Julia Schirrmeister

Aleksandr Rodchenko, Spatial Construction no. 12, 1920. Plywood, aluminum paint, and wire. Museum of Modern Art, NYC.

Figure 1. Aleksandr Rodchenko, Spatial Construction No. 12 (1920), Plywood, aluminum paint, and wire, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Faktura refers to the surface treatment of a work of art. In the late nineteenth century, artists such as Seurat took an increasingly innovative approach to the faktura (or facture) of their paintings, making it central to their technique.  It was the Russian Constructivists, however, who explored this concept most intensely. In 1922, Aleksandr Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova defined faktura as “material consciously worked and expediently used, without hampering the construction or restricting the tectonics.”1  By this, they meant embracing the inherent physical properties of the material in practical ways that makes transparent the extent to which the object has been fabricated, thus revealing its process of creation.  The Russian Constructivist created works of art with “consciously worked” materials, such as wood, glass, or metal, that they conceived via a process of research, through quasi-scientific laboratory experiments.2 They avoided using materials symbolically (by making them refer to or represent something else) and instead made objects whose very forms were dictated by the material’s tactile qualities, a concept also known as “truth to materials.”

Their focus on faktura was a political response to the Russian Revolution of 1917, which launched a period of radical reconsideration of the social role of the art object in a classless society.  Rodchenko and Stepanova’s use of the term “consciously worked” suggests a Marxist critical focus on material relationships in general.  By emphasizing the faktura of an object they tried to challenge the idea that art making was a bourgeois activity, tied to mystic concepts of divine artistic inspiration. Instead, practical scientific research into the properties of materials (both artistic and industrial) drew attention to the social utility of art.  Theoretically, their studio findings could then be adopted by industry for mass production.  Their ideology was summed up in several manifestos that hailed technical artistic laboratory experiments and art made for the masses.3

Rodchenko’s Spatial Construction No. 12 (1920) is an example of the Constructivist focus on faktura.  It is one of two surviving works from the 1921 exhibition of the Obmokhu (“Society of Young Artists”), where works were shown as laboratory experiments exploring the essential qualities of faktura. His suspended construction was made of a single piece of plywood, cut into concentric ellipses and partially coated with aluminum paint. Rodchenko’s decision to use aluminum paint with industrial associations is not an arbitrary one.  Its reflective quality draws attention to the physical properties of the paint itself.  The object is also an active participant in the space in which it is placed, as airflow has the potential to create movement.  The shadows cast on the walls further clarifies the structure of its composition.  Rodchenko organized the construction in a way that it could be rotated to create a three-dimensional structure and then folded back into its original two-dimensional form, thereby making the process of its production transparent to his viewers. It is a vivid demonstration of his conception of faktura as “material consciously worked and expediently used.”



  1. Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova, “Programme of the First Working Group of Constructivists (1922),” in Art in Theory 1900-2000, eds. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Malden: Blackwell, 1922): 342.
  2. Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, “From Faktura to Factography,” October 30 (1984): 87-88.
  3. Margit Rowell. “Vladmir Tatlin: Form/Faktura,” October 7 (1978): 86.