A Bus That Honors and Challenges the Bauhaus Legacy

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, Berlin-based collective Savvy Contemporary has launched “Spinning Triangles,” a traveling exhibit that aims to both honor and challenge the school’s legacy. As the collective describes, “We recognize the Bauhaus not only as a solution, but also as a problem, and will propose a school of design that may well become an ‘un-school’ and will emerge through a process between Dessau, Kinshasa, Berlin, and Hong Kong.”

The proposed “un-school” comes in the form of a downsized model—on wheels—of the original Bauhaus school in Dessau. Designed by Van Bo Le-Mentzel and curated by Elsa Westreicher, Arlette-Louise Ndakoze, and Bonaventure Soh Bejeng, the mini-version is striking in its similarities to the original school, featuring the same glass facade and iconic lettering. Inside the Wohnmaschine, or “living machine,” there is space for exhibitions and workshops as well as a well-stocked library.

The Savvy Contemporary traveling project aims to explore and “unlearn” colonial concepts of modernity, and to foster a more inclusive and global interpretation of the Bauhaus legacy. As they describe, “It takes up the founding moment of the Bauhaus one hundred years ago and starts from its reality as a school of design to reverse and reshape it… Interventions by various protagonists will activate this mobile ‘world heritage site’ and thus open it up to the public as an ‘academy of the fireside,’ including a reading room.”

After an initial January launch in Dessau, the project made its maiden journey to Berlin, home of the Bauhaus-Archiv. In April the project will travel to Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for a week of workshops and exchanges with design professionals. The final voyage will be in October, to the Para space in Hong Kong, for a reflection on the global experiences of the project and the evolving role of Bauhaus, both past and future. “It doesn’t end in October, but it’s just a beginning,” said Ndakoze, adding that the collective hopes that the interaction and dialogue fostered in the coming months will continue long into the future.

With their Bauhaus-inspired traveling project, the collective hopes to examine power relations in the context of globalization and the impact of these on design and ideas. As the collective describes in the project’s mission statement, “This school will not be developed by the geopolitical west, but through the accelerated movement between deeply interwoven places—Dessau, Kinshasa, Berlin and Hong Kong—and will confuse their prescribed roles as idea provider, raw material supplier, and champion of production.”

Though the original Bauhaus school was open for only 14 years, its impact on art, architecture, and design remains significant and far-reaching. Founded in Weimar in 1919 by Walter Gropius, the school was intended to revolutionize the way people thought of art and design. As Gropius wrote in the Bauhaus Manifesto:

Architects, sculptors, painters—we all must return to craftsmanship! For there is no such thing as “art by profession.” There is no essential difference between the artist and the artisan. The artist is an exalted artisan. Merciful heaven, in rare moments of illumination beyond man’s will, may allow art to blossom from the work of his hand, but the foundations of proficiency are indispensable to every artist. This is the original source of creative design.

So let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen, free of the divisive class pretensions that endeavored to raise a prideful barrier between craftsmen and artists! Let us strive for, conceive and create the new building of the future that will unite every discipline, architecture and sculpture and painting, and which will one day rise heavenwards from the million hands of craftsmen as a clear symbol of a new belief to come.

During its brief existence, the school experienced many changes, including three different directors—Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe—and three different places: Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin. In 1933, the school was forced to close under pressure from the Nazi regime. Many of the school’s professors and visionaries left Germany, taking with them the Bauhaus vision as they relocated around the world.

According to Annemarie Jaeggi, director of the Bauhaus-Archiv, many of the founding principles of the Bauhaus school remain “extremely relevant” today. As she describes during a video walking tour of the original school in Dessau, these ideas include, “being involved in the problems and tasks of your own time—not copying, not looking back into the past, but thinking here and now and possibly into the future as well.” She describes the “ten commandments” of the school to include the need to “be rooted in your own time, study the material, use it sparingly.”

So far, responses to the Savvy Contemporary project have been positive, said Ndakoze, describing the initial January launch in Dessau and the design of the “thought movement on wheels” as an immediately compelling way to attract a diverse array of visitors. “It’s a really elegant way to get people into the mind of our deconstructing project,” she said, adding that the collective hopes the project will prompt thought and dialogue about some of the more problematic aspects of the Bauhaus movement, such as cultural appropriation and patriarchal leadership.

Savvy Contemporary was founded in 2009 by Cameroonian curator and biotechnologist Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung. The “Spinning Triangles” project is one in a diverse line of collaborations that aim to deconstruct dominant structures. The Wohnmaschine installation is dedicated to the memory of Oury Jalloh, an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone who died in police custody in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt in 2005. As the collective describes, “…Through the attention for the Wohnmaschine we are able to bring to light and discuss… topics that are preferred to be swept under the carpet: like state violence, structural racism, and the newest violent shift to the right in Germany. We are theoretically and practically looking into the role design can and has to play within these social and political realities.”

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