Gertrud Arndt

Last week I was lucky enough to go on a study trip to the amazing city that is Berlin. I could go on and on about how wonderful the city was, and how I finally feel I have a true understanding of West Berlin vs. East Berlin (lets put it this way- GCSE history gave me a completely erroneous view), but I am going to focus on something that I feel is “blog relevant”. Henceforth, I’m looking at an amazing small exhibition at the Bauhaus archive on Gertrud Arndt (nee Hantschk).
Regular readers of my blog will know I have a bit of a thing for the Bauhaus, particularly the amazing women who were part of it and Arndt was just one of these ladies. The exhibition looks into two sides of Arndt’s work, both her textiles and her later photography. Arndt is an interesting figure, as she studied weaving at the Bauhaus despite her primary interest being in architecture. For Arndt there was no choice in what to study, as at the time she entered the Bauhaus there was no architecture department. Her photography work came later, after she had married fellow Bauhaus student Alfred Arndt and this is what really interested me.

Arndt’s photography was focused primarily on self portraiture, with only the occasional portrait taken of others (often fellow Bauhaus members) and was (in her own words) a product of “sheer boredom”. It is fascinating therefore that these pictures have now come to be so highly regarded, elevated to the status of art photography. Often Arndt’s name is placed as a pioneer of such documentary self portraiture, precursors of the work by the likes of Cindy Sherman but I think this neglects the real story of what she was doing. I feel these stand in the position of early “selfies” intended as a highly personal moment, and not meant for the outside world. This suggests why Arndt herself was reluctant for these to be exhibited in her lifetime, it wasn’t a fact that they were poor work, rather they were a part of her.  They show Arndt dressed in costume in a number of different poses, and are refreshing for the fact that they are meaningless, taken without real purpose- other than to quell boredom. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the pictures (I’ll be honest I LOVED them) but it just means that the context of them- when placed in an exhibition such as they were, needs to be thought about carefully.

Today there is an undeniable cult of the selfie, whether it be through blogs, twitter, facebook, instagram or photos taken of the self simply to pass the time (hands up who has done this before). I started to wonder how in the future such images that we take may be used in a similar manner to Arndt’s. Thinking of my own personal feelings towards such selfies made me understand why Arndt was reluctant for an exhibition of such images. For her it was a form of experimentation, and it wasn’t so much to do with experimenting with  photography, moreover about experimenting with herself. The clothes she wears, the poses, the intriguing make up all suggest this. Today we are so used to the endless self portraits on the internet that we might normalize Arndt’s portraiture, I think that context needs to be remembered with respect of this exhibition, and that in the 1930s this was a far more unusual thing to do. It is no doubt intriguing though that as Arndt’s status as a former Bauhaus student increased that meaning was placed onto these photographs. 30 years from now may we be seeing public exhibitions of images that originally were posted on Instagram in a fleeting moment of vanity? I can certainly see this as the next step on.

Gertrud Arndt, Mask Portrait, Dessau 1930, No. 13

(sorry that I couldn’t offer better pictures, the Bauhaus archive is strictly NO PICUTRES ALLOWED…or feel the wrath of a scary German woman ; ) )

If you are interested the Gertrud Arndt exhibition is still on now at the Berlin Bauhaus archive.

Women of the Bauhaus

Last week whilst in a lecture about the Bauhaus my lecturer mentioned that a fabulous thing to look at (if one was in need of a little procrastination time) was hair cuts of members of the Bauhaus.
So, can you guess what I’ve been doing today?

The Bauhaus masters in (I think) 1926

What fascinated me was not only the haircuts but the outfits too of these women. Some striking, some minimal, some simply modernist. Many of these women appear ahead of their time in terms of the style of their clothes and appearance.

The Bauhaus itself though has an interesting history, certainly in relation to women and its earliest years. The Bauhaus was, first and foremost, a design school and still today the concept of the “foundation year” that many students on design based courses take before their degree has its roots in the systems employed by the Bauhaus.  The Bauhaus begun under Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany in 1919. Although by 1925 had moved to purpose built premises in Dessau. It is whilst the school was in Dessau that many of the women I share below were either students or teachers at the school.

The female perspective on the Bauhaus is one that intrigues me no end. The Bauhaus despite being a progressive school had a fraught relationship with women. Females were accepted as students, but few went on to receive the notoriety that male students of the Bauhaus did. The majority of female students focused their studies on weaving, i.e. traditional female craft rather than engaging in the more progressive design work that the Bauhaus became so well known for, in particular architecture. 

So today, lets look back and celebrate some of the women of the Bauhaus. I feel like I am doing them something of a dis-service by focusing on their appearance rather than their work, but I think this gives a good background into who the characters of the Bauhaus were- beyond the instantly recognisable figures of Gropius, Meyer and Van Der Rohe.

I’ll start with a few images of Gunta Stolzl who was one of the most important women of the Bauhaus for a number of reason.  Stolzl was the only female master at the Bauhaus (in its original German guise). She became the senior master of the weaving department in 1927. 
Gunta stölzl Tut schlemmer, Walter beck, Oskar schlemmer, 1926
“We wanted to create living things with contemporary relevance, suitable for a new style of life. Huge potential for experimentation lay before us. It was essential to define our imaginary world, to shape our experiences through material, rhythm, proportion, color, form.”
Gunta Stölzl, reflecting on her time at the Weimar Bauhaus in Bauhaus. Zeitschrift für Gestaltung, July 2, 1931
Benita Kock-Otte
Heinrich Koch, Portrait of Benita Koch-Otte, 1920s
Ilse Fehling
Unknown Photographer, Portrait Ilse Fehling, 1928, later print
Irene Bayer
Grit Kallin-Fischer, Portrait Irene Bayer, 1927/28
Karla Grosch
Marianne Brandt (?), Portrait Karla Grosch, Dessau c. 1928-29
Mariane Brandt
Self portrait
Self portrait 1929
Florence Henri
Lucia Moholy, Portrait Florence Henri, en face, 1927
Tulia Kaiser, Florence Henri, N.d.
Margaret Camilla Leiteritz
Greta Stern
Grete Stern, Selbstportrait, 1935
Lis Beyer
Gertrud Arndt
Gertrud’s series of “mask” portraits have to be amongst my favourite Bauhaus era photographs  Although not really recognised until the 1980s they playful images speak of Arndt’s preliminary interest in textiles (she had been a student in the weaving workshop of the Bauhaus).
Erich Consemüller, Marcel Breuer and his “harem” (from left to right: Marta Erps-Breuer, Katt Both and Ruth Hollos-Consemüller), c. 1927
Found this one via pintrest, so no details on it I’m afraid.
I’ll finish with this image of the Bauhaus women. This image features in the book:

Bauhaus Women: Art . Handicraft . Design

which I would highly recommend if you are interested in the topic.