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ARTICLE: Eve Sussman and The Rufus Corporation | ArtReview

Eve Sussman and The Rufus Corporation, still from whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir, 2011

 

The question of why Kazimir Malevich, painter of the Black Square (1914–5), inventor of Suprematism, plowhead of Russian Modernism and sacrifice of the Soviet avant-garde, turned, or rather returned, during the 1930s, to painting odd, faceless, geometricised peasants has yet to be answered fully or forcefully. That this self-proclaimed ‘commissar of space’, who had once enlisted himself with Velimir Khlebnikov and Aleksei Kruchenykh the ‘men of the future’ (budetliane) – in a battle to gain ‘victory over the sun’, retreated to the precincts of indigenous mysticism and donned the vestments of religion (Malevich’s final self-portrait, from 1933, shows the artist as church father) troubles any mind that desires the genuine venture of thought, be it artistic, scientific or intellectual breakthrough, to open onto the promise of some future free from the shackles of the present, let alone the past. And yet perhaps what Malevich was grappling with during the 1930s was not so much the past as a different conception of the future, and how one could get there.

Malevich, the good modernist, had a time problem, and at its root was film. Caught out by Sergei Eisenstein’s and Dziga Vertov’s masterworks of the 1920s, and with them the rise of filmic and photographic montage as the inevitable visual language of the revolution, Malevich’s commitment to painting could only appear quaint at best and counterrevolutionary at worst. Art historian Margarita Tupitsyn has argued convincingly however that even by 1920 Malevich had begun thinking filmically. In the small booklet Suprematism: 34 Drawings, published that year, Malevich projected one abstract sketch after another within, or rather upon, a drawn frame. Like a film, Malevich saw this work as ‘one piece, with no visible joints’ – he called it a ‘suprematist apparatus’. ‘It was a mechanism’, Tupitsyn says, ‘meant to operate without its inventor.’[1]

Like their previous two films, 89 Seconds at Alcázar (2004), a dilation of the moment depicted in Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656), and The Rape of the Sabine Women (2007), which dramatises the suspension of time pictured in that painting (by Rubens) and its cognates (by David), the latest film by Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation (her ever evolving studio of collaborators), whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir (2011), which completes the trilogy, nods in the direction of another painting – Malevich’s Composition: White on White (1918). And it, too, is a mechanism that operates without its inventor…

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[1] See Margarita Tupitsyn, Malevich and Film (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, in association with Fundação Centro Cultural de Belém, 2002), 25.

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

January 13th, 2012 at 11:40 am