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1920 __ Electro-Mechanical Show
El Lissitzky (1890-1941)
Comment : In his “Electro-Mechanical Show” developed in 1920-21, El Lissitzky used a dynamic-optophonic stage construction. However, this “show machinery”, as he called it, still required a person to operate it: El Lissitzky assigned this task to the so-called “show designer”. (Andrea Sodomka & Eva Ursprung, “Art Engineers vs. Machine Divas - A Retro-Utopian Investigation of Machine Theater”, Institut für Medienärcheologie, 2007)The first performance of Victory over the Sun in St. Petersburg in 1913 constituted a very important event in the history of the Russian avant-garde and was the joint creation of the playwright Alexei Kruchenykh, the designer Kasimir Malevich and the composer Mikhail Matyushin (see The Drama Review, XV, autumn 1971, published by the School of the Arts, New York University, for a translation and background information). Devised as a manifestation of Futurist theatre, it involved the deliberate disruption of rules of grammar and syntax, the invention of new words, and passages written in 'zaum', the Futurist transrational language of pure sound. Malevich's costumes were Cubist-like, made of painted cardboard and wire; one of his backdrops apparently consisted simply of a black and white square within a square divided diagonally. Lissitzky would not have seen the original performances as they took place when he was living outside Russia, but the 'opera' was revived in Vitebsk in 1920 by the Unovis group of which he was a member, with decor by Yermolayeva; his first designs for a mechanical theatre version seem to have been done soon afterwards. (Ronald Alley, “Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists”, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.452-5)Although the project was never fully realized, Lissitzky’s portfolio of puppet designs exists, featuring such wildly named characters as “Globetrotter in Time,” “Gravediggers,” “Caligula in the Same Person,” “Traveler through All the Ages,” “Telephone Talker,” and “The New Ones.”. (Oxford Art Online)
Original excerpt : « In front of you is the fragment of a work which originated in Moscow in 1920-1. Here, as in all my works, my aim is not to reform something which already exists, but to bring something else into existence. Nobody pays any attention to the magnificent spectacle in our streets, for every "somebody" is in the play himself. Every energy is employed for a specific purpose. The whole is amorphous. All energies must be organized into a unity, crystallised, and put on show. In this way a work is produced - it may be called a work of art. We are constructing a stage on a square, which is open and accessible on all sides; that is the machinery of the show. This stage offers the "bodies in play" all the possibilities of movement. Therefore its individual parts must be capable of being shifted, revolved, extended, and so on. It must be possible to change over from one elevation to another quickly. Everything is rib-construction, so that the bodies circulating in the play will not be masked. The bodies themselves are each designed as occasion and volition demands. They glide, roll, float, on, in, and over the stage. All the parts of the stage and all the bodies are set in motion by means of electromechanical forces and devices, and the control centre is in the hands of a single individual. This is the creator of the show. His place is in the centre of the stage, at the switchboard controlling all the energies. He directs the movements, the sound and the light. He switches on the radio-megaphone, and across the square resounds the deafening noise of railway stations, the rushing of the Niagara Falls, the hammering of a rolling-mill. The creator speaks for the bodies, into a telephone which is connected with an arc-lamp, or into other devices which alter his voice according to the character of the individual figures. Sentences flash on and off electrically. Beams of light, refracted through prisms and mirrors, follow the movement of the bodies. Thus the creator raises the most elementary process to the highest degree of effectiveness. For the first presentation of this electromechanical peepshow I have used a modern play, which was still, however, written for the stage. It is the futurist opera "Victory over the Sun" by A. Kruchenykh who originated sound-poetry and is the leading writer of the most modern Russian poetic works. The opera was presented for the first time in 1913, in Petersburg. The music is by Matyushin (Quarter tones). Malevich painted the scenery (the curtain = black square). The sun as the expression of the world's age-old energy is torn down from the sky by modern man; the power of his technical supremacy creates for itself a new source of energy. This idea is woven into the opera simultaneously with the action. The language is alogical. Individual singing parts are phonetic poems. The text of the opera compelled me to preserve something of the anatomy of the human body in my puppets. The colours of the individual sections of these pages are to be regarded in the same way as in my Proun works, as equivalents to materials; that is to say, when the designs are put into effect, the red, yellow or black parts of the puppets are not painted correspondingly, but instead are made in corresponding material, for example in bright copper, dull iron, and so on. The further adaptation and application of the ideas and forms set down here I leave to others while I proceed to my next task. »
Urls : http://ima.or.at/machinedivas/?page_id=7 (last visited ) http://www.mpgdesign.com/sites/lissitzky/el.htm (last visited )

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