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The UNOVIS group, photo 1920, Vitebsk. El Lissitzky is visible on the far right.
 
 

Lazar  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 structures'.
   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'.
   Lissitsky's Supremo-Constructivist 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.)

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