Biological Experiments in Art and Architecture: Biocentrism in El Lissitzky’s Prouns


May 2023

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Russian avant-garde artist El Lissitzky produced a series of nonobjective works he called Proun (1919-1927). His neologism, the word “Proun”, stands for “project for the affirmation of the new.” While the Prouns are most often analyzed through an architectural or even mathematical lens, recent scholarship shows evidence of influences from the natural sciences, biology in particular. Evidenced by Lissitzky’s writings, Austro-Hungarian biologist Raoul Heinrich Francé’s works of popular science were a potent source, specifically the soil botanist’s concept of biotechnik. The purpose of this study is to investigate the extent to which Lissitzky’s Prouns were compositionally and conceptionally affected by biocentrism after he began reading the works of Raoul Francé’s biological philosophy. This study analyzes three sequential Prouns produced between 1923 to 1924 primarily through the lens of biocentrism. Developed originally as an architectural and social experiment, the Prouns became, for Lissitzky, an organic idea-and- form machine, providing him a means to approximate immersive experiences for the full body. This is evident through the evolution of the Prouns from two-dimensional works to three- dimensional spatialized experiences.



Art History