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Эссе о Малевиче

My first encounters with the art of Malevich began quite a long time ago, in the 1940s, when I was a student at the Architectural Institute in Moscow. My teacher Yakov Chernikhov showed me reproductions of Malevich's works. The impression they made was stupefying. The energy emanating from their black simplicity was bewitching... And for a long time it seemed to me that I had been born as an artist and had been lying in the two-dimensional cradle of Malevich.

Yet it is also possible that my flat, two-dimensional cradle gave me pause to doubt (perhaps because it was uncomfortable for me to lie for long on a flat surface). What's more, everything around me was three-dimensional: the architecture and perspective I was studying – in fact the whole surrounding world.

What did Malevich discard one dimension for, why!? Was he enriching or impoverishing his world? And why is the suprematist world flat, while the world of nature is three-dimensional? But that came later! At first, before I'd had enough of lying in my "childhood cradle," Malevich was my god who created the icon of the twentieth century- his Black Square- which opened the way to a completely new perspective on the world. The view from an airplane in the sky, or that of God. Yes! For me he was The Greatest. But later, as I was investigating and studying his work, I saw that both he and his students and followers like Lissitzky had stopped being satisfied with their two-dimensional world. Lissitzky's Prouns, the architectons of Malevich himself, and the constructivism of Rodchenko, Tatlin, the Vesnin brothers, and Yakov Chernikhov seemed richer and more interesting to me.

Maybe Malevich was being crafty in trying to prove he was a divinity or celestial being; with his view from the sky he wanted to flatten out the world alive?!! The attempt to construct his utopian world and to herd man into it (as into a reservation or special zone), to expropriate the third dimension from man and nature by decree, to deprive man of his living space- these were acts of unabashed violence. Malevich attempted to house his flat elements in what he calls the "white nothing" or vacuum, that is, in a substance of neither time nor space, one devoid of all elementary particles.

Again, an act of arch-violence. And here we are confronted by the idea of unfreedom as the basis of Malevich's world and his truth, unique and infallible. In mechanics dimensions are viewed as degrees of freedom. A space of, say, ten dimensions therefore represents a tenfold degree of freedom (in light of the evidence of modern physics).

Our physical space has three dimensions. And the fewer the dimensions, the less the freedom. Of course we know where a single dimension will lead with the help of the one General Line.

Why must one or even two dimensions- one or two degrees of freedom- be discarded in the search for truth? Why not increase the degree of freedom and take the path of boundless variety in search of the other seven dimensions, the other seven freedoms? Perhaps Malevich forgot about the ten fingers of the hands that taught man the base-ten system. Why chop off eight or even nine fingers to count? Who needs a one-fingered or single-digit number system?

Social or artistic determinism is a party not only to the lopping-off of fingers, but also heads considered superfluous simply because they are those of others. So-called revolutionary, Messianic, and idolatrous ambitions, like the declaration of a single path or of one unique truth, lead to self-confidence and a disinclination to acknowledge any other number of dimensions, any other degrees of freedom. Doubtless it was therefore no accident that Malevich easily turned his black square into a black commissar's jacket in accordance with the art of the Russian Soviet State, even though he himself, however ironic it may seem, later fell under the repressive axe of this State with its one-dimensional General Line.

Wouldn't it be simpler to say "life is a beautiful thing" and to make an attempt to look around, drawing on a memory of the past and the knowledge and feeling of the present, in search of other dimensions, other degrees of freedom?

Yet it wasn't until the 1950s that I began to give form to these thoughts. As a student of Andrei Goncharov in the graduate art department of the Polygrahic Institute from 1949 to 1954, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Goncharov's teacher Vladimir Favorsky. His theory of space had a formative influence on my views. In 1954 I succeeded in finding my way into the storeroom of the Tretyakov Gallery where I was finally able to lay my eyes on Malevich originals- the very works that continued to unsettle my soul. There I also saw Tatlin, Burliuk, and many other artists. Of course by that time I knew a lot more. And it was a different era- Stalin was dead, and "Krushchev's thaw" had begun.

I graduated from the institute in 1954 and continued to explore and study the world of art. Drawing on the lessons of Yakov Chernikhov (who died in 1951), I was then painting and studying form and color. Among the large series of works, paintings, and aquarelles of this period, one aquarelle from 1955 called Beat the Red Square Surfaces with Cylindrical Volumes was dedicated to Chernikhov. This was a joke on Lissitzky's suprematist poster Beat the Whites with a Red Wedge. This was very likely my first ironic protest against flat Malevich. Of course, this was just the beginning- a trial-run in doubting my god.

In 1962 I was beginning to construct assemblages that turned depicted space into visual environment, and the reverse. Using readymades in ideal geometric shapes, I made fun of these shapes and called into doubt the so-called idolatrous impulse of Malevich who had found refuge in things and commodities. This was a kind of dialog or an ironic remark aimed at Malevich's UNOVIS program, which he once described as a "school of the arts, apparatus for building a culture of new harmony in the utilitarian world of things." It is notable that the program contains another provision: "The school's allegiance to the party is a necessity." This is Marx' and Engles' conception of freedom as recognized necessity.

The 1960s were a very active period in the artistic life of Moscow. It is impossible to forget my visit to the stunning George Costakis collection of Russian avant-garde art, where works by Malevich, Kliun, Popova, and- incredible for the time- Redko, as well as many others were hanging on the walls.

In 1965 I was elaborating on the theme of object and space in a triptych of the "melody of space" and other a aporia-paradoxes И la Zeno in a protest against Malevich. I was investigating the theme of the object in space. A painting called Sphere is the central part of the series. It is a capacious, tangible, ideal sphere that moves toward the viewer as if out of the picture, capable of destroying everything in its path. Other spheres move into or out of the depths through the square, which is, however, tangible like a window into space. In the two other parts of the series I introduce a word-sound in an attempt render space audible. The joke in the double-reading of the word "Pobeda" ("pobeda" = victory; "beda" = misery) is an ironic wordplay with my victory over Malevich's square, as it is on the dual sense of Malevich's "victory." This, of course, is another reference to his staging of the opera Victory Over the Sun.

At that time I was quite occupied with the word- "In the beginning was the word." For some reason a very important dimension-depiction was being neglected: word, thought, and sound. "In the beginning was the word...and the word was God."

I was candidly subjecting my childhood bed, my maternal cradle, to ironic treatment. This was the aquarelle-gouache of 1965, where the text "mat'mat'mat'mat'... rises out of a black square into the light-blue space of the sky in the form of a Maltese cross. And the question arises: is this mat' or t'ma, or mat' and t'ma? ("mat'" = mother; "t'ma" = darkness).

So what then is this "black square?" The cradle of twentieth-century art, a two-dimensional swindle, a black void, nothing, or...?! But childhood ended long ago and it is ridiculous for an adult to babble in a child's language. I still use the square today: black ones, white ones, red, gold, and light-blue ones, as well as the bar code that has become a square, an icon of commodity and of buying and selling.

Leonid Lamm

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