The Imaginary Journey of Kazimir Malevich

The Imaginary Journey of Kazimir Malevich is a book created and directed by Matilde Marín that proposes an original homage to the Russian Suprematist artist.
The text was written by historian Emilio Burucúa and relates his hypothesis from which Malevich found inspiration to carry out his great work.
The photographic records made by Marín were collected between 1997 and 2015 in various cities around the world where Marín found images that refer to the work of Kazimir Malevich.
The edition was limited to 50 copies.

Malevich between future and past

By José Emilio Burucúa

Matilde Marín’s aesthetic ideas and projects always transcend the mere exercise of art which, in any case, long ago reached a degree of skill in her, an undisputed refinement in the elaboration of images. The series of seventeen transfigured photographs that Matilde presents today is the product of a multiplied search and discovery of Suprematist forms, beyond objects, their contours, colors and functions, in contemporary life. Our artist perceives figures in the outside world that trigger her memories of Kaszmir Malevich’s painting. She takes a photo of the place and then draws, edits, projects on the image some of the fundamental forms of suprematism -the black square, the black circle, the elongated rectangle, the white circle-, in such a way that we see them liberated from any tie to nature or to the previous work of human beings, even where they are inserted in a meadow, in an architecture, in the curved surface of a bridge, in the deck of a ship, in a blanket of snow. It is a geometry that comes from Marín’s mind and sensorium, created in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a trip, of a movement that we viewers capture without difficulty. I allow myself to recall a quote from Malevich that explains the procedure, its purposes and results. It is taken from the text Kazimir wrote for the catalog of the Tenth State Exhibition: Non-Objective Creation and Suprematism, held in Moscow in 1919.

Suprematism at one stage has a purely philosophical movement cognizable through color; at a second stage, it is like a form that can be applied and that can create a new style of suprematist decoration.

But it can appear in objects as the transformation or incarnation in them of space, thereby removing the object’s intactness from consciousness..” 

Matilde has achieved that pure, timeless spatiality in her transfigured photos, as it generates and conveys the feeling that Suprematist forms can appear wherever the mind and hands produce them, as signs of the human capacity for radical creation. In 1915, in From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism, Malevich wrote: “But I have transformed myself in the zero of form and through zero have reached creation, that is, suprematism, the new painterly realism—non objective creation.” For this reason, our artist is right when she has allowed herself to be guided by a simple idea, out of time and in unlimited space, from Melbourne to Berlin, from the island of Guernsey to Santiago de Compostela: “Malevich could have been here”. “After the date of his death”, I dare to add, in the disappeared future of Kazimir. In 1916, Malevich dealt especially with space and Suprematism and said: “At the present time man ‘s path lies through space, and Suprematism is a colour metaphor in its infinite abyss.” A year later, the creator of the movement began to prepare a text for the first issue of Supremus, a magazine where he himself, Olga Rozanova and the poet Alexei Kruchenikh, creator of the zaum, intended to make known the group’s manifestos (the zaum, “beyond reason” in Russian, was a way of making poetry that aimed to invent a language of words without defined meaning, but available for pure, free, transrational expression). The magazine was never edited. However, substantial parts of what Malevich wrote on the occasion have remained. The passages intended to explain the relations of the Suprematists with Cubism have been grouped under the title The Mouth of the Earth and the Artist. From there I extract a very beautiful passage about non-objective creativity and exploration of pure space, which we would do well to combine with Marín’s exhibition:   

“But those who have gone outside of things, outside the center of the earth and the core of their creative efforts, they fought their way to space. Who broke the shell of the egg of nature’s creation and came out of it without paying attention to the scattered pieces of their armor. Those who have gone outside the color of things towards color. Let’s get out of the labyrinth of the earth to space without limits with names and color and we will rest the grain of consciousness.”   

