About ten years ago, in a bookshop in Utrecht, I came across a small, two-part, slip-cased publication (by Artists.Bookworks, run by Railing), entitled On Suprematism, 34 drawings, by P. Railing. Quite simply, it uncovers, or better yet, concretises the strong influence of the developments at the beginning of the twentieth century in mathematical systems as descriptors of (four dimensional) physical space. A simple example being the correct titling of the often-reproduced Eight Red Rectangles being Lady-Colour in the Second and Fourth Dimensions. In the meantime, Patricia has told me that she has moved beyond the fourth dimension, and is documenting these investigations in a new monograph on Malevich.

The text reproduced here is a collaboration with Caroline Wallis (a bio—meteorologist and forecasting consultant who conducts pioneering research into the effects of solar activity on weather and human health) from the forthcoming publication, Victory Over the Sun, to be launched on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition, A Stap in the Face: Russian Futurism, Estorick Museurn, London, March 2007.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PATRICIA RAILING & CAROLINE WALLIS

 

 

Journey
in Space-Time
in the
Vehicle of Destiny

 

 

THE CUBE AND THE STAGE

 

ELCOME TO THE PLAYHOUSE, the cube of your minds', the Prologist might have said. For Victory Over the Sun is an action performed on a box-like stage and presents pictures of the liquid, moving thought forms in the Vehicle of Destinyof our everyday minds. We are looking, glancing, and peering into the different dimensions of our mental spaces, past, present and future. In our minds we can go anywhere in time, anywhere in space, we can turn things upside down and we can look at them as if in a mirror, or through a glass darkly. Our mind is our world.

The stage on which Victory Over the Sun is played is inside of a box, a cube; it is a space parallel to the mind. The backdrops by Kazimir Malevich turn our minds around in images, while the words and music activate other senses.

Each of the six backdrops is a view of one of the six sides in the cube and presented in rotation. There are only six views, but each of them has been rotated at 90 or 180 degrees, turned upside down or inside out, or mirrored. Every face of the cube/stage/mind presents a different facet of reality because we see it from a differ- ent place and position in space. And so the mind revolves as we turn imaginatively in time and space.

This extreme movement of time and space of which the mind is capable was inspired initially by Parisian Cubist painting which Aleksei Kruchenykh, Mikhail Matiushin and Kazimir Malevich knew well from the many works in the Moscow collection of Sergei Shchukin, and from Gleizes and Metzinger's late 1912 treatise, On "Cubism", translated into Russian in early 1913. Not only were Russian painters influenced by Cubism, but so too were poets and composers, and Matiushin summed this up in his early 1914 review of the December 1913 St Petersburg performance of Victory Over the Sun. There he wrote that 'what is happening in literature, music and the visual arts at the present time' is:

'In the visual arts: complete displacement of planes... by visual relationships....

'In music: new ideas of harmony and of melody, new pitch (quarter of a tone), simultaneous movement of four completely independent voices....

'In the discovery of words: the break from the meaning of words – the right of a word to be independ- ent, hence, new creations of words (discovery by the genius, Khlebnikov).'

All that was new in these arts derived initially from Cubist creative principles and new ways of perception, the inspirations for Victory Over the Sun.

 

A COLLABORATION

Although the Prologue was signed by Viktor Khlebnikov and the libretto was signed by Aleksei Kruchenykh, Victory Over the Sun is in many ways a collaboration between the two poets.

Kruchenykh's particular fascination was with 'the dizzy-making modern life – and even more the rapid life of the future', as he writes in 'New Ways of the Word', an article published in 1913 in The Three. That is why he liked his word-pictures to be short and sharp, cut out of quick-shifting Cubist perception where we have to move in the word-images, expanding our imagi- nation to the limit.

Khlebnikov's particular fascination was with the myth and folklore of ancient Slav traditions, and with number and calculations of time and human events over centuries. Kruchenykh incorporated these into his libretto.

So Victory Over the Sun brings Slavic mythology and historical time-events together with cannon-balls and airplanes, it brings the inspiration of word-creation together with shifts of time and space. It brings farce and the absurd together with utter seriousness.

