Kosovel (1904-1926) died when he was only 22 but even in such a short period managed to leave an exceptional and powerful opus behind. His poetic and thoughtful nature were leaning against Russian constructivism and would have most likely had fate similar to those of his contemporaries in Russia as Kosovel’s last performances were already showing a clear conflict between him and the governing authorities.
Kosovel started writing poetry in his high school in impressionist style, then between 1919 and 1921 he was turning to futurism when his red-and-black poetic experiments were born. He took up Dadaism argumentatively even though he never stuck to it seriously. We can only feel it through several poems and quotations they contain. Due a special position the literature held with the Slovenian people, especially to him as someone coming from the coastal region, he held the language as sacred thus futuristic or Dadaistic, or even surrealistic, practice could not have stayed with him for long.
He regarded expressionism only as a stepping stone towards a so-called contemporary art which, according to Kosovel, was about to emerge along with revolutionary constructivism, setting up new values to humans in the warring era, which expressionism failed to deliver as being detached from the life. Therefore he opted for so-called active or combating expressionism, a movement in which he achieved some of his best works.
Kosovel was well versed in individual avant-garde movements and devoted his work mostly to constructivism. Only through this movement was he able to synthesize mechanical technique and organic nature – the two opposing items in the human creating until that point in time – thus achieving a balance between Tatlinian rounded mechanic technique and organic nature. The content blended with the form. Kosovel began a fierce fight to rehabilitate Tatlin for this fight was also his own fight with constructivism. Otherwise he would not have devoted so intensively to Tatlin with his manifest Mechanics and several other, as well as numerous quotations in his poems and diaries, evoking architecture, etc.
For Russian constructivists time and space are no longer dual antithetic categories but interwoven in textual structures. Due to the overlap of the content and the form and the limitations, Kosovel found it important to discern the construction from the composition that Lissitsky called vešč (veshch) rather than Kunstwerk, correlating it completely to Kosovel’s own term of kons (also a four-letter word). Therefore the term kons is connected to a typical Russian contracting (loks by Chicherin, veshch by Lissitsky), also taken over by some European avant-garde artists (merz by Schwitters, mont by Huelsenbeck). By redefining a piece of art and its role in life he indicated the connection between non-Euclidean geometry and Einsteinian space-time.
Kons’s are trying to realize fundamental ideas of the Space by Lissitsky, Tatlin and Nagy. These ideas are also linked with ethical constructivist consciousness of the need for ecological use of materials, achievable through overloading or rather, loading down the theme to a maximum. Following Lissitsky’s path, in kons Kosovel managed to set up a void changing into plane-convex-plane-concave space, into letters growing into space with no perspective or gravity. The use of engineering imagery, geometric materials and spatial inclination of kons effectively united the content and the form into a new organic whole, which interconnects Kosovel with the Russian and European constructivism. This was also a part of his first public appearance in November 1925 in Ljubljana.
The construction of spatial understanding of kons was achieved through a flow of words, interaction of planes, search for the depth and breaking the surfaces which liberated Kosovel from closed, static surfaces enabling him to transfer to spatial poems. That poetry can no longer be a subject to traditional aesthetics dealing with beautiful and non-beautiful objects but to science registering the intensity of the bonds we feel for the objects. In the same way as to Tatlin, Hlebnik, Chicherin or Malevich, macrocosm is shown to Kosovel again and again through microcosm.
Through his great knowledge of Russian constructivism Kosovel greatly influenced his associates and friends. A year after his death, in 1927, Trieste Constructivist Cabinet was exactly the place where, due to Kosovel’s influence, an argument between supremacists and constructivists was settled (previously attempted by Lissitsky through a theoretical synthesis of both fractions in 1921). Through a white square hanging from an invisible thread under the ceiling, “White on White” by Malevich, an icon of modern painting, the burden of a composition was stripped off and the border between the aesthetics of subjected framed painting and the construction as a new formation of space was established. The statics of Malevich’s work, as probably Kosovel would have told in his exposition, grew into the space and transformed into a moving construction. This means it was exactly during this occasion in Trieste when Malevich was liberated for the first time from historical burden laid upon him by Tatlin when he described his piece as “a sum of all mistakes in the history of painting”. These facts put Trieste Constructivist Cabinet among the most important events in the history of the avant-garde in general. The argument that started in INHUK between Kandinsky and Rodchenko, later continued between Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy and Gropius on Bauhaus and transferred into the argument between Černigoj-Kosovel in Ljubljana, was finally settled. Willet’s thesis that there was no avant-garde below the line Vienna-Budapest was completely rejected.
Kosovel is responsible for the constructivism having its pinnacle outside the Soviet Union right through his kons. Kosovel was aware of it – in his Mechanics he wrote about the related events taking place in Slovenia for the first time and he understood his life as „Slovenian, contemporary, European and eternal“. Kosovel never belonged to a small-town literature as his example denies the thesis that the constructivism achieved significance primarily in fine arts and architecture, whereas its influence onto the literature was just minor in Europe.
Intensive but short Kosovel’s political phase serving the revolutionary purposes, as it happened with many Russian, French, Czech, Polish, German and other members of the avant-garde movement, ended with Kosovel’s demise. He died too young to reach the indoctrination of the thirties which yet finished with the conflict in the left-wing in Slovenia, differently than in other parts of what was then Yugoslavia.
In the last years, especially last months of his life, Kosovel was floating between the poetic and political, between kons and integrals. In his last exposé before the urban audience, which was later postponed, he was planning on re-appearing as a constructivist which is immensely important for understanding his constructivism. Therefore we are analysing Kosovel’s public appearances thoroughly and following his increasing political engagement which slowly resulted in the ban of his public work, coinciding with his fatal illness.