For Farscape fans in Chicagoland and the Great Lakes area.

Aug 24

Russian Constructivists and Farscape

Category: Farscape

From Farscape Canada, we learn that the PK Symbol is derived from a Russian artist’s work, titled "Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge". It was created by artist Lazar Markovich Lissitzky in 1919 during the middle of the Russian communist revolution, and belongs to the Russian Constructivist movement. You can see other examples below right, by Russian artists such as Aleksandor Mikhailovich Rodchenko and Lyubov Popova, and Hungarian artist L├íszl├│ Moholy-Nagy.

Familiar Look

It is perhaps no accident that Farscape’s Production Designer, Ricky Eyres, used an image from the Russian Constructivist art movement. The movement was born out of the Suprematism movement (1915 – 1916), lasted from about 1920 to 1930, and was a major influence on the Bauhaus School and its disciples (also from about 1919 to 1933.)

Suprematism focused on the fundamental geometric forms such as circles and squares. Constructivism wanted to use art as an means of social change which naturally dovetailed with the revolutionary change that was sweeping the old order out of Russia. The Bauhaus movement, which influenced architecture, graphic arts, typography, interior decoration, and consumer product design, created the practical result of these ideas, which, in the end, affected the way people lived in the western industrialized parts of the world. (Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology houses the Institute of Design, formerly the New Bauhaus School, a direct offshoot of the original Bauhaus school.)

Russian Constructivism

Disciples of Constructivism sought to use art and design as a means of social change. Constructivist artists put their art at the direct disposal of the revolutionary forces, creating agit-prop (short for "agitating propaganda") posters and illustrations. They sought to create art that would create active involvement with their viewers, which is perhaps why the images contain strong colors and massive shapes. Other proponents of Constructivism began to demand that objects be" useful" rather than "artistic", and thus achieve a sort of noble integrity.

Eventually the idealistic collective fervor of these early artists of the Russian Revolution fell out of favor with a government that had become equally as totalitarian — if not more so — than the Czarist regime it had annihilated. Observers in the west watched in dismay as the revolutionary leaders turned on each other, leaving only the most ruthless in power at the end. In the subsequent decades, stories of persecution for nameless and arbitrary "crimes" began to leak out to the west. People routinely disappeared into gulags and work camps, after having been sentenced for "political retraining". To Western eyes, the strong, bold images of the early revolutionary Russian art became associated with the heavy-handed centralized government of the Soviet Socialist Republic.

The PeaceKeeper Regime

In the Farscape story, we don’t learn a lot of detail about the Peacekeeper culture, but we can observe the behaviors of such prominent PK characters as Captain Crais, Lieutenant Braca, and Commandant Grayza, and their interactions with their subordinates and other secondary characters. Those that have risen to the top ranks all seem to exhibit common traits, such as ruthlessness, self-serving and autocratic behavior, and cruelty. Although these are not singular characteristics to PKs, it does seem to be endemic among them.

We also see that Moya’s crew have suffered from the unjust and arbitrary treatment at the hands of the PKs, whether by lies, fabrications, treachery, or in the case of Zhaan, when they came in to provide "peace" to her world.

The makers of Farscape unequivocally intended for us to see the PK Regime as brutish, totalitarian, and oppressive. The red and black colors of the PK uniform, and the PK symbol showing a big wedge with a penetrating influence are images that look rather menacing to us today. Yet, by the end of the story, we also learn that they hadn’t started out that way, and were once, long ago, the forces who kept order while another race provided justice to the citizens of the galaxy. The makers of Farscape could have designed any kind of logo for the Peacekeeper forces, and used other, more familiarly militaristic colors for their uniforms. Instead they chose black, white, and red, and the piercing big wedge.

For a better illustration of the menace inherent in these Constructivist images, check out this short video created by Theodor Ushev in 2006 called "Tower Bawher".

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