The notion of the BAUHAUS School of Design, founded by Walter Gropius in 1919 in Weimar and superbly functioning until the 1933 when Nazis gained the power in Germany, has been imbedded in the fundaments of modern and contemporary art of the XX century. The school was in 1996 moved to Dessau, and in 1932 its seat was in Berlin just to be closed by the Nazis on August, 10 1933.
Ivana Tomljenović (later Meller-Tomljenović) has joined Bauhaus in Dessau in the autumn of 1929. According to the curriculum she has attended the Introductory Course of Joseph Albers. After the successful graduation Tomljenović has entered the Photography Department under Walter Peterhans, where students have been introduced to the principles of then new and modern photography and contemporary visual culture.
Ivana Tomljenović Meller arrived at the Bauhaus in Dessau in October 1929, after she graduated in painting at the Royal Academy of Art in Zagreb and completed two semesters at the famous Viennese arts and crafts school Kunstgewerbeschule. Unlike the previous two, the Bauhaus was not only an educational institution, but an idea reflecting itself in all the segments of student life. Being a Bauhaus person meant having an enthusiastic and idealistic attitude, quite often accompanied by a leftist political orientation. Its founder, Walter Gropius, had a vision about a school in which all the arts and crafts would unite in a “cathedral of socialism”. The practical aim was to create standardised templates for industrial production which would enrich the lives of masses. Gropius hoped that the people formed by his school would build the modern world. Such an institution required teachers of strong, impressive personalities and the school also hosted visiting lecturers who contributed to the development of polemic spirit, such as writer and revolutionary Ernst Toller.
In 1928 the school management was taken over by Hannes Meyer, a man overlooked and neglected by many historical overviews, even though he in fact created the Bauhaus we recognise today. This architect nurtured socialist views and fostered radical functionalism, considering the creation of conditions for the production of a functional object, i.e. the tangible social purpose of learning the most important aim of the Bauhaus. During their first year at the institution, the students had to pass the Preparatory Course where they rejected all their previous beliefs in order to awaken their natural talents and spiritual readiness for the continuation of education. Studies were made in classes to raise awareness and interpret the tactile effect of particular materials and design objects which explored the connection between body and space.
Lectures about elements of art form were held by Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, who also built in their theosophical beliefs. After the Preparatory Course, students continued their education at one of the departments, taking classes and developing their skills in workshops where they got acquainted with the production process.
In the second semester Ivana Tomljenović Meller enrolled in the Department of Photography, led by Walter Peterhans, photographer, mathematician and philosopher. To a large number of Bauhaus students, photography was only a means of recording everyday life. The absence of directing, quick snaps, errors, i.e. detachment from conventions gave liveliness to their photographs. Still, among the Bauhaus images, including Ivana Tomljenović Meller’s photographs, a certain convention is evident: an accent on the relationship between man and architecture, people in unusual situations, unorthodox angles which create shortened perspectives, group scenes, optical phenomena, double exposure, fabularity...
A special chapter was dedicated to experimental photography introduced by lecturer Lázslo Moholy-Nagy, who had a particular interest in photogram, photomontage and photo-sculpture. The Bauhaus motto was: “Play becomes celebration; celebration becomes work; work becomes play”. The belief that play is indispensable to creativity is also present in Gropius’s Bauhaus manifesto. The most evident example of the said principle are photographs of students, spontaneous works made during “leisure” moments. During her stay at the Bauhaus, Ivana Tomljenović Meller made photographs, today also valuable due to the fact that they portray the life that accompanied the complex educational project.
The photography Tomljenović has made while at Bauhaus demonstrate all the features of the new sensitivity and visual culture: vertical perspective, lower angle, occasionally bizarre themes, light-shadow contrasts, double exposition, experimenting with negatives and photomontages. Furthermore, with her camera Tomljenović has captured dynamic and enthusiastic atmosphere of Dessau’s Bauhaus. Her photographs present everyday life of the Bauhaus students, her friends and acquaintances, but also unquestionable orientation towards the new aesthetics of the photographic image.
Her photomontage “Diktatur in Jugoslawien” from early 30-ties is excellent example of the new aesthetics and formal solutions applied at the Bauhaus of those years.