its orderly, 'condensed' form7 constituting the basic determinant of the artwork, that is – becomes noticeable to us. This view is clearly illustrated by the convention adopted by Kobro in designing her works: she abandoned titles and even the very term 'sculpture' in favour of 'spatial composition'. From this assumption another fundamental feature of Kobro's ideas also follows: the inclusion of sculpture into a concrete, physical, existing space it shares with the viewer, who according to Kobro is not an abstract eye but a real, physical human being. Thus, the presence of a human being in space is subject to reflection, which results in its functional character.

This, in turn, results in two of the most serious consequences for Kobro’s idea. First, the embodied perception – the changing perspective of the gaze and movement of the human body – becomes an integral element of the artwork, which in turn triggers its existence in time, making it a spatio-temporal entity (I will return to this topic, as it is the most important for this analysis):

The introduction of a third dimension to the work of art, i.e. depth, implies its spatio-temporal character. Spacio-temporality refers to the variability of an artwork while watching it from various angles. Each shift of the viewer results in a different appearance of the arrangement of shapes. This way, an artwork exists not only in space but also in time, as not only the arrangement of shapes matters, but so does the order in which it manifests itself when viewing it from various angles. Sculpture and architecture should not be considered only as static objects, consisting of four sides, appropriately built, but above all as the process of moving from one side to the other as an action in changing these sides, as spatial rhythm taking place in time.8

Secondly, the interest in the functioning of a human being in space expands the field of her research into architecture, which, to the same extent as sculpture, is a spatial composition and should be subjected to the same compositional principles as sculpture. In this way, sculpture in Kobro's sense became not only an aesthetic issue but also a functional one, which in both artistic reflection and its realizations had the potential to lead it out of the separated gallery spaces into the social space.

However, the sculptures of Kobro should not be understood as ready-made architectural designs. Although both Kobro and Strzemiński were convinced of the legitimacy of artists' involvement in the process of building a new world and a new society based on rational and scientific premises, they were opponents of short-lived utilitarianism simultaneously, as was favoured by some creators from Russian avant-garde circles, such as Aleksandr Rodchenko. They believed that art should strive instead to provide general solutions, principles, that it should shift boundaries of cognition. The artist should not, however, necessarily engage in the ad hoc design of consumer goods. In Kobro's idea, sculpture is – I follow here the idea expressed by Małgorzata Jędrzejczyk in her analysis of Kobro's works9 – a laboratory experiment on form and perception, a mental figure, a computational system implemented for architectural solutions of the future city, which will have value as a 'case directing movements of human beings located in it, as a spatio-temporal rhythm of a human performing this or other life function'10 and as a tool for organising mutual relations in a new society. To sum up, Kobro's sculpture is a formula for shaping architectural space – that is, the space entering into functional interaction with human beings and their bodies.

At this point, in my opinion, the concept of Kobro's sculpture and Meyerhold's theatrical biomechanics meet, because biomechanics, as I will argue later, is also a laboratory experiment and a mental figure or, as Meyerhold said, 'a series of rules, a series of axioms'11 in the form of exercises that modelphysical actions of an actor, that is, someone whospecifically composes his or her movement in time and in interaction with space, while this space is particularly composed in terms of form, or stage design.I perceive both of these ideas as complementary thought experiments, laboratories of form and work with perception and the mutual interactions of space and the movement of the human body.

Theatrical biomechanics is the method of actor training. It is based on two beliefs: the specific condition of an actor as both creator and material, as an artist for whom their body is their material; and that the body as a biological machine is built logically, so it can be understood in its entirety and rationally organised. The goal of biomechanics was to rationalise and universalise the creative process, which was to be based on conscious and explicit construction principles, such as Kobro's 'victory of active forces of the human intellect over the present state of irrationalism and chaos'. Meyerhold's views on art were largely influenced by Russian Constructivism, of course, but in his case the postulates of scientific foundations (here, the biomechanics of the human body, Pavlov's reflexology, James-Lange's physiological theory of emotions, Taylor's scientific management of work12) for rational organisation of material and utilitarianism came together with studied practices and conventions of old theatre techniques, such as commedia dell'arte and kabuki.