The two poets had written several articles together in 1912 and 1913, and this collaboration was almost necessary to their creativity. In many ways, then, Victory Over the Sun is the result of sharing between these two 'dream-magicians' and 'word-workers'. That is why in the discussion that follows on what Victory Over the Sun "is", mention is made just as frequently of one of the bards as of the other.

 

WHAT VICTORY OVER THE SUN IS

1.

Victory Over the Sun is a tale about time. We live our lives in time and are determined by that great regulator, the sun. Around midday we feel like a bit of lunch, and when the sun goes down we feel like a bit of supper. The time of day is determined by the sun, and so are we.

We count. We count the number of hours in a day and we count the number of years since we were born. We count the number of decades since, say, 1776 (Ameri- can Declaration of Independence) and the number of centuries since 1066 (Battle of Hastings), the fall of Rome or the birth of Christ. Counting is time's measure.

Counting is not just in linear sequences but, as the spirit behind Victory Over the Sun demonstrated, time has patterns which can be discovered through numbers and articulations of numbers. Viktor – calling himself Velimir in 1913 – Khlebnikov came to be called the King of Time by his friends because the calculations in his Tables of Destiny reveal the past as well as the future, making it knowable.

 

2.

Victory Over the Sun is a play about space. We live our lives in space: in rooms, in houses, in gar- dens, in cities with their offices and sportsclubs and factories.

We know our spaces through the dimensions of space. A house is like a box: the front of the house is a plane of two dimensions, just as the sides and back are also. But front, back and sides together make three dimensions, and so we can go into the space of our house.

But we move in space – forwards, backwards, to the right and left, up and down. And when we walk from the front door of our house into the living room we are walking in a direction, through space, and we are also walking through time. This is the fourth dimension – a body that moves in time in space: time is the fourth dimension of space.

 

1. & 2.

So Victory Over the Sun is a window into the future and the victory over time conquered by number, and the victory over space conquered by time. Victory Over the Sun inaugurated the age of space-time in art.

 

3.

Victory Over the Sun is a stroll through the sky. On 6 April 1912 there was a partial eclipse of the sun which was seen over Russia. A full eclipse was predict- ed for 21 August 1914 and would be seen in the after- noon of that day. Victory Over the Sun took place between these two phenomenal celestial events. Perhaps the opera even intended – or pretended – to announce the coming eclipse as a 'prophecy'.

During a solar eclipse, the sun becomes invisible, day becomes dark, and for myth and legend, the sun is hidden, stollen, or dies. It is a time of fear – as the Strongmen in the opera say,

The sun has hidden Darkness has begun Let us all take knives (Scene 2) And wait in seclusion.

When the sun re-emerges, it is said to be a new sun, a transition from fear of the end to hope in the beginning, a new beginning. It is a time of rejoicing, and of change.

Victory Over the Sun is the victory of a new sun appearing after the death of the old sun. It is an allegory of new beginnings arising out of the demise of the old – an obvious reference to social and political orders, as well as a new state of awareness of space-time arising out of a new consciousness.

 

4.

Victory Over the Sun is a shamanic voyage on the wings of an iron bird.

In his Prologue, Khlebnikov declares that the poet and author of the opera is a 'dream magician, heaven-dweller and word-worker of the action'. Thus the charmed one, a magician of the word and a seer, charms us. The word is the magic which enables access to other realms.

For Khlebnikov, the word is power, a force em- powered by shamanism. As he wrote to Kruchenykh on 31 August 1913, 'For me, the important thing is to remember that the elements of poetry are elemental forces. They are an angry sun that strikes with a sword or a flyswatter at the waves of human beings. In general, lightning (the discharge itself ) can strike in any direction, but in fact it strikes the point where two elements join. Such discharges sliced open the Russian language when it was centred on peasant-village life.' This is what inspired him in the creation of neologisms from roots of words found in Slavic languages: his aim was to release their energy and discover their magic. He reduced the word to its basic units, as he did with number in his theory of time.

The magic of the word was also the source of discovery for Kruchenykh. For him, however, this discov- ery was focused on the then-modern world, the sensa- tions of new technology and a future consciousness.

Victory Over the Sun brings the two worlds of past and future together. Through the transformative power of the word, the two bards exploded myth and modernity.

