Staring at Rodchenko

PRESS PHOTOGRAPHER GEORGE PETRUSOV UNDER THE DOME OF A CIRCUS, 1940. ALEXANDER RODCHENKO

What a funny photo. The three lights. The rope ladder. The director dangling above the hammer and sickle. The laurel leaf and the rounded teeth of the draping curtain. The eyes of light staring back at you in the most comic of guises. He’s dangling on a harness, for what reason did he go up there? He looks bewildered but oh so content up there on the swing. He is flanked by his shadow in egg shaped light of the stage lamps. They dangle down like one would see in a chicken coop, as if one was in an incubator. The hammer and sickle, the lights, we are in for a spectacle. They are preparing for it, for the public to come in and endure the incubation of an ideologically driven theatre, for it to be perfect. For it to inhibit all the best characteristics that this new age of machinery and technological discoveries can represent. It’s all so new. It represents progress, the progress of the new era in the Soviet ideology. Funny then how the laurel wreaths the hammer and sickle, how in all this newness, there is still a reliance on the authority of ancient symbols to validate this experience in the public’s perception. And the director hangs under a lightbulb as if he is a puppet. And the bar above him belongs to the puppeteer, and he sits lifeless but ready. His shadows tell another story of the gulf between the public face under the light and the conflicts of a private life that is not caught up in the charm of this new technological life. He is a man of the press. He knows all about spectacles. But perhaps he has got caught up in this one. Even if the face staring back at you resembles a wolf with clown’s teeth.

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