The UNOVIS group, photo 1920, Vitebsk.
El Lissitzky is visible on the far right.
Lissitzky and UNOVIS group
Malevich was aware that architecture
demanded specialized knowledge and therefore entrusted 'the formulation
of three-dimensional Suprematism' at UNOVIS to El Lissitsky, a trained
architect who had graduated from the Building Faculty of the Darmstadt
Polytechnic Institute in 1912. So began Lissitsky's creative career. He
headed the Architectural Faculty of UNOVIS and also directed the 'Graphic
Printing' workshop. He produced a series of so-called Proun paintings
at the starting point of his evolution as an artist of the new universal
kind: architect, typographer, poster painter and exhibition designer. The
term Proun was the dream child of UNOVIS: The Champions of the New' (Utverditeli
Novogo) invented The Project for the Affirmation of the New (PROekt Utver-shdeniya
Novogo). Lissitsky wrote in an autobiographical note dated 1941: 'I was
particularly influenced by my collaboration with Malevich'. In another
such note he stressed the effect on him of Malevich's colour-space concept'.
And yet, Lissitsky's own creative personality revealed itself most clearly
in the Prouns. He was later to describe the Proun experimental projects
as 'staging points' from painting to architecture. Despite the element
of fantasy contained in these architectural exercises, the principle underlying
each design is clearly and elegantly stated.
Being an architect by training, Lissitsky
became vividly aware of the unlimited opportunities offered by the new
three-dimensional 'space and colour' solutions and the new methods of approach
to design inherent in Malevich's pictorial Suprematism.
Khardzhiev remarked about the Prouns,
originally painted in oils on canvas and panels, and later lithographed,
that 'the basic elements of architecture - volume, mass, colour, space
and rhythm - have been subjected to a new formulation in these Suprematist-Constructi-vist
Deliberate asymmetry, departure from
the golden mean, the setting of shapes on edge or in a corner, the spatial
development of a shape so that it appears lighter below than above, etc:
all these compositional devices which occur in Malevich's Suprematist pictures
were given an original, personal re-interpretation by Lissitsky. Prouns
are also linked with pictorial Suprematism by their cosmic quality. They
sometimes soar in empty space and sometimes directly suggest enormous cosmic
machines slicing through space at tremendous speed. They represent models
of dynamic architecture in their own right.
In practically every Proun Lissitsky
appeared to set up a definite technical experiment, even though this was
in the realm of fantasy: how to throw a bridge from a high bank in one
hemisphere of the world to a low bank in the other, or position at a single
point a monumentally large pier. In fact, Prouns were already a species
of architectural models carried on a picture surface.
Lissitsky became one of the leaders
at the start of that experimental movement in Soviet architecture which
drew on the spirit of the early revolutionary years for its cosmic romanticism
and utopianism. 'Now that we have mastered the plan and system of Suprematism,
we will compose a new body for the earth, we will parade it all in such
fashion that the sun itself will not recognize its travelling companion',
Lissitsky wrote in the UNOVIS Almanac No. 7. City, the first Proun, covers
the entire disc of the earth: he and his pupils dreamed of a universal,
spatial form of city commune. He wrote in a letter to Malevich in 1919:
'A new Communist, ferro-concrete foundation now supports our life.... Thanks
to the Prouns, a monolithic Communist city will be built on this foundation
and the people of the whole world will live in it.' He firmly believed
in the coming development of a new way of life on earth, based on the latest
achievements of science and technology, as part of the new socialist order.
Artistic creativity would play a tremendous part in this, since it alone
had the capacity to synthesize the generation of forms. 'The way of the
Proun is not that of separate and narrow scientific disciplines', he wrote.
Their whole cosmic quality apart, the
Prouns also offered unlimited possibilities for 'the creation of a new
symmetry in actual construction work, the basis of a new architecture in
the full meaning of this word'. They contain the seeds of Lissitsky's famous
horizontal Moscow Nikitsky Square skyscraper project resting on three points
(1924; design) as well as first sketches for the new Pravda building (1925;
design) and a building in the Gorky Park of Culture (1925-31; sketches).
As landmarks in the evolution of Lissitsky's personal creative approach,
the Prouns are also relevant to his typographic style, now renowned worldwide,
and his development as an exhibition designer, the founder of the Soviet
school of design which exerted a decisive influence during the 1920s on
the presentation of exhibitions elsewhere.
It is not by chance that Lissitsky
compared a book to an architectural structure, to a 'monumental work of
art'. He treated each of his designs in architecture, book production or
exhibition work primarily as a matter of solving a problem in space. This
may well be the reason for the unity of Lissitsky's 'spatial style'.
works deeply influenced his pupils at Vitebsk and the Moscow VKhUTEMAS.
First among the later was the Latvian artist, Gustav Klutsis, a master
in his own right and Lissitsky's collaborator in book production, photomontage
and exhibition design.
( Larisa Zadova.)