However, in relation to his teacher Konstantin Stanislavsky and his 'system', which was the current acting style at the time, Meyerhold completely re-evaluated the objective of an actor so that postulates regarding embodiment, authenticity of experience and creation of a psychologically reliable character were pushed to the background or became completely irrelevant. In the lecture accompanying the premiere of Fernand Crommelynck’s Magnanimous Cuckold (1922) – the first public presentation of theatrical biomechanics as a method of work – to be published later under the title 'The Actor of the Future and Biomechanics’, Meyerhold describes the actor's work as creating artistic forms in space:

In art our constant concern is the organization of raw material. Constructivism has forced the artist to become both artist and engineer. Art should be based on scientific principles; the entire creative act should be a conscious process. The art of the actor consists in organizing his material; that is, in his capacity to utilize correctly his body’s means of expression. […] In so far as the task of the actor is the realization of a specific objective, his means of expression must be economical in order to ensure that precision of movement which will facilitate the quickest possible realization of the objective. […] Since the art of the actor is the art of plastic forms in space, he must study the mechanics of his body [italics added].13

Already at this level, we may find compatible elements in theories of Kobro and Meyerhold: the postulate of economical means of expression and mathematical precision of material organisation, while recognising the form as a special way of engaging the viewer's attention. Unlike Kobro, in the theatre Meyerhold could not afford to completely give up the storyline and move to create completely abstract movement which would transform his art into dance or pantomime. He remained in the domain of drama theatre; however, he implemented a procedure called by Eugenio Barba 'the splitting of the theatre', which influenced the entirety of his further practice and, in fact, the shape of all of contemporary theatre. As Barba noted:

Meyerhold saw in his work the possibility of creating a breach in theatrical practice [... that] explained how and why the 'plastic actions' of an actor do not have to be adapted to the words of the character. [...] Meyerhold demonstrated how an actor can consciously shape these two levels of behaviour, shaping his movements according to the logic that binds new relations with words without the need to illustrate these words.14

The new logic of movements did not have to be connected with life probability. It was possible to stylise, abstract and formalise the movement. In his training practice, Meyerhold recommended abandoning thinking about a plot line, life activities or acting in favour of realisation of objectives and precise, formal movements in space. On one hand, he demanded from the actor improvisational readiness, which meant compositional skills and was to some extent a combination of modular elements (worked out set poses and body positions in space15), while on the other hand, he also demanded a precise reconstruction of the previously composed form. At the same time, he was aware of the paradox of an actor's situation: each is 'a composer in every minute' and creates each time new material from that already created.

One more feature of theatrical biomechanics should be emphasised that points to its laboratory, model and cognitive character: the role that was ascribed to regular training. Biomechanical training consists of several types of exercises complementary to each other, and generating various behaviours and attitudes – a 'set of technical measures'. Training consists of:

  1. preparatory exercises and warm-ups developing body awareness
  2. exercises that I call processual because they do not have a clearly defined course, but they focus instead on the unpredictability of the process (for example, elements of juggling), thus training perceptiveness, visual measurement of space and responsiveness
  3. biomechanical etudes, which are characterised by a strictly closed form and are training for composing movement in time and space.

All exercises are performed with respect to fundamental mathematical and compositional principles of biomechanics, which I will present in detail in the second part of this article. Preparatory exercises as well as processual exercises are designed to familiarise actors with skills necessary for implementation of biomechanical studies. On stage, however, in work on a specific performance, no element of the training itself is used, but – on the basis of the training and in accordance with the principles trained – activities belonging to a given performance are created and composed. This aspect of Meyerhold's biomechanics have provoked many misunderstandings, both at the beginning of the century and today. Igor Ilyinsky, a student of the Meyerhold's workshops and one of the pre-eminent actors of the Meyerhold Theatre, wrote that these exercises:

taught actors the skills of precise visual calculations of movement, space calculations, targeted movements coordinated with a partner, a series of tricks that in their variety helped the actor to move more freely and clearly in the stage space during future performances. [...] These 'tricks' should not be transferred onto the stage, even though initially we demonstrated them during performances. The purpose of all these exercises was only to instil in students the culture of conscious movement on stage.16

It should be noted, however, that this condition is also related to the opinion of Kobro about her own idea, which she included in the conclusion of the book Spatial Composition: Calculating the Spacetime Rhythm:

The given method concerns only the size and shapes and their location, but it does not deal with the question of shapes themselves. It is a question for the artist who knows what shapes he needs. However, the exact size of these shapes, their exact location, the connection of these shapes so that they would create a unified space-time rhythm, instead of fragments, the creation of a single artwork, can only be achieved by applying a uniform numerical expression of mutual relations between shapes.17

The Magnanimous Cuckold by F. Krommelink, dir. Vsevolod Meyerhold, Actors' Theatre, premiere: 25 April 1922. Photo: A. Temerin © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum, Moscow.