 

 

Now these four aspects of Victory Over the Sun will be discussed in more time and space detail.

 

1.

TIME

There are several kinds of time in Victory Over the Sun . There are linear time, simultaneous time, and reverse time.

 

Linear Time

In linear time events follow each other in chronological sequence. In the play, Nero and Caligula (united as one character) precede the arrival of the enemy troops in Turkish costume. That is, the two caesars of the Roman Empire – who were blood kin (uncle and nephew) and as one in the atrocities they committed – precede the Holy Roman Empire of Constantine, which was later defeated by the Muslim Turks. This Empire would be superceded by the Russian Empire of the czars (ce- czars). Linear time is rational time.

 

Simultaneous Time

When one is arriving by train at an airport and an airplane above is coming in for landing, these two separate events are taking place at the same time, simultaneously. For the observer this gives rise to a variety of experi- ences since the speed of the motion of the train and the plane are relative to each other and to the observer.

An example of simultaneous time in the play, and a juxtaposition, is found in the lines,

An iron bird is flying The wood goblin waggles his beard (Scene 2) Beneath the buried hoof.

These events are all spoken in the present tense so are apparently happening concurrently, simultaneously, even if in different locations and seemingly unconnected. In addition, Kruchenykh has joined imaginatively different events in space, linking simultaneous time with simultaneous space.

 

Reverse Time

After the capture of the sun in Scenes 5 and 6 there are parts where time seems to reverse, solar energy sus- pended behind the orb of the moon.

The Fat Man exclaims, 'Hey, if you go backwards, what do you do with your clocks? What about the hands?' To which the Attentive Workman replies, 'They both go backwards immediately before lunch.' So, of course, when will they eat, since lunchtime never comes!

And where will they have lunch? Since, continues the Fat Man, 'Yesterday there was a telegraph pole here, and there will be a cafeteria today, but tomorrow it will be bricks.' (Scene 6)

Khlebnikov had coined this very image in an undat- ed letter to Kruchenykh of 1913 writing, 'first people die, then they live and are born; at first they have grown-up children, then they get married and fall in love. I don't know whether you share this opinion, but for a Futurian, The World in Reverse [a collection published in December 1912] is like an idea suggested by life for someone with a sense of humour, since first of all the frequently comic aspect of the fates can never be understood unless you look at them from the way they end and, secondly, people so far have looked at them only from the way they begin. And so, take an absurd view of the difference between your desired ideal and things as they are, look at all things in terms of their return unto dust, and everything will be fine, I think.'

The Fat Man nevertheless has regrets: 'Where is the sunset?' he asks. And then discovers that he is in a new place in space: the 10th Country. There we find a new space and a new time, space-time.

 

2.

SPACE

Just as there are several kinds of time in Victory Over the Sun, so there are also several kinds of space. These are determined by the six directions of three-dimensio- nal space: forwards-backwards, right-left, up-down (or above-below). As each of these can also be reversed by turning them upside down, inside out, and in mirror reflection, we get a reverse perspective of objects in space.

 

The Six Directions of Space

We go forwards, we move backwards, we climb up steps and slide down slopes, we turn to the left or we turn to the right. These are the only directions in which we can move in space, and they can occur in succession, simultaneously, and in reverse.

 

Successive Space

Taking a step at a time up a flight of stairs is moving through space in succession. Indeed, there are steps that appear in Malevich's backdrops, reminding the viewer of this progression.

There are not many examples of successive space in the libretto, although one does find passages such as,

There is much dust Flood – Look, Everything has become masculine. (Scene 1) The lake is harder than iron.

These sequences are apparently logically connected, but even if they are not, they follow each other, in succes- sion, in this case from an event in space that resembles descriptions of volcanic eruptions: dust, flood, looking at it, a frozen lake of lava. It appears to be rational.

 

Simultaneous Space

If we imagine ourselves in the Luna Park Theatre in St Petersburg in December 1913, we see people sitting in seats in the balconies, boxes and orchestra. This is simultaneous space. If we place Khlebnikov's imagery there then people are sitting in 'cloudbanks, treetops, and sandbanks'. Just as the poet has put many incongruous images together in the reality of a theatre space, so a painter also puts many seemingly incongruous things together on a canvas, As Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger say in On "Cubism", the artistic treatise enunciating these ideas for Cubism, a landscape in China and a landscape in France can appear together in a single painting. A painter is free to juxtapose anywhere in space.

