Culture Reviews: ‘Bauhaus’, ‘Attila’
“To create a new guild of craftsman, without the class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist” – Walter Gropius
It is apt for an exhibition about the Bauhaus, the Modernist architecture and design school to be taking place at the Barbican (till 12 August), that icon of brutalist architecture.
Architect Walter Gropius, inspired by William Morris, established the Bauhaus in Weimar in Germany in 1919 where he aimed to challenge the hierarchy between fine and applied arts, by creating art for the people, fashioning functional artistic products, and creating an aesthetic to counter bourgeois furbelows. Klee wrote it was “a community to which each one of us gave what he had.” The exhibition features paintings such as Kandinsky’s ‘Small worlds’ and Feininger’s ‘expressionist’ ‘Studio window’ and ‘Cathedral’.
The working class in Berlin went on general strike in the Spartacist uprising of January 1919 and armed struggle ensued. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) government (akin to the Labour Party) brought in Freikorps soldiers to crush the revolutionary uprising, and socialists Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were brutally murdered. A year later, when threatened by the right-wing Kapp putsch, the SPD felt no shame in calling on workers to strike to save them. Gropius designed an ‘expressionist’ Monument to the March Fallen in honour of workers killed in the putsch.
The Bauhaus was part of a cultural renaissance that took place in Weimar Germany which included cinema like ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’, the theatre of Brecht, paintings by Grosz, the Frankfurt School of Fromm and Marcuse, Hirschfeld’s struggle for sexual law reform, and Reich’s ‘SexPol’ clinics for the working class.
The Bauhaus exhibition features products from its workshops such as the Wagenfeld table lamp, Brandt tea services, Albers’ tables and Breuer chairs. Gropius drew up designs for the ‘total theatre’ of Brecht-producer Erwin Piscator. The workshops were ultimately making exclusive products for the affluent and not for large-scale manufacture. Gropius had not solved the dilemma that Morris had faced.
In 1928 Marxist architect Hannes Meyer was appointed Bauhaus director and moved away from aesthetics and artistic intuition towards functionality and building theory. He believed buildings should be low-cost and fulfil social needs: “the people’s needs instead of the need for luxury”. Meyer expanded the workshops on a co-operative basis to meet the requirements of industry: his aim, the “harmonious organisation of our society”, and interestingly the Bauhaus made its first profit in 1929. The photography workshop was established; Maholy-Nagy made his trippy film ‘A Light Play’; there was the Warholian Metal Party; and the Bauhaus students moved towards Marxism. Gropius had built workers houses for the Torten-Dessau estate, which Meyer extended by building balcony access apartment houses. Meyer also designed the ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau.
Meyer was sacked in 1930 because of the politics and went to Moscow as an architecture professor. Eventually he ended up in Mexico. In the 1930s he was an active participant in the discourse about suppressing the bourgeois concept in architecture.
The Bauhaus was closed in 1933 by the Nazis who deemed its concept as “degenerate”.
Attila the Stockbroker is currently on tour in Britain, with Rory Ellis.
Rory Ellis is a singer-songwriter-guitarist from Melbourne in the urban folk tradition who sings about street life, referencing the notorious nightclub ‘Bojangles’ and criminal “Chopper” Read. Rory’s ‘Skeleton Hill’ is about the gold field heritage site in Victoria in danger of becoming a quarry. His ‘Waiting for Armaguard’ is a witty and touching song about working-class longing for some material wealth. Rory shows the audience that his fingernails are painted in the black/red/gold colours of the Aboriginal flag.
Attila has said that seeing The Clash at the Rainbow in 1977 politically inspired him. He sings his eulogy for Strummer entitled ‘Commandante Joe’ during the gig. He, like others on the Left and anarchists like Class War have a tendency to personalise the iniquities of capitalism in the person of Mrs Thatcher. His song ‘Maggots 1, Maggie 0’ is a good example of this.
Attila is steeped in labour history, referencing Peterloo, the Chartists, and Tolpuddle. His song ‘An honour not a stain’ is about transportation to Botany Bay. In 2005 he appeared at the Levellers Day in Burford. He sings ‘The world upside down’ about the Levellers/Diggers of the 1649 English Revolution. A more contemporary song is ‘Looters’ about the financial capitalists of the City.
Attila has expressed his support for the ‘socialist’ government of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) who ran Afghanistan with USSR support from 1978-92 and this is recounted in his song ‘Mohammed the Kabul red’. He has no love for New Labour singing “ New Labour, fuck off and die” and has called it a “travesty of a socialist party”. He described the 2003 Iraq War as a “hideous imperialist crusade”. During this tour Attila is writing a column for the Morning Star, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Britain (former CPGB). The Morning Star describes Attila as “a non-aligned Communist and a good friend of the Morning Star”. He describes himself as a “freelance leftie”, and others have called him “an anti-fascist social surrealist rebel performance poet”.
Attila’s website carries a photograph of himself and his band mates in front of the Karl Marx monument in Karl Marx Stadt in the former DDR. He has written that “it is up to us, the people, to determine the future and to take power away from the bastards who would destroy our hopes, our communities, our world”. It’s a shame he gives his support to reformist policies and state capitalism.