Forest by Alexander Ostrovsky, dir. Vsevolod Meyerhold, Meyerhold Theatre, premiere: 16 January 1924. Photo: Tolchan Ya. M. © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum, Moscow.

In his directing practice, while creating productions, Meyerhold introduced on stage non-narrative activities, individual and group rhythmic movements deprived of any relation to non-theatre or life activities. Drawing on the achievements of traditional theatres: juggling tricks and acrobatics (The Forest, 1924; The Bedbug, 1929) or synchronous-movement group systems (Magnanimous Cuckold, 1922; Bubus the Teacher, 1925; The Government Inspector, 1926), gave audiences a signal for more intense tracking of physical actions and other components of the performance, the domain of which was form. Even in later productions, when – due to his conviction or historical necessity – Meyerhold returned to realism, he and his actors filled this previously created, subcutaneous model with a different aesthetic content.

Spatial rhythm in time

Faced with the task of performing a movement in space, a biomechanical actor should consciously observe the space first of all, understand its size and character, which means in their case an almost automatic translation of space into movement (how many steps do I need to cover this distance? How fast can I reach the designated point?). Next, the actor implements the given motion or plans their movement in space, always taking into account its trajectory and pace. This determines the place where the movement begins in space and the point where it ends. Only then do they decide on the form of movement, the degree of involvement of the whole body (use of legs, spine, arms and hands, head and eyes).

Deciding on the quality of movement, the actor feels and understands how their body will move, what the trajectory of individual parts of the body will be in accordance with the principle that if one little finger moves, the whole body moves. A well-prepared biomechanical actor is always able to assess the condition of their body, as well as the position it has assumed at a given moment. By consciously assuming subsequent positions, the actor always understands the position of their centre of gravity and strives to maintain balance, even if the position is extremely demanding.

10. You must learn the mechanics of your body so that you know exactly the relationship and structure of each part of it. Every movement, even one little finger, must be immediately reflected in all parts of the body, every movement of one part immediately restructures the relations in which parts of our body are located. It is necessary to understand the laws of balance and to have the ability to control your body in such a way that you can immediately find a point of stability at the right moment.18

Interestingly, balance was also an important category for Kobro. Here we can clearly detect a significant influence of Strzemiński's Unist concepts:

The natural state of space within its infinite limits is constant equilibrium. In order to maintain its connection with this space, every sculpture located in this space should also be in constant equilibrium. By falling out of balance, it detaches from space, loses connection to it, finds itself in a condition other than space, and therefore cannot be connected with it. The loss of balance of any shape is a catastrophe, because it causes the loss of connection between this shape and space.19

This meaning of balance can be explained by the importance of perception and by an accounting for audience perspective by the creators. Precise organisation of the form, and thus 'shape without superstructures and extra elements'20 (Kobro) and 'precise movement' (Meyerhold), whose value is balance, makes it easier to perceive forms and their changes. The postulate of transparency and the typification of form do not mean lowering the level of the proposed work; on the contrary, they prove its quality and quality of craftsmanship.

One should always strive for the greatest condensation and transparency of form. Form that is garrulous, intricate and undecided is not transparent. [...] And since we perceive the change of form most easily when it is maximally simplified, it follows that we can most easily recognise the most excellent form in its shortest and most typified expression [...]. The more transparent the type of form is, the more difficult the solution of finding the most perfect solution, but its perfection then occurs with greater strength.21

Importantly, the biomechanical actor is able to plan not only the trajectory of movement of individual parts of their body, but also the shape it will take when it stops. They are able to judge this position not only from 'from the inside', but are aware of how it looks from the outside, so they can create and play with many interesting rakurses (abbreviated from raccourcir in French).