This device is exploited in the extreme in Victory Over the Sun and there is no end to the number of examples that could be cited which are apparently logical or obviously non-logical, which is to say, transrational (zaum), beyond the rational intellect. So there are:

 

And cannon bodies! (Scene 1), We are submerging mountains!

 

The world of flowers is no longer (Scene 2), Skies, cover yourselves with mould

 

From dragonflies The lilies draw (Scene 6), Locomotives

 

The people have come out onto the steps (Scene 2). Of the tea room waving [bathhouse] switches

 

 

Reverse Space

Turning space inside out, upside down, and reflecting as mirror images is one of the favourite amusements of Kruchenykh in the opera, and it is exploited masterfully in the backdrops by Malevich. Indeed, reverse space in its various guises is the key to reading what Khlebnikov called the painter's 'look-ats'.

 

 

Upside Down

Upside down space is an object turned 180° about the horizontal, so we can see something, or parts of it, in two ways: the right way up and upside down. 'Hey you, take your feet off!' shouts the Fat Man as he exits upwards through the window. (Scene 6) For many things are upside down in the 10th Country. Later he says, 'All the paths have got mixed up and go up to the earth, while there aren't any side entrances. Hey, if there is one of us up there, give us some rope, or say something....' (Scene 6) The earth and sun have been turned upside down in their above-below relationship.

The backdrop for Scene 5 – where the square is divided on the diagonal and is half black (absence of light, darkness) and half white (presence of light) – is seen upside down, stage right of the backdrop for Scene 3. It has flipped in space, indicating that the cube itself has flipped over.

 

 

Inside Out

Everything is also inside out in the 10th Country. Like turning a glove, or a cube, inside out, in 'The tenth country... the windows all face inside, the house is fenced in....' says the Fat Man (Scene 6), and this can be seen in the backdrop.

 

 

Now that the sun has been captured and its light extinguished, One of the Many says,

Our light is inside us. The sickly udder of the red dawn (Scene 4) Warms us.

This is a transposition of light from outside to inside, one's spiritual light replacing the light of the sun.

(The red rays of dawn are the earth's heat radiating outwards, those in the 10th Country now warmed by the earth instead of the sun. Sun and earth are again upside down in their usual relationship of above-below.)

 

Mirror Image

In mirror images, there is a play between an object and its reflection: one is real and the other is an illusion. So the Fat Man says, 'Ooh, I'm, going to fall!' then he 'looks at the profile of the clock: the tower, the sky, the top of the streets facing downwards as if in a mirror'. (Scene 6)

 

 

Mirror images can be seen in Malevich's backdrops as, for example, in Scene 1 where the panel-like fluting of the column or perhaps billowing veils (top) are in mirror image (bottom). There are also mirror images of three large steps at the bottom of Scene 2 which are reflected as two large steps turned at an angle at the top. These same steps are reversed by 90o in the backdrop for Scene 6.

 

 

THE CONVERGING OF TIME AND SPACE

Parallels can be drawn between time and space from the above descriptions. Thus:

 

Linear Time and Successive Space are both the sequence of events in time and in space in which the connections are apparently rational and logical.

 

Simultaneous Time and Simultaneous Space are where unconnected events are taking place at the same time, or where unconnected objects can be seen all at once. This makes possible the juxtaposition of non-logical, irrational, or transrational, relationships in Victory Over the Sun.

Reverse Time and Reverse Space are where time goes backwards and objects in space are not in their 'normal' or ordinary positions or relationships for the viewer. These provide much opportunity for transrational juxtapositions in the opera.

 

 

THE MERGING OF TIME AND SPACE

IN THE FOURTH DIMENSION

For the poets, painter, and composer of Victory Over the Sun, the fourth dimension is movement in space and as time. Time is the fourth dimension of three dimensional objects in space.