I intend to outline my own project, inverted with respect to the one proposed by Matilde. I would like to start tracing the same elementary Suprematist forms in the past of Russia and Europe. My guiding motive is: “There and at that time, Malevich could have been, before the date of his birth.” I will try to ensure that my inquiry remains, at most, achronic, never anachronistic. Spurred on by Marin’s photos, I have returned to my own experience at the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg in July 1913, when Professor Alexander Gavrilov led me from the halls of Middle Age icons to the chambers where they are housed. hanging the greatest works of Suprematism. Gavrilov made me realize that the square, the circle and, more than anything else, the cross would have derived [figures 1 a, b, c], perhaps, from the symbolic decoration present in the stoles and the habits of the men. saints in ancient icons. Above all from Nicholas the thaumaturge bishop of Myra, from Gregory the theologian archbishop of Constantinople in the fourth century, from Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, fathers of the Greek Church [figures 2 a, b]. If one were to isolate each form of these fabrics, observe it with a magnifying glass and transfer it to a canvas with great precision, voilà, one would have a Malevich from the most distilled era of Suprematism.  

The association did not seem fanciful to me at all and, as soon as I returned to Berlin where I was living at the time, I immersed myself in the bibliography dedicated to Malevich during the last half century, since, to tell the truth, from the aureae tempora felicitatis of student, in which the professor Nelly Perazzo made us read that little gem by Dora Vallier, the book L’Art Abstrait, little and nothing had concerned me with the Russian avant-garde. She barely remembered that Vallier separated the abstractions of Kandinsky, rooted in the symbolist spiritualism of 1900, and of Mondrian, steeped in theosophy, from the investigations of Malevich which, according to the Bulgarian historian, would fall within the horizon of Russian nihilism, understood as a longing for truth and a new world, so deep that only the complete destruction of the real and existing world provides the starting point to annihilate the evil, suffering and emptiness of an existence devoted to repeating the defects, both social and aesthetics of the past. But, there was nothing in Vallier’s work that would lead me to validate the approximation between Suprematism and the art of icons. 

Respect for the work of others and for the “giants on whose shoulders we sit to look see more and farther” (I paraphrase John of Salisbury) led me to review several milestones in the Malevich literature, review the canonical approaches and the eccentric, anamorphic one than the other. The documentary and theoretical-interpretative work of John E. Bowlt oriented me about the fundamental concepts, the purposes, the bold aims of non-objectivism (I have just extracted the Malevich quotes from the anthology of Russian avant-garde texts that Bowlt translated and edited in 1976). In the footsteps of Emmanuel Martineau, Jean-Claude Marcadé taught me to what extent Malevich’s painting is a philosophical painting under the imprint of Nietzsche and the Russian thinkers Peter Ouspensky and Mikhail Gershenzon. Boris Groys shocked me with one of the most disconcerting and unexpected contributions, arising from the first chapter of his book The total art of Stalinism, published in Russian in 1993. Groys has deployed very seductive arguments there about an underground and structural continuity, which would have driven from the longing for perfect totality of Suprematism to the crushing social engineering of Stalinist politics. However, to accept such a theory, it would be necessary to radicalize the relationship between Malevich and nihilism to the point of turning the aesthetic project of the Suprematists into a form of extreme Shigalovism; on the other hand, that of the time beyond the avant-garde, that is, that of the official Soviet culture of the 1930s, something of teleology emerges in the picture elaborated by Groys: Stalin would have taken, concentrated and fulfilled the for himself of suprematist theory.

Giorgio Cortenova clarified for me about spiritualism, which underlies the theory and praxis of Suprematism while explaining its reactions against technical progressivism, fostered in the artistic field by the constructivism of El Lissitsky and, above all, by the productivist version towards which Rodchenko pushed this movement starting in 1922. In the great catalog of the Kazimir Malevich exhibition. Suprematism, held by the Solomon Guggenheim in New York and Berlin in 2003, the curator Matthew Drutt provided me with a precise phenomenology of our artist, of his pictorial, architectural, theatrical and literary-philosophical work. In that same book, the work of Vasilii Rakitin gave me a vision opposed to that of nihilism by putting together his story from the perspective of the existence of a certain meta-technological optimism in the artistic revolution programmed by Malevich. Also in the catalog of the exhibition organized by the Guggenheim, against Groys’s statements about Malevich’s alleged rejection of religion, Yevgenia Petrova convinced me that the Suprematists sought to make their theoretical system into a religion that would complete Christian hope. Finally, Andrei Nakov’s monumental four-volume work, Malevich, Absolute Painter, published in French in 2007, enabled me to bring together the entire bundle of data, interpretations, documents, theories, and aesthetic analyzes to which the unique phenomenon of Casimir and of Suprematism has given rise; that material and implausible demonstration of the dynamic existence of non-objective forms.

