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If I was a chess set ???

Thursday, April 25, 2019

 While at the exhibition “Netherlands <=> Bauhaus”, I decided to take a closer look at a chess set [x] by Josef Hartwig [x], barely knowing anything about either chess or Josef Hartwig.
Reaching the end of the basic year has made me think about how I have developed so far in my practice, way of living, and my way of seeing and making things. For this reason I will use the Bauhaus chess set designed in 1922 and observe to what extent it relates to me as a Rietveld Student.


  First of all, a few pieces of information about Josef Hartwig: he was the head of the sculpture department at the Bauhaus, invited by Walter Gropius between 1921 and 1925. He was also a member of the NSDAP during the reign of the Nazi regime in Germany. It is hard to find any specific information about his actual role in the Nazi party, but his association with the 3rd Reich already shows a gap between the Rietveld of today and the old Bauhaus. Today it seems unthinkable to have, within the academy, someone so close minded and rigid controlling all aspects of students’ education.


             But while looking deeper into chess, I realized that it is one of the oldest games that is still around today. Appearing in India during the 7th century, reaching Europe during the 9th and receiving it’s most modern rules in the 19th century, chess is much more than just a game. Due to the fact that it has been around for such a long time it has had a lasting impact on the society it lives within. It has been used throughout history to confront the human capacity for logic, at first among themselves, later against human created computers. It’s not only a source of entertainment, it also gives us a metaphor for complicated and abstract ideas. On this basis I assume that it will give me a clear illustration of the mindset and the philosophy of Bauhaus.



« ..from artists to computer scientists and theologians to politicians, it pushes them, who in turn push us. It allows us to better understand ourselves and the world we live in. »

« “Chess helps you to concentrate, improve your logic. It teaches you to play by the rules and take responsibility for your actions, how to problem solve in an uncertain environment.” – Garry Kasparov, a world chess champion

The specific feature of Hartwig’s chess set is that each pieces tells you how you can maneuver them on the grid. With their characteristic Bauhaus style shapes; made of cubes, cylinders and balls. By handling them and not knowing how to move each pieces, with a bit of imagination and logic we should be able to understand how and where they can move in their closed environment.


        It is a direct image of the Bauhaus education system itself, which base can be found in the basic year ;

– the pawn could be the drawing skills. It opens your game, it’s the base of your development, bu not the most important pieces. By moving it you gives space to the other elements.
– the knight, the bishop, the rooks and the horses can be related to deeper disciplines such as sculpture design, and other medias and mediums. It gives you the ability to create a more complex strategy, all the movement options are exponentially increasing. You get more creativity in the making of your game.
– the queen and the king could represent your capacities as student, those are the most important pieces of the game, they have the biggest impacts even if by using only them you can’t do much.

In my eyes this is a way of development that traveled from Bauhaus to Rietveld. Creating your future moves, depending on your past and taking in account the present.

       As a basic year student that’s where I feel I am at the moment. Figuring out how I can play, how I can use the pieces I have and how to shape the new ones. Even though I realize there’s a lot of similarities between Bauhaus and Rietveld I’m also glad to see a big evolution.

       For me the chess set of Hartwig, couldn’t represent legitimately the current situation, it is, in a way outdated. The Bauhaus set shares the same base but with important differences in its further characteristics.
There’s no grid here, you can move your pieces everywhere. If a grid there is, it’s not made of 8X8 squares, and it’s not flat anymore, you can play on different levels create your grid with different levels.



chess board and pieces by Ivor Dabadie


  Also you shape your own pieces. With different materials and shapes that don’t necessarily tells you what to do by handling them. You need to figure this on your own with some imagination and a bit of helps of course.
Josef’s chess set, his main work is visually strong and practical. Everything is ordered perfectly in the small box, the pieces and the grid are precisely made to fit it. My set is in a bigger box where you have space to put more pieces and games.



Finally an opponent is crucial as the aim is also to understand each other’s ways of playing.


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