In 1923 El Lissitzky reinterpreted the Futuristic Russian opera Victory over the Sun by creating a set of architectonic costumes that held a conceptual approach which greatly differed from Malevich's earlier designs of 1913. While Malevich had combined volumetrically shaped body coverings with shocking color schemes; his costumes, for all their geometricity, still closely followed the human form, had in fact been designed with human beings as their wearers in mind. El Lissitzky, on the other hand proposed a wardrobe of costumes that were meant to be worn by a number of suprematist automatons whom he envisioned as a cast of humorous agents who would find their being in the upcoming utopian machine age that he eagerly awaited.
Turning seven of these suprematist automatons into avatar costumes was the second project in which I tried to replicate what El Lissitzky had conceived of as closely as possible. From the very first time that I had seen the drawings it was obvious to me that their geometric nature made them a natural resource for metaverse building.
El Lissitzky had taken the human form only as a very loose reference for his constructions, and I too used the human shape of the Second Life avatar in a very limited way, often only displaying the legs, in a few instances the arms and the face, and only in one instance the torso. My prims, just like his shapes, were free floating; loosely linked to only give an inkling that this was something like a humanoid creature - but never exactly so.
My goal was to not to only replicate El Lissitzky's drawings as avatar attire, but to turn the (re)building of the costumes into a personal journey which would hopefully hold an intimate experience of re-living El Lissitzky's humor and the affection that he evidently felt towards these droll, inscrutable, mechanical creatures.
I am thrilled to be able to say that I achieved this goal and the days spent on replicating the Victory over the Sun costumes turned out to be the biggest joy of the entire Manege Museum project: I became completely entranced by the personalities and the suspected/imagined antics of these naughty suprematist automatons, as they took shape before me in Second Life.
And - I know that this is a very ambitious thing to say, but - I may even have come to love them as much as El Lissitzky did while he was creating them.
Note: The images above are made out of virtual photographs taken in SL by placing the avatars inside Proun 5A. These images were subsequently heavily manipulated in photoshop and may therefore not show the avatar costumes in clear detail. To see the costumes that I replicated please refer to the thumbnails below, where you will also be able to compare the virtual avatar with El Lissitzky's original drawings.
"Every form is the frozen instantaneous picture of a process. Thus a work is a stopping-place on the road of becoming and not the fixed goal" – El Lissitzky, Texts 1920-1923
When the Futurist opera Victory over the Sun was first performed in St Petersburg in 1913, the audience reacted badly to the chaos of Mikhail Matiushin's music, Alexei Kruchenykh's nonsensical text and Kazimir Malevich's costumes which were created out of bright geometric shapes and a backdrop that featured a black square. Together these elements mark Malevich's first experiments with the visual grammar of suprematism that he was to continue to develop over the next decade.
In Victory Over the Sun, the sun, representative of the decadent past, is torn down from the sky, locked in a concrete box, and given a funeral by the Strong Men of the Future. The Traveller in Time appears to declare the future is masculine and that all people will look happy, although happiness itself will no longer exists. Meanwhile, the Man with Bad Intentions wages war and the terrified Fat Man finds himself unable to understand the modern world. The opera ends as an aeroplane crashes into the stage.
A more appropriate approach is held to be El Lissitzky's 1923 analysis of the work as a celebration of man's technological capabilities: "The sun as the expression of old world energy is torn down from the heavens by modern man, who by virtue of his technological superiority creates his own energy source."
The pro-technological phonosemantic opera inspired Lissitzky to recreate figures of the opera’s main protagonists as suprematist automatons. A portfolio of ten large colour lithographs showing the main characters was published in Hanover in 1923. Lissitzky’s ultimate vision was to recast the opera as an electromechanical show with mechanical puppets. Much like his Proun series affirm the possibility of new utopian architectural forms, without explicit plans for their construction, his ‘Victory’ drawings imply the geometrical choreographies of constructivist automatons for the coming utopian machine age. The movements of figures are suggested by using shifting axes, multiple perspectives and directional signifiers. Lissitzky’s lyrical sense of humour is not withstanding whilst dealing with the tensions between pure abstraction, narration and representation.