I found few traces, through this itinerary, of the explicit relationships between Malevich’s highest creation and Russian icons. I finally came across the catalog of an extraordinary exhibition, organized in 2000 by the aforementioned Giorgio Cortenova at the Verona Museum of Modern Art in the Palazzo Forti. Cortenova himself and Tatyana Vilinbakhova elaborate, in their respective texts, on those links that Professor Gavrilov revealed to me in Saint Petersburg. Vilinbakhova drew attention to the aesthetic parallels between ancient icons and figures of peasants in the cycles dedicated to them by Malevich in the late 1920s. Namely: 1) The traditional painters and the revolutionary of Suprematism built a plastic space that extends from the plane of the image towards the viewer (that is, it reverses the depth effect of Renaissance perspective); 2) in both cases, the colors are bright, intense, they are not modeled by light (unlike what happens with the chiaroscuro of Western art), but the light seems to emanate from the figures; 3) these always convey a simple and clear symbolism. Cortenova, meanwhile, relied on the resemblance between the decoration of the saints’ stoles and the Suprematist forms to indicate that one and the other spring from a refusal to produce the illusion of the real visible. The one and the other rise to the plane of the archetypes and acquire their sensible appearance from a revelation of the self-generated “on the threshold of consciousness.” I quote a passage from a letter sent in 1916 (repeated almost verbatim a year later) by Malevich to his musician friend, Mikhail Matiushim, the composer of the opera Victory over the Sun, premiered in St. Petersburg in December 1913, for which Kazimir designed the scenery, costumes and lighting system:

Christ revealed Heaven on Earth, putting an end to space and establishing two extremes, two poles, no matter where they are — in oneself or ‘there.’ We shall not walk past a thousand poles, 

like we walked past billions of grains of sand on the river and sea shores. The space is more than the sky, stronger and mightier; our new book is the doctrine of the space of the wilderness.

Thanks to a paper prepared in 2005, Tim Tregubov let me know that, in the years 1901 and 1913, there were two displays of ancient icons for the first time in a Moscow museum, that is, outside the sacred realm of an iconostasis in the church . The exhibitions facilitated the appreciation of such images in purely formal terms by artists such as Goncharova, Larionov, Popova and Malevich. But that is not all. Tregubov noted that the Black Square of 1915 had a very special place in the Moscow hall where the Tenth State Exhibition was held in 1919: it was hung in the equivalent of the “red corner”, the place in the house where Orthodox Christians place the most important icon of their heritage, the one to whom they direct their prayer before each meal. Malevich explained about this coincidence:

Hence I see the justification and the true significance of the Orthodox corner in which (..) the holy image stands (…), the holiest occupies the center of the corner. (…) The corner symbolizes that there is no other path to perfection except the path into the corner. This is the final point of movement.

Upon my return from Russia, I suffered another iconographic impact (let’s call it that) when I was preparing a paper to be read at the congress of Brazilian art historians, held in Uberlândia in August 2014. I returned then, for reasons that had nothing to do with with Russian Suprematism, by reading the famous work that Robert Fludd published between 1617 and 1621, Utriusque Cosmi Maioris scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica, Physica atque Technica Historia (Metaphysical, physical and technical history of both cosmoses, the greater the lesser) and there, on page 26 of the first volume, I came across the representation of the world before the creation of light. It is a black square that represents the primordial void, “infinity in the middle of the abyss”, surrounded on all sides by the phrase “And so towards infinity” [fig. 3]. Of course, until now, the question remained floating in the air as to whether or not there was a material and historical bond, a chain of facts and images that united the engraving in Fludd’s book and Malevich’s Black Square. Is there a historical connection or is it just a morphological coincidence? It would seem that, little by little, evidence of the former appears. I explain.

