Ode to Construction
Abstraction in the Digital Age
Ode to Construction – Abstraction in the Digital Age, a work by Polina Joffe, explores the intersections of graphic design and art through the means of generative code, gesturing playfully and melancholically towards the foundational legacies of the Suprematist and Constructivist movements of the early 20th century.
At the heart of the 664 page book, filled mainly with generated constructions that visually echo modernist abstraction, is an essay written by Madeleine Morley and Max Boersma. Together, they place the work in its historical and contemporary contexts.
At once a book, website, and installation, Ode to Construction demonstrates the fluidity of design’s materializations within the conditions of the digital, moving effortlessly between screen, print, and space.
Max Boersma is a PhD candidate at Harvard University, specializing in twentieth-century art. He holds a Master’s in Art History from Williams College, and for 2021, he is the recipient of a Fulbright research grant to Berlin, Germany.
Madeleine Morley is a writer whose words have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Dazed and Confused Magazine, AnOther, Elephant, Creative Review, and many more. She was previously editor of the magCulture journal and senior editor at AIGA’s Eye on Design. Madeleine is currently editor at type foundry Dinamo, and she lectures regularly on design, technology, and visual culture.
“We no longer write. We process words, by manipulating the electrical signals that govern simulated alphanumeric text on screens. We no longer draw. We process images, by manipulating electrical signals that govern simulated geometry on screens… The age of orthography has drawn to a close.”
John May, 2019
John May, 2019
By working across various modes, Joffe’s Ode to Construction refracts this condition through the foundational strategies of modernist abstraction, an attempt by the designer to understand the Russian avant-garde via the tools of the present, and vice-versa.
Through positioning itself historically, her project avoids what Bois calls the “bad dream of the non-compositional drive,” the pursuit of a wholly rationalized, pre-programmed, and mathematical art. Instead, Joffe’s Ode might be understood as an elegy for “construction,” recognizing both the promises and contradictions embedded in this historical term. In so doing, her project brings one apparent historical rupture in conversation with another to see what becomes visible and thinkable in the process.
(Extract from Ode to Construction)