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Through photo digital art works, John Goto reflects upon the final years of Kasimir Malevich's life in Stalinist Russia. This series juxtaposes two moments in Russian history; those of the recent past and the early Stalinist period. In part, the images were made on Goto's travels to the industrial zones of the Urals in 1993\4. Many of the decaying factories depicted were built using slave-labour in the thirties and this period is further evoked through montaged archival material as Goto reflects upon the demise of the Suprematist painter.The final years of Malevich's life are poorly documented and the intentions behind the works he made remain uncertain. No historical consensus has emerged to explain why his paintings seemed to draw ever closer to the official Socialist Realist style, or to account for his practice of faking his own earlier works by dating images made during the early 1930s as if they came from the pre-Revolutionary period.
In an attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding these late works, Goto makes a speculative reading of Malevich's life and images against the political and social event of the early Stalinist period. He picks up the story in 1927 when Malevich toured Poland and Germany with an exhibition that marked the high point of his career and was to guarantee his reputation in the West long after he was all but forgotten in the USSR. Even 'as glory falls like rain' upon Malevich, a sense of foreboding seems to have motivated a last will that he wrote in Berlin.
As the 1920s concluded Malevich, like many intellectuals, found himself under increasing pressure as articles and exhibitions were criticised or censored and his research post terminated. He was arrested in 1930 and questioned over several months. This period saw the first Five Year Plan introduced and also one of the first major trials of technicians scapegoated for the failures of industry. Stalin turned his attention to the countryside where the Party still lacked complete control and began a programme of forced collectivisation of the farms. The wealthier peasants, termed 'Kulaks', were deported in their millions. During the winter of 1932/3 a terrible famine swept the Ukraine.
The cancer that killed Malevich was probably diagnosed in 1933, but his requests to be allowed abroad for treatment were refused. After the assassination in 1934 of his rival, Sergei Kirov , Stalin unleashed the Great Terror which claimed the lives of countless millions including some of Malevich's old students and collaborators. Malevich died on 15 May, 1935.
Whilst in Berlin in 1927 Malevich wrote a last will, seen here in the foreground, to cover his 'death or permanent imprisonment'. On a balcony at the Bauhaus are (from left to right) Freidl Dicker-Brandeis, a Bauhaus trained artist who died in Auschwitz (see Goto's Terezin series), Malevich's daughter Una, Walter Gropius and Stalin's court painter Aleksandr Gerasimov.
|A Marriage Portrait
On returning to Russia in 1927, Malevich married his third wife, Natalia Andreevna Manchenko. She is shown here with Malevich and his daughter Una outside the cathedral of St. Saviour in Moscow which was demolished in 1931 to make way for the aborted Palace of the Soviets.
This image is based on Nadezhda Mandelstam's account in Hope Against Hope of night arrests and informers within her circle. The bust in the alcove is of Pavlik Morozov, a youth elevated to national hero for denouncing his father and subsequently murdered by his family.
In practice the term Kulak was applied to anyone who resisted collectivisation in the countryside and here a diverse group await deportation. Included is Malevich who wrote to Kiril Shutko that the 'hacks' controlling the Art Workers Union '. . . will soon declare that we are Kulaks'. Kulaks in transit were referred to as 'White Coal'.
Many peasants resisted the forced collectivisation of the farms and by the spring of 1930, fourteen million cows and a third of all pigs had been slaughtered by their owners rather than hand them over to the government. Hundreds of Party officials were assassinated and grain burnt or thrown into rivers.
As a result of collectivisation and government attempts to suppress Ukrainian nationalism, a famine took the lives of five million people in the region in 1932/3. Malevich was born in Kiev and as late as 1929 was a visiting lecturer at the Kiev Institute of Art. In the foreground ca.1904, the young Malevich is about to set off to begin his career in Moscow whilst behind him are bodies in the street from a rare photograph of the famine. In the field beyond, young Komsomols guard against grain 'snipers'.
On the extreme left is Malevich's 1930s portrait of Anna Alexandrovna Leporskaya; she appears however remarkably like his first wife Kazimira Ivanovna Zgleits, whom he married in 1896 and is seen in the foreground. It was at this time that he discovered the work of the painter Ilya Repin and to the right of the young Malevich are the seated figures of Maxim Gorki and his mistress, the actress Maria Andreevna. Repin's portrait of her leans against the chair. In the mirror is reflected the older Malevich of the early 1930s.
|Babel's New Genre
At the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934, Isaak Babel announced that he had invented a new genre, the 'Genre of Silence'. Babel was executed in 1941.
On the 1 December 1934, Leonid Nikolayev assassinated Stalin's rival, the Leningrad Party boss Sergei Kirov, with a shot to the back of the head. The murder was used as a pretext to launch The Great Terror.
Kasimir Malevich died on 15 May, 1935. His ashes were interned beneath a cube designed by Suetin, near his Nemchinovka dacha. Assembled here are (from left to right) Maxim Gorki, Aleksandr Gerasimov, Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov, Alexei Tolstoi, Fyodor Gladkov, Josef Stalin, Kasimir Malevich, Sergei Kirov, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Una and Natalia Malevich, Mikhail Matiushin, Ilya Chashnik, Sergei Eisenstein, Nikolai Suetin, Velimir Khlebnikov, Vera Ermolaeva, Isaak Babel, Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Aleksandr Rodchenko and Vladimir Tatlin.
(c) images and text John Goto, sound montage Tim Howle
This series was produced with the support of the British Council.
Further commenteries on Malevich and contemporary Russia -