Here we have reached the most important term in this comparison. Rakurs is the key biomechanical term related to the external appearance of the working body. It is a term originating from photography and cinematography, and means a perspective take or perspective foreshortening, which is to say the distortion of the image of the object depending on the perspective from which that object is viewed. In theatrical biomechanics, it means the conscious position of the body composed by the actor taking into account the perspective of a viewer (and even the multitude of perspectives of viewers in different places in an audience). Principles of visual composition and communication are also taken into account, including both the histories of theatre and of art, as well as the extra-theatrical use of the body. Ultimately, the actor must also take into account spatial dependence on the stage itself, and thus the connectivity and interaction of their body with stage design which, in the Meyerhold Theatre from the 1920s, had architectural character (multi-story constructions) and according to Lyubov Popova, stage designer for Magnanimous Cuckold, was the 'keyboard for actors'. In this respect, the actor's acting body connects with the space that Kobro explored so thoroughly. Rakurs, therefore, is what the viewer sees, observing the actor's body at a given moment from his or her place. The actor should strive to convey as much distinctness and expression of rakurses that they are creating as possible.

9.One of the most important elements of control over the material is the ability to place and move the body on the stage space, or playing rakurses. Let's take a bi-ba-bo doll [a puppet]. We see that we perceive it as cheerful or as crying, etc., although the mask remains motionless, with changes depending only on the changing rakurs: the mystery is not in facial expressions, but in movements of the body, with skilful use the mask can express everything a face can express.22

Rakurs is therefore the equivalent of changing projection planes in Kobro's theory: they change according to the place from which the viewer observes them. Biomechanical equivalents of an artist's care for a composition of three-dimensional sculpture as recorded in the pages of Spatial Composition – 'to build it [an artwork] means: to build simultaneously in space and time, to build space and to build order of successive spatial phenomena'23 – would be an actor's movement and playing with rakurses. Due to the static position of the viewer in theatre, the responsibility for changing the projection planes – rakurses – must be transferred to the actor. At the same time, the multiplicity of viewers in theatre, the multiplicity of their gazes, can be regarded as some kind of multi-perspective view of a sculpture. In this way, the biomechanical actor becomes a work of spatio-temporal art, an artistically composed form 'located in space, but simultaneously taking place in time'.24 They become the point of condensation of the form and as such, the point that attracts the recipient's attention, thus composing the initial visual experiences of the viewer. I use 'initial' because the actor never has any final influence on the viewer's decision, on what he or she would want to focus on at a given moment – the course of this process remains the resultant of communication between viewer and actor. The spatio-temporal form created by the actor in accordance with the principles of biomechanics should attract the viewer's attention (preferred asymmetries; wide, stretched shapes; open spaces between body parts), and changes between forms should be engaging (wide movements; variable pace; counterpoints).

Spatial Composition, Katarzyna Kobro, 1925. Source: Wikiart.

The movement of the biomechanical actor is divided into fragments – they could be called sections – determined according to the main directions or objectives of movement. The purpose or objective of movement carried out in time and space is defined in biomechanics by the term posyl, which in Russian means 'message' or 'guiding idea' but also a physical act of sending (a letter, for example).

Each episode of the movement is constructed according to the following pattern: otkaz25posylstoika, that is, a pre-movement, the movement proper, stopping with a pause in preparation for the next move. In other words: 1) intention: intellectual understanding of the objective, preparing the body for action; 2) performance: a cycle of movement and voice reflexes, action proper; 3) reaction: reduction of nervous reflexes, preparation for assuming a new intention. In this way, ending each section is already preparation for the next one. Here, it is worth recalling an excerpt of the description in Spatial Composition:

Each spatial shape should be marked in such a way that a part of it forms a part of a different spatial shape at the same time.26

This is all the more appropriate since Meyerhold was instilling in students that, despite stopping, the movement does not die, that its energy does not fade away but turns into potential energy, as in a pendulum's arc, which stops at the top to move downwards again.