Introducing the notion of dimension introduces thinking in terms of geometry, a point emphasised by P. D. Ouspensky in Tertium Organum, the book that had such an impact on Kruchenykh in the writing of Victory Over the Sun, as also on the painter and composer.

Since time is non-material, while objects are mate- rial, time and space belong to different geometries.

Objects, which are matter, exist in space in one, two, or three dimensions (i.e., line, plane, or cube/sphere/etc.), and this can be explained using Euclidean geometry, a geometry that corresponds to our logical, rational, and linear thinking.

Time, however, is non-matter, existing as states or properties of objects in movement; it can only be explained by non-Euclidean geometry. Even then, time as the fourth dimension of objects in space is elusive because it lacks classification in our logical, three- dimensional thinking. For the fourth dimension is non- logical, non-rational, and non-linear.

Having described the progression from one, to two, to three dimensions, each characterised in succes- sion by extending in a direction outside of the space of the previous dimension, Ouspensky writes that 'By existing, every three-dimensional body moves in time', where 'a four-dimensional body may be regarded as the trace of the movement in space of a three-dimensional body'. Hence every body, object, is a 'time-body' when it 'leaves the trace of its motion'. In fact, 'Four-dimen- sional space-time – is actually the distance between the forms, states and positions of one and the same body (and of different bodies, i.e. bodies which appear differ- ent to us). It separates those forms, states and positions from one another, and it also binds each one into some whole incomprehensible for us. This incomprehensible whole may be formed in time out of one physical body, or it may be formed out of different bodies.'

In this context it might be said that Victory Over the Sun is a farce about the most unlikely juxtaposi- tions of three-dimensional phenomena situated 'out of time'. Time, as the movement of things, is a logical and rational occurrence when a moving object leaves its trace – like the vapour trail behind an airplane. This 'time-body' coincides with our everyday experience.

Kruchenykh, on the other hand, uses the time- space relationship transrationally. 'The lilies draw / Locomotives' (Scene 6), 'The skull like a bench has bounced off into the door.'. (Scene 5) Victory Over the Sun is shot through with these illogical, irrational relationships between time and space.

The logical part of the mind naturally matches like with like – the activity of the 'concrete' mind. So to chal- lenge it with a torrent of unlikes during the performance is meant to force it to break away into another part of the mind – the imaginative, creative intelligence – in order to experience connections between unconnected time and space.

So to put the sun into a concrete box reveals itself – think out of the box! Merging time and space irrational- ly is intended to expand our consciousness so that we un-learn our usual three-dimensional (or Marshall McLuan's one-dimensional) thinking and enter the world of four dimensional thinking, that of things + movement and time – awareness.

 

3.

A STROLL THROUGH THE SKY

For common consciousness, whether primitive or mod- ern, a solar eclipse is a sign and a signal of change. Known in advance only by calculations – whether a Stonehenge or the sophisticated calculations of astro- nomers – interpretations of a solar eclipse had relied on the readings and prophecies of the wise. This depends on understanding the laws of our planetary system, and it is only possible by a mind activity, by thinking. The cosmic mind and the human mind are linked.

In order to effect this, to understand its laws, we must expand our consciousness, we must become the wise. And to expand consciousness is one of the tasks of Victory Over the Sun – or as Ouspensky express- es it, to 'expand our apprehension'. Using a cosmic event was sure to rivet the attention and make people sit up. For as the Fat Man says during the eclipse, 'This is a rotten climate; even cabbages and onions won't grow. And where's the market, then?'. (Scene 6) Without the sun there can be no life.

The New People, however, welcome a new con- sciousness, a new life of the mind. 'The whole city is being aired. Everyone is finding it easier to breathe', they say (Scene 6), now that they 'have shot the past.' (Scene 5) They have rejected old forms of government, social structures, and hierarchies. They also relinquish all those hindering emotions that cause wars among nations and within oneself. 'One person brought his sadness, saying we should take it because he didn't need it anymore.' (Scene 6) And the Reader declares, 'How extraordinary life is without the past! With risk, but without repentance and memories.' (Scene 5) Free from its determining tyranny and no longer judged by past values, the New can create new things because they are open to new ideas, new relationships, new time, new space, and a new sun. Above all, to a new and bet- ter world because they themselves are the creators of it.

