The “international workgroup for constructive art”

The “international workgroup for constructive art” (“internationaler arbeitskreis für konstruktive gestaltung” called “iafkg” for short) was formed in 1972 in Antwerp. The key purpose of this cooperative, whose founding members were officially stated as the two German artists Pierre de Poortere and HD Schrader in tandem with the Belgian artist Guy Vandenbranden, lay in the development and presentation of thematically oriented work programmes executed by a changing array of artists.

The iafkg’s conscious abstention from formulating a binding programme had the positive effect of safeguarding its members’ independence while at the same time attracting an at first barely manageable influx of artists who in the broadest terms felt committed to constructivism. Thus, to begin with, their common interest occupied a kind of terminological grey area since, as an umbrella notion, the concept of constructivism described an artistic movement that from its inception had fanned out into a multitude of different tendencies.

From 1973 onwards the iafkg presented its initial work results in touring exhibitions or in the form of collaboratively published portfolios of graphics. The number of participants was gradually reduced through increasingly concrete thematic specification, paving the way for intense dialogue. Ideal conditions for this dialogue were created by the iafkg symposia that were held after 1976 in various European cities. These offered participants a forum for lecture series and discussions, while also allowing them a direct exchange of practical and theoretical experience, especially since their artistic contributions were on the whole generated in situ. To provide greater thematic scope, besides artists invitations were also extended to architects, art historians, museum directors and scientists.

The overriding motto of the first symposium held in Antwerp was “200 x 200”. This was followed by further conventions located in Varese (Italy) (“Sul concetto di serie”), in Schloss Buchberg (Austria, in 1979, which was organized in cooperation with the Austrian association “Verein für exakte Tendenzen”), in Motovun (Yugoslavia, also in 1979) (“Transformation on paper”), in Hamburg (Germany, in 1980) (“Konstruktive Kunst und Architektur”), in Kemi (Finland, in 1983) (“Nature-Structure-Construction”) and in Kleinsassen/Fulda (Germany, in 1986) (“Kunststrasse Rhön”).

Besides the respective inscribed members a series of invited guests also participated in the work programmes and symposia. Among those who over many years regularly attended the iafkg’s events were: Marcello Morandini (I), Alberto Zilocchi (I), Pierre de Poortere, HD Schrader (D), Peter Lowe, Jean Spencer (GB), Matti Kujasalo (SF), Ewerdt Hilgemann, Ad de Keijzer (NL), Jose Breval, François Morellet (F) and Ryszard Winiarski (PL). Honorary members of the iafkg were R. P. Lohse (CH), Kenneth Martin (GB) and Henryk Stazewsky (PL).

Although fluctuation within the group was high and the spectrum of approaches it represented remained varied, over time the basic consensus among seasoned members and guest participants became increasingly clear: it pointed to a mode of working that, in my opinion, is best summarized with the concepts “constructive, concrete, systematic, conceptual, experimental, analytical, serial”.

Thematic specification

Of these concepts it is in particular the notion of seriality that interests me in terms of the workgroup. It can be applied to two closely related artistic procedures: on the one hand it describes a sequence of thematically connected images or objects, in other words the series in the classical sense as can be repeatedly found in art history since Monet’s Haystacks. (To my knowledge the most comprehensive study of this topic is to be found in Katharina Sykora’s doctor’s thesis “Das Phänomen des Seriellen in der Kunst. Aspekte einer künstlerischen Methode von Monet bis zur amerikanischen Pop-Art” [The phenomenon of seriality in art. Aspects of an artistic approach from Monet to American Pop art] published in Würzburg in 1983.) Besides this, it can also apply to the serial succession of formal stages of representation within a single work of art.

Whether a series or an image-specific serial sequence, both notions evolve from a logical dynamic of forms. The first impulse for this dynamic comes from the artist when he decides upon a system to be followed by the subsequent modifications of his pictorial or object elements – which are mostly reduced to a minimum. The kind of systems these might be will be elucidated at a later point.