In the final phase, this basic principle of dividing and composing movement in Meyerhold's biomechanics includes momentary pauses, as with freeze frames, a 'caesura after completing each element of the objective'27 – the stoikas. In stoikas (points of the movement's caesura) taking place in tochkas (points in space), the actor consciously fixates on the figure of the body composed with all the qualities that attract the attention of rakurs, that is, they create a three-dimensional plastic shape.That is why we can consider stoikas as moments of greater focus of the audience member's visual attention. For the sake of arranging terminology, we can note that rakurs is a qualitative plastic aspect of the actor's body position, while stoika its temporal aspect and tochka is the spatial one.

The biomechanical movement is an alternate sequence of movements and figures. If we follow notions proposed in Spatial Composition, which state that 'the rhythm as a spatio-temporal phenomenon is the result of effects of spatial phenomena occurring in time, one after another', and that 'the rhythm is an orderly sequence of plastic phenomena taking place in time',28 Meyerhold's theatrical biomechanics becomes the spatio-temporal rhythm implemented by the human body that binds elements of time and space to the indissoluble whole by means of strict rules. I posit that the concept of spatio-temporal rhythm expresses the spirit of biomechanics much better than musical comparisons used by Meyerhold (a trained instrumentalist), which do not exhaust the complexity of the motion in space. In his statements, there is a premonition of spatio-temporality for which he had not found the proper discursive expression.

From the perspective of the viewer, the experience of observing the biomechanical movement is almost identical to that proposed by Kobro in Spatial Composition:the 'chain' process of receiving a three-dimensional, spatio-temporal artwork. The difference is that in the case of biomechanics, vertical lines would be expressed by stoikas, and horizontal lines by the actor's movement:

The optical impression of the three-dimensional work of plastic art is presented as a series of projection planes, any number of them unlike one another, detached from one another. Each is separated from others by a certain unit of the time in which the viewer moves and takes a different place in observing an artwork. The total impression we have while viewing a piece of three-dimensional art can be compared to a chain:


in which vertical lines correspond to visual impressions (projection planes), and horizontal lines are a sign of time periods dividing these visual impressions from each other.

The unity of sculpture in itself and its internal compatibility as artworks cannot be achieved using artistic means alone. Plastic art is the art of space. However, as follows from these considerations, sculpture is not an entirely plastic phenomenon, because there is an assumption about the coexistence of space and time, those two elements that connect only in the notion of movement – a synthetic, spatio-temporal concept. The unlimited number of projection planes can be combined only by the spatio-temporal idea of rhythm as organised movement, a movement subordinated to strict and explicit laws.29

The accurate and precise rhythm to which the movement of the biomechanical actor and their communication with the viewer is subordinated, the computational principle that connects all forms from the smallest of finger movements to complicated physical actions and even the composition of the whole role, is the three-phase movement. If, therefore, the concept of 'spatial rhythm taking place in time' is applicable anywhere other than Kobro's idea of sculpture, it is precisely with the case with the biomechanical actor, whose entire professional action – from entering the stage to descending from it, but also from the beginning of learning and training to the end of their career – is a rhythmic existence.

Translated by Monika Bokiniec


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Meyerhold, Vsevolod, Stat'i, pis'ma, rechi besedy, vol. 2: 1917–1939 (Moscow: Iskusstwo, 1968)

Meyerhold: K istorii tvorcheskogo metoda. Publikacji. Stat'I, ed. by Nikołaj Piesoczynski (Petersburg: Kul'tInformPress, 1998)

'Meyerhold: Przewodnik', ed. by Małgorzata Jabłońska, Didaskalia 2014, no. 124

'O likwidacji Tieatra im. Meyerholda', Prawda, 8 Jan. 1938, no. 8 (7333)

Poruszone ciała. Choreografie nowoczesności, ed. by Katarzyna Słoboda (Łódź: Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, 2017)

Słoboda, Katarzyna, 'Uprzestrzennienia ciała – ucieleśnienia rytmu',Dialog 2014, no. 11

Strzemińska, Nika, Katarzyna Kobro (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Scholar, 1999)

——Miłość, sztuka i nienawiść. O Katarzynie Kobro i Władysławie Strzemińskim (Warsaw: Res Publica, 1991)

Strzemiński, Władysław, Pisma (Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1975)

Turowski, Andrzej, Awangardowe marginesy (Warsaw: Instytut Kultury, 1998)

——W kręgu konstruktywizmu (Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe, 1979)