There will even be a new language, necessary for expressing new sensations and new perceptions of the world with new inventions. Significantly, the Aviator's song is in a new language made up of consonants, the sounds and creative generators of all form.

The Aviator is also the geometer who represents the ascendance of mankind to the height of the clouds. The wings on Hermes' heels have become w-heels as the engine's roaring chariot traverses the skies. In space, floating, free from objects of orientation, the mind is lib- erated to experiment with geometry, articulating thought forms in the mind. The experience is wonder, the concept is mental, and the action is thought, all driv- en by the power of the imagination. The form is not of our senses but is pure sensation, a mind thing. The Russians, it seems, may have been the first to get a man into space after all!

 

4.

A SHAMANIC VOYAGE

ON THE WINGS OF AN IRON BIRD

Velimir Khlebnikov was passionate about the indige- neous and ancient culture of the Slavs. The Russian lan- guage had been 'infiltrated' by foreign words, especially French, the language of the czars' court, since the 18th century, and that is why Khlebnikov's many neologisms devised for his Prologue replace the European origin of the words for 'theatre', 'stage', 'actors', 'tragedy', 'orchestra', etc., with words having Slavic roots.

In his fascination with the folk customs, lore, and myth of the ancient Slavs, Khlebnikov found not only the roots of culture, but also their history. That is why references to the forces of nature in the elemental beings of the earth reveal ancient wisdom, just as the words themselves reveal the elemental forces of physics.

Thus in Victory Over the Sun we have water nymphs and a 'wood goblin' who 'waggles his beard beneath the buried hoof' and 'violets groan'. (Scene 2)

But above all, Victory Over the Sun is the creation of a bard, that most ancient singer of tales. The poet is a 'song-giver' and a 'sorcerer', 'a magus wearing wonderful robes, showing the morning and the evening of the action' according to his own 'design', that of the 'dream-magician, this heaven-dweller', as Khlebnikov says in the Prologue. The poet, then, is a shaman, one who got his story during a flight to the middle space, the realm of the 'half-heavenly'. There is where inspiration can be found, there is where all time is visible, where the past and the future can be seen and expressed simultaneously – sometimes with the help of the transcendental powers of the mushroom, mentioned in the libretto!

In his memoirs, Our Arrival, of 1932, Kruchenykh writes that for all Khlebnikov's Slavophilia, he was forgetting that they were living in an urban and technological world. He says that Khlebnikov's 'pro- found interest in natonal folklore often served to obscure his perception of things modern.'

So here is the urban bard-cum-aviator who trav- elled on the wings of an iron bird, the airplane. As the aviator crash-lands in the 10th Country he declares, 'I am alive, the wings are just a bit worn out', then he sings a military song in a new language (Scene 6). References abound in the mention of self-propelled driving machines like automobiles and airplanes, locomotives, steamrollers, and other 'monsters with brightly coloured eyes'; and there are also skyscrapers. The historical iron age of the cannon-ball has gone and the modern iron age is impelled, technology in the lead.

The ancient myth of elemental and celestial forces, which Khlebnikov transformed in the word and in his mathematics of physical forces in the universe, unites with the modern myth of the machine in what was their world of the future. It is our today.

 

BRIGHTLY SHINING SPOTS OF LIGHT

In Tertium Organum P. D. Ouspensky writes that the human mind 'has often been compared to a dark sleeping city in the midst of which watchmen's lanterns slowly move about, each throwing light on a small circle round itself. This is a perfectly true analogy. At each moment there come into focus a few of these circles illu- mined by the flickering light while the rest is plunged into darkness.

'Each small illumined circle represents an "I", liv- ing its own life, at times very brief. And the movement goes on endlessly, now fast, now slow, bringing out into the light more and more new objects, or else old ones from the realm of memory, or in torment going round and round the same persistent thoughts.

'This continuous movement which goes on in our mind, this constant shifting of light from one "I" to another, may perhaps explain the phenomenon of motion in the external visible world.'

It may also explain the pictures in the playhouse created in words by Kruchenykh and Khlebnikov, under the roving coloured spotlights operated by Malevich, picking out now one performer then another, and sung in the shifting dissonant notes of Matiushin's score.