That the four chose to name their band Bauhaus is astonishing and difficult to interpret. In fact, the band was originally called Bauhaus 1919—bassist David J, who trained as a graphic designer, suggested the name, because of its “stylistic implications and associations”—before shortening it to Bauhaus. Perhaps Ash had also learned about the Bauhaus through his art school preliminary course, which had earlier made a furor in Britain in the 1950s. In a 2018 interview David J, whose first solo venture, significantly, was a collaborative single made with Weimar Bauhaus alumni, the artist and poet René Halkett, explained the association with the historical Bauhaus like this:
“The music we were doing when we first started was very stripped down. It was very stark and minimalist. I thought there was some resonance with the Bauhaus ideology, with respect to form and minimalism. It’s ironic because it’s the opposite of what is considered Gothic in architecture! But it just felt right. I had this book, Bauhaus 1919, referring to the year that the Bauhaus started in Weimar, so that was the original name of the band: Bauhaus 1919. When I suggested it, everybody instantly said, ‘Yeah! That’s great.’ Then we appropriated the Bauhaus face insignia. We just took it.”2
Perhaps the band from the East Midlands were attracted by the cool, and by that time obsolete, surface of modernism, as a new counter-aesthetic in the time of Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal bourgeois hardness. But the band appropriated the name of the school and Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus logo at a time when the Bauhaus and its writings were slowly being covered in dust in archives, museums and libraries. The band Bauhaus gave the school a new life in pop culture. As a punk kid living in the Ruhr area, in 1980 I was listening to legendary BBC announcer John Peel’s program the day he hosted the band on his show. The program helped to give Bauhaus its breakthrough. It also left me with a vague interest in Bauhaus and modernity through the group’s name and appropriation of the Bauhaus logo.
Bauhaus the band had become the medium of a resurrection. Their pop-cultural appropriation of the historic Bauhaus, many years after the fact, opened my eyes that the Bauhaus, like Bela Lugosi, had emerged from the spirit of the nineteenth century. There are those who say the Bauhaus was the last school to give institutional form to the artistic critique of the commodity form under industrial capitalism, a critique that had already been formulated in the middle of the nineteenth century by the British Arts and Crafts movement. The return to medieval guilds was reflected not only in the name Bauhaus or the school’s invocation of craft (which Gropius shared with Indian poet and pedagogue Rabindranath Tagore), but also by the cover of the Bauhaus Manifesto. Designed by Lionel Feininger, the pamphlet featured an expressionist wood print depicting a cathedral that also reflected Bruno Taut’s city crown. The so-called English Gothic Revival, to which the graphics and text of the first Bauhaus Manifesto refer, originated in early imperial industrialized England. The revival, which Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, John Ruskin and William Morris advanced in theses, texts, and works of architecture and design, developed into the British Gothic style. It was to become the country’s defining aesthetic sensibility. It is astonishing that this revival of the Gothic was still being pursued by Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus at the beginning of the twentieth century, and, according to Sarat Maharaj, was to have a far-flung effect, influencing Gandhi’s ideas for recovering the means of production. But this return to pre-capitalist modes of production also says something about the effectiveness of capitalism/colonialism and its recurring, conflicting forces. For this is the only way to understand the survival of enduring ideas; that they could not realize themselves completely in their time and, like a poltergeist, wished to show themselves again and again in unexpected places. In the late 1970s, it was the post-punk band Bauhaus that erected a monument to the forgotten Gothic past of the early Bauhaus on a grave that does not want to close.
This may be due to the fact that, unlike Marx and Engels’ analysis, the Arts and Crafts movement along with the Bauhaus aimed above all to promote aesthetic and educational reform. It is possibly this replacement of a necessary social upheaval by an aesthetic reform movement still haunts us today with its restless spirit. At the end of the 1970s, Bauhaus the band understood Bauhaus the school beyond the myth that, contrary to the imperative, it was necessary to redesign the entire world of objects. Rather, the band Bauhaus transformed the utopia of the Weimar Republic into a dystopia in which the obsolete lived on in its reversal. For the ideologies of progress and growth of industrial capitalism, and the embrace of the synthesis of art and technology that the Bauhaus propagated, after an initial stage where the crafts were foregrounded (roughly from 1923 to 1933), had been used up and the working class and its children disposed of. Unemployment became the hallmark of the so-called postmodern period, under the auspices of the neoliberal ideology predominating in Europe and the United States. Bauhaus lead singer Peter Murphy grew up at a time when the self-sacrificing working class hoped for a better life, and prayed for this eventuality for at Catholic churches built in the Gothic Revival style.
At about the same time Bauhaus was achieving fame, the industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten played a concert in one of the derelict squatted factories in my hometown of Bochum in the Ruhr. Blixa, Mufti & Co. held the concert in solidarity with the precarious youth, who had equipped themselves with everything the abandoned factory had to offer. Throughout Europe, former centers of industrial production had fallen silent. The outsourcing of industry had recently celebrated its triumphal march, and in the now empty factory halls young people all over Europe created centers for their own culture: the wish to establish places beyond paternalism, class and gender hierarchies, beyond social adjustment, beyond schools, vocational training and pre-established career paths were what myself and my comrades had in mind and in common. We sought them in subculture, music and style in clear dissonance with the conservative bourgeois and left-liberal mainstream.
The name Einstürzende Neubauten (collapsing new buildings) refers to a different funeral scenario. For although many young people lived with unemployed or under-employed parents in new buildings from the 1950s, it was the 1972 demolition of a complex of fourteen-story apartment buildings in St. Louis, Missouri, the Pruitt-Igoe complex designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, that symbolically heralded postmodernism—an event captured and disseminated broadly by an attentive media. Twenty years earlier the complex had been considered a premier example of reformist welfare architecture, one that would greatly improve the lives of the poorest section of the population. By the time of its demolition, the complex was known for violence, vandalism, chaos and squalor. The American architectural theorist and landscape designer Charles Jencks commented on the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe with a sentence that has become canonical:
“Modern architecture died in St Louis, Missouri on July 15, 1972, at 3.32 pm (or thereabouts). … It was finally put out of its misery. Boom – boom – boom.”
Another replacement and no time to mourn. No time to mourn for the African-American residents, especially the single mothers who lived (in misery) in the settlement, only to be delivered from Pruitt-Igoe to another misery. To introduce a new time and to use the language of violence, Jencks says grinning: “BOOM-BOOM-BOOM.” These shots from the mouth of an architectural critic sound more than cynical today in the context of Black Lives Matter. What the violent wars of the twentieth century did not destroy, demolition balls, explosions, housing speculation, urban politics and racist discourse do today.
In opposition to Jencks: Affordable housing and education for all are demands of a modernity I certainly do not wish to bury. Nor do I wish to inter the necessary creation of new institutions when social conditions require it. The ethos with which the Bauhaus began—to found a school dedicated to the idea that art and design processes might enter into a new relationship with mass industrial production, creating a third place where artistry and good design were neither rejected nor left to the caprices of market forces and/or turned into status symbols for the social elite—is an undead that will continue to haunt us until we here in the present are able to realize it.