Fludd was known in Russia from the second decade of the XVIII century. His work was among the titles of the collection of hermetic books that the members of the Neptune Society, a cabal dedicated to the study of geography, astronomy and alchemy with the support of Tsar Peter I, had gathered in St. Petersburg. by Nicolai Fiodorov at the end of the 19th century and continued by Constantin Tsiolkovsky until the 30s of the 20th century, he considered himself the heir to that remote association of sages. Cosmists postulate a superior evolution of the species, which would be linked to the deployment of humanity in outer space, a “radiant humanity”, perfect and immortal, according to the terms in which Tsiolkovsky presented his ideas in the book The exploration of space by means of reactive devices [rockets], published in 1903. Cosmism had a certain influence on Proletkult during the years of the Russian civil war (1918-21), a time when Malevich was very close to intellectuals and artists that formed that revolutionary organization, extended to the entire Soviet territory and interested in the dawn of a new aesthetic. On the other hand, the utopian architect Lazar Khidekel founded, from the mid-1920s onwards, his artistic praxis on a knot of suprematist and cosmist ideas, absorbed from his intimate relationship with Malevich. In 1922, Kazimir declared, in his beautiful and puzzling text, God is Not Cast Down:

“Man’s skull represents the same infinity for the movement of conceptions. It is equal to the universe, for it contains all that sees in it. Likewise the sun and the whole starry sky of comets and the sun pass in it and shine and move as in nature… Isn’t the whole universe that strange skull in which meteors, suns, comets and planets rush endlessly?”

It is possible, however, to think of another chain of images and words that may have linked the figure of Fludd with Malevich’s Black Square. It is not unreasonable to think that Jonathan Swift alluded to Fludd in Gulliver’s Travels when, during the excursion to Laputa, he put sarcasm into the mouth of his character against the wise men of that floating island, who explained everything through geometric shapes. It is also hypothetical, but very possible, that Swift passed on her knowledge of Fludd to Laurence Sterne, the novelist who experienced the literary and emotional effect of placing a full-page black rectangle at the end of chapter twelve in the first part of his book. Tristram Shandy [fig. 4] (with this he wanted to introduce a note of mourning regarding the death of poor Yorick). It seems that Gustave Doré, so fond of and familiar with English literature, was inspired by Sterne’s boast when he joked about the dark and misty origins of Russia and drew a black square on one of the main pages of his Histoire dramatic and caricature painter of Sainte Russie, after the chroniclers and historiens Nestor Nikan Sylvestre Karamsin Ségur etc. (Picturesque, dramatic and caricatured history of Holy Russia, according to the chroniclers and historians Néstor Nikan Silvestre Karamsin Segur etc), published in Paris in 1854. [fig. 5] Doré’s book provoked a wave of indignation in Russia, which never died down, by the way. So our Malevich may have seen it once. Anyway, this is a chain with too many hypothetical links, so the first one that embraces the cosmists seems to me more pertinent. Although, understand, I do not mean that Kazimir Malevich literally transferred to his painting any of the indicated antecedents of his Black Square. I am only insinuating that this image may have crossed his path at one point in his life and a trace of such an experience would remain in his unconscious mind.

What an intricate loop that Matilde Marín’s photos aroused! I hope the readers will forgive me for so much nonsense. But Socrates already warned us, in the Phaedrus, that art is a lofty form of mania or delirium.

José Emilio Burucúa (National Academy of Fine Arts-UNSAM)

1. Bowlt, John E. (ed. and trans.), Russian Art of the Avant-Garde. Theory and Criticism. 1902-1934. New York, The Viking Press, 1976, p. 144.
2. Ibidem, p. 133.
3. Cited in Moszynska, Anna, Abstract Art. London, Thames and Hudson, p. 58.
4. See Nina Gurianova, “The Supremus Laboratory-House’: Reconstructing the Journal,” in Drutt, Matthew, Kazimir Malevich. Suprematism. New York, The Solomon H. Guggenheim Foundation, 2003, p. 55. See the attached documents in English.
5. Paris, Librairie Générale Française-Le Livre de Poche, 1967, pp. 141-170.
6. Martineau, Emmanuel, Malévitch et la Philosophie. Lausana, L’âge de l’homme, 1977.
7. Groys, op.cit., p. 52.
8. Cited en Drutt, op.cit., p. 90.
9. Cited in Tregubov, op. cit., p. 8. See also Tsakiridou, Cornelia, Persons in Time, Icons in Eternity. Orthodox Theology and the Aesthetics of the Christian Image. Surrey, Ashgate, 2013.
10. Cit. en Gere, op.cit., p. 84.