Zagrodzki, Janusz, Katarzyna Kobro i kompozycja przestrzeni (Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1984)

Załuski, Tomasz, 'Futerał na ciało. Tayloryzm i biopolityka w koncepcji architektury funkcjonalistycznej Katarzyny Kobro i Władysława Strzemińskiego', in: Architektura przymusu = Architecture of coercion: interdyscyplinarne studia nad dyscyplinującymi funkcjami architektury, ed. by Tomasz Ferenc, Marek Domański (Łódź: Akademia Sztuk Pięknych im. Władysława Strzemińskiego, 2013)

1. Svobodnye gosudarstvennye khudozhestvennye masterskiye, or SWOMAS.

2. See: Janusz Zagrodzki, Katarzyna Kobro i kompozycja przestrzeni (Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe 1984), p. 41.

3. See a statement by Zenobia Karnicka, a long-time curator at Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź: 'She [Kobro] had been living in post-revolutionary Russia for several years, and she designed stage costumes, not outfits for herself. […] Praesens – a group of plastic artists. Exhibition in October 1926. Kobro joins the group, initially without Strzemiński, and shows her work, including stage design'. Quoted in Marzena Bomanowska, Siedem rozmów o Katarzynie Kobro (Łódż: Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, 2011), pp. 39–40. See also: Zenobia Karnicka, Kalendarium życia i twórczości, in: Katarzyna Kobro (1898-1951): w setną rocznicę urodzin (exhibition catalogue), ed. by Elżbieta Fuchs (Łódż: Muzeum Sztuki w Łódź, 1998), p. 33.

4. Janusz Zagrodzki, 'Wewnątrz przestrzeni', in: Katarzyna Kobro (1898-1951)…, op. cit, p. 71.

5. Ibidem, p. 73.

6. Katarzyna Kobro, 'Rzeźba i bryła', Europa 1929, no. 2, in: Katarzyna Kobro (1898-1951), op. cit., p. 148.

7. Katarzyna Kobro, Władysław Strzemiński, Kompozycja przestrzeni. Obliczenia rytmu czasoprzestrzennego, vol. 2 (Łódź: Biblioteka 'a. r.', 1931), p. 41.

8. Ibidem, p. 52.

9. See: Małgorzata Jędrzejczyk, 'Formowanie życia. Katarzyna Kobro i jej formowanie przestrzeni', in: Wokół sztuki społecznej, eds. Piotr Bujak, Rafał Solewski (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Pedagogicznego im. Komisji Edukacji Narodowej, 2015), pp. 106–118. See also: Jędrzejczyk, 'Gdy przestrzeń staje się formą. Koncepcja rzeźby Katarzyny Kobro a eksperymenty z ciałem i percepcją w sztuce początków XX wieku', in: Poruszone ciała. Choreografie nowoczesności, ed. by Katarzyna Słoboda (Łódź: Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, 2017), pp. 221–235.

10. Katarzyna Kobro, Władysław Strzemiński, Kompozycja przestrzeni…, op. cit., p. 57.

11.'Many things are still unclear to me. We have here a science and research laboratory, which is now conducting preparatory work, but it will work, and of course it also seeks to create some kind of document. We will not call it as elegantly as Konstantin Sergeevich does as a 'system'. We are more modest, we will call this document a handbook indispensable for actor and director. We want to create a number of rules, a number of axioms, show a series of exercises necessary to master this subject'. Mejerxol'd: K istorii tvorcheskogo metoda: Publikacii. Stat'I (Petersburg.: Kul'tInformPress, 1998), p. 67.

12. In this article, scientific inspirations for Taylor's organisation of work and its local variations such as the achievements of Alexei Gastiev's Central Institute of Labour, in the case of Meyerhold, are merely noted, due to the article's limited scope. It is a fascinating topic, broad and deserving of the separate study that is presently in preparation by this author. About Strzemiński and Kobro's Taylorian inspirations, Tomasz Załuski has written exhaustively in his paper 'Tayloryzm i biopolityka w koncepcji architektury funkcjonalistycznej Katarzyny Kobro i Władysława Strzemińskiego', in: Architektura przymusu = Architecture of coercion: interdyscyplinarne studia nad dyscyplinującymi funkcjami architektury, ed. by Tomasz Ferenc, Marek Domański (Łódź: Akademia Sztuk Pięknych im. Władysława Strzemińskiego, 2013).

