Construction and Composition – Linear Construction in Space No.1 by Naum Gabo

Out of all the artworks in the gallery, it was this small sculpture by Naum Gabo that captured my eye and imagination unlike any other. Dissimilar to other sculptural works in the Barber Gallery, Linear Construction relies on form, rather than colour, to create beauty and evoke emotion. With mathematical inspiration, Gabo uses nylon strings contained within a Perspex frame to create symmetrical, sweeping visual gestures which interact harmoniously, interweaving to create an image of unity and strength that contrasts its fragile materials. In contrast to this, the negative space left by the artist has somewhat of an inability to speak, acting in a void-like manner in the very centre of the sculpture.  

Linear Construction in Space No.1 by Naum Gabo, 1942-43

Whether seeing Linear Construction for the first or fiftieth time, an individual, unique journey can be traced by the eye of the viewer, noticing, and moving between different lines and gestures in succession. As one begins to move around the sculpture perceptions and interpretations of the work evolve until eventually, an overall judgement can be made of the piece. It is this process of individual interpretation that I want to evoke in my own composition.

A focus on space and time similar as this was key to Gabo in the curation of Linear Construction. As a key proponent of the Russian Constructivist movement, Gabo was consumed by connections between object and time in his work, and how the combination of individual elements, in this case, strings, can contribute to a greater whole. Considering this historically, it is evident that Gabo desired to convey his own political opinions, upholding views of utopianism in socialism held by fellow constructivists during the period of the Russian revolution (1917-1923). Personally, although I am intending to convey a similar view on time and space to Gabo in my own composition, I am not leaning towards expressing a political view. Instead, I want to focus on how the individual perceives Linear Construction in a manner that reflects the importance of both the unit and the whole.

The real stuff of Gabo’s art is not in his physical materials, but his perception of space, time and movement

Gabo: The Constructive Idea – Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings, Monoprints

So far in my compositional process, I have begun creating sounds relating to the sculpture’s form through synthesis, programming a graphic user interface in Supercollider (an open-source software) to control pitch and timbre using my mouse. I have also done the same in a more percussive sound palette to create a mouse-controlled sound I have been calling ‘pluck’. From recording my mouse movements using these interfaces, I have created a collection of sounds that I have begun layering and editing to create a rough draft of my opening section that you can hear below.

If you are interested in the work and life of Naum Gabo and constructivism, further reading suggestions that I have found particularly interesting can be found below.

Christie’s. 2019. A Brief History of Constructivism. Available at https://www.christies.com/features/a-brief-history-of-constructivism-9811-1.aspx.

Newman, Teresa. 1976. The Constructive Process. London: Tate Gallery Publications.

Southbank Centre. 1987. Gabo: The Constructive Idea – Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings, Monoprints. London: The Southbank Centre

Tate Gallery 1987. Naum Gabo: Sixty Years of Constructivism. London: Tate Gallery Publications.

The Arts Council of Great Britain. 1966. Naum Gabo: Constructions, Paintings, Drawings. London: The Arts Council of Great Britain.

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