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Published in 1923, the concrete poetry book For the Voice can be described as El Lissitzky's tour de force of textual visualization. In collaboration with Vladimir Mayakovsky who contributed the poems, El Lissitzky brought type together with geometric shapes that were used to build symbols (such as the Communist hammer and sickle), clip art (such as the pointing finger that can be found on several pages of the book) and copious amounts of white space that helped push these elements to the foreground - all of which were colorized in the suprematist hues of red, black and white - in order to achieve a book of poems that were meant to be seen rather than read.


The book For the Voice (Dlia Golosa in Russian) is the product of two of the 20th century’s greatest revolutionary artists, Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) and El Lissitzky. First published in Berlin in 1923, the poetry book is seen to be one of the finest achievements of Russian avant-garde bookmaking - a tradition in which poets and artists collaborated to create books that attained the status of art objects.


The book constitutes a significant example to what is a seemingly impossible merger between Constructivism and Suprematism that El Lissitzky actively cultivated and applied to most of his creative investigations in design and architecture.

Prior to his involvement with the Suprematist movement El Lissitzky had whole-heartedly embraced the tenets of Constructivism, and would return to them after 1924 when the Suprematist movement came to an end under Stalin's new regime. What is of note in his 5 year-long affiliation to Suprematism is that the movement is fundamentally opposed to the post-revolutionary positions of Constructivism with its cult of the object, and its strategies of adapting art to the principles of functional organization. Suprematism, in sharp contrast to Constructivism, embodies a profoundly anti-materialist, anti-utilitarian philosophy. Malevich writes:

"Art no longer cares to serve the state and religion, it no longer wishes to illustrate the history of manners, it wants to have nothing further to do with the object, as such, and believes that it can exist, in and for itself, without "things," that is, the "time-tested well-spring of life;" Malevich's influence freed El Lissitzky up to work in a far more abstract/immaterial manner than he had previously done, allowing him to pursue investigations that questioned the relationships between space, shape and time. 


El Lissitzky, who is credited as the creator of the book, provided typographic interpretations of Mayakovsky’s poems through compositions in which geometric elements were infused with symbolic meaning. Printed letters in red and black tones become pictorial signs, contributing to each poem’s identity. As such, the book also stands as one of the finest examples of early 20th century concrete poetry, albeit of a collaborative nature in which not the poet alone, but the designer and the poet worked together. Thus, the book was inspired by an entirely novel typographic approach in which ideas were given form through printed letters, turning them into pictorial signs, resulting in words that are seen and not heard. As El Lissitzky wrote:

"My pages stand in much the same relationship to the poems as an accompanying piano to a violin. Just as the poet unites concept and sound, I have tried to create an equivalent unity using the poem and typography."

In this suggestion of a simultaneity of perception, an attempt is made to achieve a synthesis of visual, aural, and textual voices. Lissitzky's bold yet simple graphic construction conveys the quick-paced rhythm, the excitement, and the furor of not only Mayakovsky's writing, but of the revolutionary period in which both men lived.


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