Vladimir Tatlin: "The Head of the Universe. Time and Space" by V. Khlebnikov

1) There are aspects of the new art of numerical folk woodcuts, a creative activity, in which the number painter can freely paint the inspired head of the universe as it turns towards him. He has no need of the cages and limits of individual sciences - he is not a child. In promoting the free triangle resting on three apexes - the world, the painter and the number - he limns the ear or lips of the universe with the broad sweep of numbers and knows while laying down broad strokes along the space offered by science that the number serves the mind as a piece of charcoal serves the artist, or clay and chalk the sculptor. By figuring it in charcoal, he evokes through this art a knowl­edge that is older than he is. Let but one stroke generate a lightning- like connection between the blood corpuscle and the earth, while another drops into helium and a third breaks up on impact with the unyielding sky, revealing thereby the satellites of Jupiter. Velocity will be enriched by a new velocity - the velocity of thought, while the limits of various spheres of knowledge will disappear before the con­course of liberated numbers cast into the press like commands around the globe. These are the aspects of the new creativity and, as we see it, it can be brought into being.

The area of the earth measures 510,051,300 square kilometres. The surface area of a blood corpuscle, that citizen and star of man’s Milky Way, measures 0.000,128 square millimetres. A treaty has been concluded between the citizen of heaven and the citizen of the body. This is its substance: the area of the terrestrial star divided by the area of the blood corpuscle starlet, produces 365 to the power of 10 (36510), a splendid concordance of two worlds, the right of man to have pride of place on earth. This is the first article of the treaty be­tween the government of blood corpuscles and the government of celestial spheres. The two-legged live Milky Way and its starlet have concluded a 365-fold union with the Milky Way in the sky and its great starry earth. The dead and the live Milky Way have here affixed their signatures as two legal persons with equal rights.

2) I discovered that in some of Malevich’s shaded sketches involving the combination of black planes and spheres, the proportion between the largest shaded area and the smallest black circle equalled 365. These sets of planes therefore comprise a year of shade and a day of shade. Yet again I had come upon a case of time ruling space in paint­ing. Whites and blacks are indeed at war as this artist paints them and they sometimes vanish altogether to make way for pure dimension.

Suprematism has blossomed out in splendid colour all over Moscow.

Posters, exhibitions, cafés - all is suprematism. And this is extra­ordinarily significant. One can confidently assert that the day of Suprematism is nigh, and on that very day Suprematism must lose its significance in creative terms.

What was Suprematism? A creative invention without a doubt but an invention strictly confined to painting. It might be said that Supre­matism had welded all the painting of the past into a single ring and by this very fact absorbed all the shortcomings (as well as the merits) of painting through the ages. Tatlin, one of the most powerful and certainly the purist among our artists, has defined Suprematism as simply the sum of past errors and from Tatlin’s point of view this is undoubtedly true, logical and accurate.

Suprematism has sucked from the world history of art every drop of the painting that was in it and organized it in accordance with its elements. At the same time, it has subjected this painting to a process of abstraction and deprived it of its body, its substance and its raison d’être. That is why Suprematism is not grand art, that is why it is so easy to apply in textiles, in the decoration of a café, in fashion drawings and so forth. Suprematism is an invention which should have a tremendous importance in application, but that is by no means art. Suprematism has not yielded a form. What is more, it is poles apart from form, the underlying principle of the new art era. There is no way out of Suprematism. It is a closed concentric formation where all the roads of the world’s painting have met in order to peter out.

At present, Suprematism is a recognized art movement. It is recog­nized because it stands on the roots of the past and it loses its creative significance by the very fact that it is recognized. K. Malevich was the great inventor of Suprematism.

At a time when Moscow celebrates its great Suprematist holiday in this fashion, another master of Moscow’s art world lives in silence, superficially recognized, but until now remote from the area where great effects are created - V. Tatlin. There are no visible changes in the output of this artist. Evil-minded fools interpret this as evidence of stagnation, decay and death. If fate had endowed this gentry with a little more artistic sensitivity they would grasp what such ‘stagnation’ betokens. There was a time when Cézanne stagnated at Arles, surpas­sed by the likes of Van Gogh; we now know the significance of that Stagnation in Arles.

With your permission, I regard Tatlin as the only creative force capable of taking art out of the trenches of the fixed positions. What makes up this force? An absolutely pure and organic simplicity. He has achieved such a standard of inner study and practice that I cannot find in this master a single crude perception or a single crude idea. He is a master from head to foot, from the most conditioned reflex to the most conscious act. An astonishing, completely unique mastery!

The art of Tatlin - in the terms in which this concept has usually applied throughout our artistic past - is not art, but rather ‘figurative business’, as he himself describes it. By means of this figurative business, Tatlin has presented the world with a new form. This new form, the raised type of relief, is diametrically opposite to all that has gone be­fore. It has escaped beyond the confines of painting as such and represents instead a cloud of arrows flying into the future, without a backward look.

I am seized by uncontrollable emotion at the thought of the day when artists come to grasp the whole significance of this form and at last understand that there is no other way ahead. That will be the day when the old art will crash - you can understand how fast my heart is beating - the crash of the entire old world. And it will come. It will come when only teachers of drawing talk about Suprematism and all of painting has been carted away at last to museums, and the museums themselves to geological, ethnographic and other learned institutes.

A distant future.

And, meanwhile, Tatlin lives and is good-humoured and happy by himself, like a giant.

As you can see, there are in fact no groups. Or rather, to be more ac­curate, there is a group around Suprematism. But however lonely Tatlin maybe, some sporadic forces do haunt his neighbourhood. And even if the army of artists does not follow him, all or some do recog­nize, in a blind sort of way, his power and they watch him out of the corners of their eyes. Be that as it may, one hears two names in Moscow worth serious discussion: Suprematism and Tatlin.

That’s modern Moscow for you. It’s good that Moscow should be there, better still that there are artists in it and best of all that the true life of the arts exists in Moscow.

From the periodical Iskusstvo kommuny, No. 10,

9 February 1919

In: Larissa A. Zhadova. Malevich Suprematism and Revolution in Russian Art. London, 1978, pp. 321-323.