13. 'The Actor of the Future and Biomechanics', a report of Meyerhold’s lecture in the Little Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, 12 June 1922, in Ermitazh, Moscow, 1922, no. 6, pp. 10–11, reprinted in: V. Meyerhold, Biomechanics, in:Meyerhold on Theatre, 4th ed., trans. and ed. by Edward Braun (London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2016), pp. 244–245.

14. Eugenio Barba, 'Partytura i podpartytura. Znaczenie ćwiczeń w dramaturgii aktora', trans. by Grzegorz Ziółkowski, in: Barba, Nicola Savarese, Sekretna sztuka aktora. Słownik antropologii teatru (Wrocław: Ośrodek Badań Twórczości Jerzego Grotowskiego, Poszukiwań Teatralno-Kulturowych, 2005), p. 30

15. Michaił Korieniew [Mikhail Korenev], 'Zasady biomechaniki Wsiewiłoda Meyerholda', in: Meyerhold. Przewodnik, ed. and trans. by Małgorzata Jabłońska, Didaskalia 2014, no. 124, p. 65, pts. 14–16.

16. Igor Iljinski [Igor Ilyinsky], Pamiętnik aktora, trans. by Seweryn Pollak (Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe 1962), p. 178.

17. Katarzyna Kobro, Władysław Strzemiński, Kompozycja przestrzeni…, op. cit., p. 78.

18. Michaił Korieniew [Mikhail Korenev], 'Zasady biomechaniki Wsiewołoda Meyerholda', op. cit., p. 65.

19. Katarzyna Kobro, Władysław Strzemiński, Kompozycja przestrzeni…, op. cit., p. 19.

20. Ibidem, p. 17.

21. Ibidem, pp. 39–40.

22. Michaił Korieniew [Mikhail Korenev], 'Zasady biomechaniki Wsiewołoda Meyerholda', op. cit., p. 65.

23. Katarzyna Kobro, Władysław Strzemiński, Kompozycja przestrzeni…, op. cit., p. 63.

24. Ibidem, p. 53.

25. Otkaz (Russian for 'refusal') is a small movement (pre-movement), which in the performed motion section has a vector opposite to the movement proper. The easiest way to understand it is to try throwing an imaginary stone. For the stone to fly forward, the projection must be preceded by a swing (the movement of a hand to the rear), and this is otkaz. It increases the kinetic energy and amplitude of the main motion, thus its vivid expressiveness. Sergei Eisenstein considered the principle of 'denying movement' the most valuable discovery of biomechanics. See: Małgorzata Jabłońska, 'Biomechanika – praktyczny słownik techniki', Didaskalia 2014, no. 124.

26. Katarzyna Kobro, Władysław Strzemiński, Kompozycja przestrzeni…, op. cit., p. 42.

27. Michaił Korieniew [Mikhail Korenev], 'Zasady biomechaniki Wsiewołoda Meyerholda', op. cit., p. 65.

28. Katarzyna Kobro, Władysław Strzemiński, Kompozycja przestrzeni…, op. cit., p. 57.

29. Katarzyna Kobro, Władysław Strzemiński, Kompozycja przestrzeni…, op. cit., pp. 58–59.

Małgorzata Jabłońska

is a theatre scholar specialising in performer training and the history of performer training, and methodology of writing about body dramaturgy within a theatre performance (with a special focus on alternative theatre). She is a Ph.D. student at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, working on a thesis titled “Ku dramaturgii ciała. Pływ biomechaniki Wsiewołoda Emiliewicza Meyerholda na koncepcje treningu aktorskiego w teatrze europejskim XX wieku”. She works regularly with the Grotowski Institute in Wrocław, where in 2013 she organised Praktyki Teatralne Wsiewołoda Meyerholda, Poland’s first international Vsevolod Meyerhold conference. She has co-ordinated scholarly projects as part of the Wrocław 2016 Theatre Olympics. She is co-author of Trening fizyczny aktora. Od działań indywidualnych do zespołu (Łódź 2015). She is a member of the Polish Society for Theatre Research, Poland’s Theatre Offensive association and the International Society for Performer Training.