The following are examples of possible dynamic procedures within a serial sequence, in which a gradual change or a generative movement takes place: expansion, contraction, rotation, dispersion, concentration, torsion, development, conversion, progression, regression, penetration, permutation, iteration, convergence, divergence, change of direction, division or multiplication of the original form. The simultaneous or rigorously sequential effect of several forces is equally possible.

Any reference here to an original form does not imply that a serial sequence necessarily involves explicitly defined points of inception and termination. On the basis of a passage by Huntington quoted by Sykora (“The continuum and other types of serial order”, Cambridge, 1921) I assume there are four possible serial forms. These are “1) Those that have neither a first nor a final element, 2) those that have a first but not a final element, 3) those that have a final but not a first element, 4) those that have a first and a final element.”

In terms of the theme in question these forms could be divided into open and closed series. Whereas the open serial sequence could be defined as a horizontally envisaged, linear chain capable of infinite extension to the right or the left, the closed serial sequence is manifested as a cycle. Its starting and finishing points are identical or can only be distinguished by being wholly inverted from positive into negative (and vice versa). The cycle can only be extended within its own intrinsic parameters.

Based on this fundamental distinction I would now like to describe several systems which iafkg artists have used or still use as a means of achieving the objects of their respective interests.


Whether (as indeed in most cases) it is the wish for a precise and the most objective possible form of artistic creativity that serves as the key impulse, or whether this (as in Lohse’s case) also reflects an implicitly scientific approach, has no effect whatsoever on the one common feature shared by the different methods. They are all concerned with the basic elements and laws underlying artistic creativity.

As the work of François Morellet shows, these parameters can be addressed in a variety of ways. In a retrospective of his work from 1950 to 1975 he himself adopted a thematic classification into five systematic clusters, which he defined as “juxtaposition”, “superimposition”, “chance”, “interference” and “fragmentation”. In his work the successive change of any one modular form was constantly subject to an overriding principle that met his pronounced wish for a curtailment of his artistic subjectivity. Those works by Morellet that were generated by chance may have been the closest expression of this wish, even if chance itself remained a component of his systematic strategy.

The idea of lending anonymity to art was shared by Morellet and R. P. Lohse, who, however, on the basis of a meticulously developed (and most comprehensively documented) theory left almost nothing to chance. In his case, series and serial sequences were the logical outcome of two principles intrinsic to all artistic work: 1) by establishing the square as the principle of the basic modular unit and the image, and 2) from the prescribed identity of quality and extension, from which an uninterrupted continuum of seamlessly juxtaposed colour fields was developed. In order to impose a limit on this (mathematically derived) continuum Lohse extended his system with the principle of using equal volumes of all the implemented colours.

Marcello Morandini’s works (paintings, drawings, sculptures, reliefs) examine processes of movement and mutation in stereometric forms. The phases of gradual change are always shown within a single work. While they are presented in temporal succession, they are also simultaneously present in their spatial juxtaposition on the picture’s surface. As metamorphic processes within the image, they seem trapped in endless repetition since, in general, their starting and finishing points are identical. These are closed series in the manner described above.

Since the end of the 1960s HD Schrader has focused his attention on the cube. Whereas his early works and work series can mostly be understood as closed serial sequences of progressive modifications of the cube, the individual phases of his most recent works have – in the truest sense of the word – fallen apart. The series of “Cubecracks” he produced in 1996 are steel sculptures Schrader extracted as segments of a larger cuboid space and assembled at various sites (on a touring exhibition installed in Herne, Ingolstadt, Lübeck and Hamburg). The diagonal cuts with which the imagined cube was split up into twelve fragments – complementary in an ideal context, but isolated in real terms – are not arbitrarily determined. Schrader based each one on a different angle.

As corresponding contributions to the collaboratively published journal show, a not inconsiderable role in the group’s theoretical work was played by the possibilities of computer-based art and cybernetics as modelling aids for creative construction. Even Leibniz has been called upon in this context, in particular as an authority, on the one hand, on the reduction of pictorial means and, on the other, on the greatest possible diversity of conceivable combinations.

Excerpt of an essay by Britta Schroeder
Translated from the German by Matthew Partridge