Fugitive Structures:

The Bauhaus Building in Dessau

Fugitive Structures: The Bauhaus Building in Dessau is a series of five risograph images remediating the Bauhaus building in Dessau. Highlighting the ways in which the Dessau building and its photographic archive have been repeatedly subject to destructive political, cultural, and environmental forces, we transform these early photographs and contemporary heritage documentation of the building as examples of what we call anarchival materiality, or the generative force of entropy in archives. The anarchival force of molecular transformation, violence, displacement, and other human and non-human interactions render archival materials as fugitives, both eluding and driving preservation. The risographs show the mutable value of objects as they become fugitives (anarchival) and then archival again in new contexts and media.

The Risograph is an offset ink printing machine notorious for unpredictability and imperfection and misalignments of cyan, magenta, and yellow layers when making a color copy. Working with this machine we co-created misaligned risograph images to unbind the building and archive from a narrative of stability and permanence. Our images suggest that the Dessau building, envisioned by Walter Gropius as a manifesto of the Bauhaus idea and promoted largely without crediting the photographer, Lucia Moholy, exists as an entropic fugitive archive that is as precarious as it is iconic. How does considering the Dessau building through a critical feminist ethos of anarchival materiality suggest an alternative reading of Bauhaus histories and futures? The risograph images represent our collaborative practice of image making between art and anthropology, and were produced as a method for writing about the Bauhaus for its centennial year.

Barad, Karen (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway. Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. London and Durham: Duke University Press.
Markgraf, Monika (2006) “Conservation and Preservation of the Bauhaus Building in Dessau,” in World Heritage Sites of the 29th Century – German Case Studies – Heritage at Risk Special Edition: The Soviet Heritage and Europe Modernism, ed. Jorg Haspel, Micheal Petzet, Anke Zalivako, and John Zeisemer (Paris: ICOMOS).
Schuldenfrei, Robin (2013) Images in Exile: Lucia Moholy’s Bauhaus Negatives and the construction of the Bauhaus Legacy. History of Photography 37:2. Pp. 182-203.
Image captions adapted from:
Smith, Trudi Lynn, Hennessy, Kate, Neumann, Oliver (2019). Anarchival Materiality: The Bauhaus Building in Dessau. Bauhaus Futures. Laura Forlano, Molly Wright Steenson, Mike Ananny, Eds. Pp. 185-193. MIT Press.
Fugitive Structures, Risograph 1
Risograph image remediating Lucia Moholy self-portrait.
© Trudi Lynn Smith and Kate Hennessy 2019.

What is a work of art? How is it inseparable from its documentation? For most of the 20th century, the Bauhaus Building in Dessau was both a building and a photograph. Between 1924 and 1928 Lucia Moholy photographed the Bauhaus building as a Gesamthkunstwerk, the “working, learning and living” environment that created a structure for the Bauhaus (Schuldenfrei 2013, 182). As Robin Schuldenfrei (2013) has shown, Lucia Moholy’s photographs form an essential part of the archive and functioned as a widely circulated proxy for the building itself. When Lucia Moholy was forced to flee Berlin with the rise of the National Socialist party, she was also forced to abandon the bulk and weight of her extensive photographic glass-plate documentation of the Bauhaus. The precarious photographs were later retrieved by Walter Gropius from her apartment and exiled with him to the United States after pressure from the National Socialist party forced the closure of the Dessau building in 1932-33. In their fugitive state, and without Moholy’s knowledge or permission as rightful copyright holder, Gropius transformed Moholy’s negatives from being part of her active work as a photographer and theorist into an archive that he would control and reproduce to re-establish the Bauhaus narrative from abroad.

Fugitive Structures, Risograph 2
Risograph image remediating Lucia Moholy’s photograph of the Dessau building.
© Trudi Lynn Smith and Kate Hennessy 2019.

The Dessau building, as the photograph becomes known, is enacted by the force of Moholy, a camera, f-stop, shutter speed, brightness, atmosphere, temperature, actinic rays of the sun, atomic vibrations of chemistry and substrate, the determinacy of making an exposure, her hands holding the shutter release or lens cap, storage in her apartment, and theft. This web of phenomena that constitute reality via intra-activity is a concept Karen Barad forwards to signal relational articulations of the world (2007, 141). Thus there are two entangled ways the wartime photograph reveals what the Bauhaus obscures in their modernist vision of the world: a denial of the specific material arrangements that produce the world (Moholy’s web) and the ways that the world is lively (the ongoing life of the building): “concepts are not ideations but specific material arrangements” (Barad 2007, 144). Moholy’s photograph is the archival ideal, not the real. What the camera catches in that moment is the force of an agential cut (Barad 2007) in the ongoing, entropic force of the world: Anarchival materiality.

Fugitive Structures, Risograph 3
Risograph image remediating a photograph of the Dessau Building in 1945.
Adapted from Conservation and Preservation of the Bauhaus Building in Dessau by Monika Markgraf.
© Trudi Lynn Smith and Kate Hennessy 2019.

Although the force and structure of Moholy’s photographic vision of the Dessau building constitutes the ongoing life of the building, the Dessau building has been repeatedly subject to destructive political and environmental forces. The Dessau building was significantly damaged from bombing in 1945 and this image stands in stark contrast to more widely known and circulated modernist photographs taken by Lucia Moholy. While Moholoy’s image is a powerful articulation of stability, permanence, and strength, so the wartime image becomes unreal. Despite this, the wartime image is more accurate: Parts of the building that were destroyed were not reconstructed until 1976, and the original glass curtain wall, central to Moholy’s iconic photograph, was destroyed and then changed in subsequent restorations.

Fugitive Structures, Risograph 4
Risograph image remediating a hollow cinder block.
Adapted from Conservation and Preservation of the Bauhaus Building in Dessau by Monika Markgraf.
© Trudi Lynn Smith and Kate Hennessy 2019.

This image shows a three-colour hollow cinder block, generated from a photograph from the construction research archive at the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation (Markgraf 2006). This ubiquitous building material, once unremarkable and anarchival, becomes significant and archival once again in the context of its world heritage status. The brick is weathered, an imperfect form chipped away at through the relational work of structure and insulation. The hollow cinder block exists as part of the archive and as an archive itself, acting as proof of the building technology, and of its fugitivity away from Bauhaus ideal via “tangible building problems” (Markgraf, 2006, 111). Unlike Moholy’s perpetually circulated photograph, the present-day construction archive foregrounds the agency of anarchival materiality and the mutable fugitive, in which entropic materials become integral to the designation of the building as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Fugitive Structures, Risograph 5
Risograph image remediating a photograph of the greenhouse at Dessau.
Adapted from Conservation and Preservation of the Bauhaus Building in Dessau by Monika Markgraf.
© Trudi Lynn Smith and Kate Hennessy 2019.

The greenhouse was documented by architectural heritage scholar Monika Markgraf to show a now dismantled structure built on the grounds of the Bauhaus complex after the second world war. A phantom, the greenhouse was created using the original steel frame windows from the Dessau Building, and then disassembled during subsequent restorations as the original windows were deemed anarchival (garbage) and then became archival again. Eventually, as Markgraf explains, the greenhouse windows were identified as the lost original Dessau building windows, and the greenhouse was dismantled. The windows were then “…documented in drawings and photographs, carefully restored and finally reinstalled in the building” (2006, 110). In the year 2000, the process of restoration and re-installation made the fugitive windows archival again, along with bricks and other original building materials that were viewed as integral to the archival material record of the Dessau design and construction.