Seeing Malevich, Cinematically
Minturn, Kent Mitchell, Art Journal
Seeing Malevich, Cinematically
Oksana Bulgakowa, ed. Kazimir Malevich: The White Rectangle; Writings on Film. Berlin and San Francisco : Potemkin Press, 2002. 252 pp., 20 b/w ills. $25 paper.
Margarita Tupitsyn, Malevich and Film. New Have: Yale University Press, 2002. 192 pp., 20 color ills., 80 b/w. $55.
Critical response to these two publications will likely be divided. On the one hand, there will be those skeptical of any attempt to relate Kazimir Malevich's oeuvre to film. After all, Malevich was the father of Suprematism, a movement dedicated to immutable painterly laws and the ideal of media purity and, unlike most of his avant-garde contemporaries, he stubbornly held out against photography, photomontage, and film-he never made the transition, to borrow Benjamin Buchloh's pithy phrase, "from foktura to factography." On the other hand, many scholars will revel in the knowledge that these two publications could potentially jar Malevich studies out of its current impasse. The cinematic Malevich, in other words, promises to challenge and complicate received notions about Malevich the nihilistic "divine idiot" (as T. J. Clark recently described him), Malevich the unwavering formalist, or Malevich the iconoclast/iconophile. The raisons d'être of both books, which appeared simultaneously yet ostensibly unaware of each other, are seven essays Malevich wrote on film between 1925 and 1929. And while these two studies do not represent the first attempts at treating Malevich and film, Bulgakowa's and Tupitsyn's are certainly the most ambitious to date.1
Bulgakowa's bilingual anthology, Kazimir Malevich: The White Rectangle; Writings on Film, presents new translations of Malevich's seven texts in chronological order-"On Exposers. Posters" (1925), "And Visages Are Victorious on the Screen" (1925), "The Artist and the Cinema" (1926), "Art and the Problems of Architecture. The Emergence of a New Plastic System of Architecture. Script for an Artistic-Scientific Film. To Hans Richter" (1927), "Letter to László Moholy-Nagy on Painting and Photography" (1927), "Cinema, Gramophone, Radio, and Artistic Culture" (1928), and "Pictorial Laws in Cinematic Problems" (1929)-along with an erudite introduction, "Malevich in the Movies: Rubbery Kisses and Dynamic Sensations."2 To her credit, Bulgakowa steers clear of the current vogue for "intermedial" approaches to cinema and painting, and chooses instead to bring to light important biographical information about Malevich as she traces the publication histories of his texts. The two, she posits, are not easily separated.
Malevich's decision to write about film in 1925 coincided with his initial encounter with Sergei Eisenstein in Nemchinovka, a small town outside Moscow. Malevich's longtime acquaintance Kirill Shutko, a revolutionary student of Vsevolod Meyerhold and protégé of Eisenstein, facilitated their introduction. The artist and filmmaker purportedly formed a strong bond, in spite of the fact that their views on art and politics were diametrically opposed. Years later, when the great director penned his memoirs, he was to recall Malevich's physical strength and mental resolve, rather than his ideas on film and painting. Bulgakowa also suggests Malevich's writings on film were inspired by geographic relocation. After losing his important position as director of the Institute of Artistic Culture (GINKhUK) in Leningrad (the state closed the institute because its aesthetic philosophy was considered too abstract and unrelated to the goals of the Revolution), Malevich asked for permission to travel abroad. In the spring of 1927 he headed off to Germany along with crates of paintings, pedagogic materials, and numerous unpublished manuscripts. In early April of that year Malevich met with Walter Gropius at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Although Gropius was not forthcoming with a job offer, as Malevich had hoped, the trip was nonetheless a productive one. While there, Malevich met Moholy-Nagy, who, one year later, published a German translation of his The Non-Objective World. …