Travels without any certainty

The journey has occupied a central place in the myths and fictions of all cultures, from the Egyptians and Homer in the ancient world to Conrad, Joyce, Cèline, Sebald or the contemporary graphic novel. In each story the transit, the departure, the return, the exile or the path towards the interior of oneself is linked to complex plots of skills and adventures. It is not surprising then that it became the argument and the main reason for the two series of recent works – Indeterminate Landscapes and The Imaginary Journey of Kazimir Malevich that Matilde Marín now presents at the Del Infinito Gallery. Fundamentally because it coincides with a moment of singular maturity in the artist’s work that condenses the varied interests and concerns that throughout her entire career contributed to shaping her gaze.

The set thus stands as a metaphor of the intimate journey that at certain moments of life embarks every being in reflection on itself. Marín is a traveling artist and, although her images are born from the real world, there is nothing in them that can be identified with a particular landscape. Theirs keeps a reasonable distance from the chronicle modality that popularized the 19th century and lit up the overflowing imaginary of landscapes that crossed scientific ambitions, detailed notation and romantic fantasies. Rather, she is part of the metaphysical course that in the mid-nineteenth century was aimed at rescuing the potential of the uncertain and the enigmatic that later fascinated the surrealists.

Thus, in the Indeterminate Landscapes, one of the two series of photographic collages, climates of restlessness similar to that of Arnold Böckling’s series of paintings Die Totenisel, known under the name of The Island of Death, are perceived. The same solitary atmosphere of serene fatality in the mystery that some immense rocks cut out against the light against threatening skies enclose.

All in all, these landscapes that from a distance evoke that imprint of symbolist or surreal tradition have been built based on a superimposition of photographic records made in diverse geographies. The artist gives no clues. Her journey is both visual and eventual inquiry.

Research intended to involve the viewer in some way. Hence, the rocky promontories that take center stage in each image can settle on a desert land or emerge from the shifting surface of the sea. In this framework of uncertain and similar circumstances, geometric figures slide as shadows or supernatural projections and some forms of close up as clues that are difficult to decipher. The consequence is the suspension of time in an unrecognizable space. An ideal space-landscape that will remain unchanged only in the record that the artist had or imagined. A challenge to becoming? Indeterminate Landscapes shows nature with scant data from the real world and for this reason they are not enough to become a testimony of the artist’s presence, not even to question whether she will wait for them when she returns in the same way, as she suggests.

With this series, Marín closes a trilogy of photographic landscapes that began in the 1990s – which includes Horizontal Landscapes and Intervened Landscapes – basically made in South America.

Perhaps this experience and the elaboration of her images placed the artist before a reflection on nature and the question of its representation.

Probably this same itinerary installed the interesting figuration-abstraction relationship that later appeared in her work. Thus, it seems inevitable that the trip itself, as an event that facilitated a plurality of experiences, would emerge as a topic and reflective space, linked to that remote tradition of culture that we evoked at the beginning of this text. But fundamentally to the construction of a look.

All the images that make up these two series of 15 and 16 photographs each result from a combination of analog photographs and a digital editing that transforms the traditional strategy of composing photographic images into something different. Something similar to the experience of the painter, or the draftsman who can put this here or add that there. In the course of these procedures, Marín distances himself from the enormous flow of images that lie in wait for us and which they could lay their hands on. She chooses to limit herself to her own file and records.

In this endeavor she glimpses the metaphorical displacement of the journey as the construction of a gaze. In the end, it is the very cuts and shots of it that reveal its own trait in a transformation whose beginning or end.

They are difficult to define. Where and when did this itinerary begin and how long will it continue?

Ana Maria Battistozzi
Excerpt of the text of “Travels without any certainty”
Ñ ​​Magazine, 08.29.2015

The Imaginary Journey of Kazimir Malevich

The Imaginary Journey of Kazimir Malevich is a book created and directed by Matilde Marín that proposes an original homage to the Russian Suprematist artist.
The text was written by historian Emilio Burucúa and relates his hypothesis from which Malevich found inspiration to carry out his great work.
The photographic records made by Marín were collected between 1997 and 2015 in various cities around the world where Marín found images that refer to the work of Kazimir Malevich.
The editorial design was made by Manuela Lopez Anaya, it was printed on Natural Evolution White paper 145 grs. and the edition was limited to 50 copies. Buenos Aires, 2015.

The Imaginary Journey of Kazimir Malevich

Buenos Aires, 2015.

The Imaginary Journey of Kazimir Malevich

Jan Mulder Collection, Contemporary Photography, Chapter dedicated to Matilde Marín and The Imaginary Journey of Kazimir Malevich, Lima, Peru 2019.