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A New Media Installation by Elena Gubanova & Ivan Govorkov

El Lissitzky, Poster for a post-revolutionary production of the opera. The macaronic caption reads: All is well that begins well and has not ended @ Kulturstiftung Sachsen-Anhalt (CC BY-NC-SA)

The CYFEST 15 Festival, which will run from December 1, 2023 through January 3, 2024, at the Deering Estate, Miami, brings together new commissions and existing works by established and emerging artists working internationally, and locally.

CYFEST-15 at Deering Estate will feature a new artwork by Elena Gubanova & Ivan Govorkov, Victory over the Sun. Its creation was preceded by a great tradition started in the early 20th century by the avant-garde opera Aleksei Kruchonykh, Mikhail Matyushin and Kazimir Malevich. The new outdoor media installation, created in dialogue with its predecessors, develops, and in some ways, challenges, their views. To explore it, let 's look at the history of ideas and the contexts of the original opera.

The beginning of the 20th century fell into history with a wave of discoveries and experiments. People were rushing into new dimensions and a lot was happening to the world for the first time: airplanes were invented and took off, physicists peered into the depths of space and looked for ways to it, Tesla demonstrated wireless transmission of electricity, and Marconi sent messages across the Atlantic using this technology, Méliès made a fantastic film "A Trip to the Moon", and Scriabin wrote scores for synesthetic music and worked on a grandiose "Mysterium", the finale of which was to destroy the current universe and give place to the creation of a new world.

Three men – Aleksei Kruchonykh (a futurist poet), Mikhail Matyushin (an artist and musician) and Kazimir Malevich (an avant-garde artist and art theorist) – created the Futurist Theatre "Budetlyanin" (from the Russian word “budet” meaning “will be”), where it was decided to stage an opera. Opera as a genre has always been extraordinary combining musical, literary, plastic and artistic arts, and "Victory over the Sun" was supposed to reveal an unprecedented synthesis of words, music and form so closely intertwined that words became word sounds in it, the plasticity of artists was determined by the color form of costumes and scenery, and music found continuation in the rhythm of colors, pauses and movements.

El Lissitzky, Figurines: The Three-Dimensional Design of the Electro-Mechanical Show Victory over the Sun, Portfolio of 11 lithographs, 1923, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Knights of Madness

The opera "Victory over the Sun" was composed in 1913. It was created as "a piece of software-futuristic, as an expression of alogism in word, image and music". The prologue by the poet Velimir Khlebnikov sets up what is to be seen and heard in the best possible way: having thoroughly hit the audience with confusion on the head, the turns of his verbal game instantly take the amazed attention into the depths of Contemplation. According to Kruchonykh, the theme of the opera includes "the victory of technology over cosmic forces and biologism". However, the same Kruchonykh "was famous for praising "uselessness" as the true goal of new art". Without contradicting one another, these ideas fuse together and flow out into an abstruse word-writing, which sculpts the history of the people who overcame the Sun. The feast of nonsense and absurdity, the feast of zaum’ ('transrational'), the triumph of nonsense – this is what forms the basis of "Victory".

The world of the opera, drawn by Kruchonykh in the libretto, reminds a huge pile of all sorts of things that need to be allocated into categories, and then it will be possible to consider everything thoroughly, but for now a string of bizarre creatures and phenomena, natural and organic in the Budetlian world and ridiculous, funny and frightening for the observer, passes in front of the reader / viewer from the ordinary world – as if we are looking out of a bright day at something blindly and at random.

The mobility of everything inevitably leads to fragmentation of a kind: costumes by Malevich very well demonstrate this fragmentary nature of the future world. The characters are decorated extravagantly: enlarged and exaggerated figures, assembled from cubes, balls and fancy polygons strung on top of each other. Malevich deprived the actors of forms – these are the outlines of the future, not human silhouettes. Who will these people be? They impersonate the idea of living. Their outfits are colorful and original, but they are deprived of individuality! These creatures from the future spit bursts of consonants and look more like robots assembled from some boxes and cartons. The expanse of color and abstract forms here as are the forerunners of Malevich's architectural sculptures “architectons” – they operate as main expressive means: this is the new energy of the new world. One of the bearers of the defeated Sun sings: "We are dark in the face, our light is inside," and this perfectly correlates with the idea of the predominance of a boiling inner force over an outdated celestial lamp (read – the obsolete dust of the usual "traditional" culture).

Kazimir Malevich, curtain design for Victory over the Sun. Early June of 1915. Paper, pencil. 10 x 9.5 cm. Literary Museum, Moscow. Fragment. The drawing was sent to M.V. Matyushin on June 9 (22), 1915.

Malevich was forced to work quickly with the sets, because, according to Matyushin, he was not given the material for a long time, even though they still turned out great. In the end, the stage of the St. Petersburg Luna Park Theater (until 1910, the Komissarzhevskaya Theater on Ofitserskaya Street), which was rented for the performance, was perceived as a cube, beyond which it was impossible to go. As a backdrop, panels with colored geometric elements were hung out as a designation of space, which symbolized conventionality and concreteness at the same time – these were the first rays of suprematism. It was like a splash of energy, which, with its bold conciseness, was supposed to release an even greater potential of expressive power.

We can learn about Matyushin's music only by a few fragments that have come down to us (listen here). The score is full of dissonances, loud vocal lines, strange gloomy sequences, haphazard, a little comical and clumsy, tense and sharp sounds. The modern ear can listen to all this without indignation, but in 1913 the ladies and gentlemen were pampered by euphonious consonances.

The impetuosity of events and decisions taken by the Budetlans is enormous, impatience is great, and the overthrown Sun has completely abolished the space-time norms, as well as the laws of normal physics. The pace at which the Budetlans live does not let you know anything to the end, and does it have an end here at least for anything?

Naturally, the efforts of the three knights of futurism were rewarded with an unheard-of scandal.

Victory 2.0

Despite the fact that in the autumn of 1913 the St. Petersburg premiere took place only twice and under shameless whistling, "Victory over the Sun" has a fairly diverse history of productions and reconstructions.

Here are some examples:

Victory Over the Sun, Vitebsk, without music — accompanied by noises, art design by Vera Ermolaeva, 1920.

Victory Over the Sun, California Institute of the Arts, historical reconstruction of the 1913 production, 1983 (watch here).

Victory Over the Sun, Frascati Theatrunie Amsterdam, music by Mikhail Matyushin, adaptation by Chaim Levano, art design by Fleur den Uyl, 1984.

Victory over the Sun, Studio Theatre of the Leningrad Palace of Youth, staging and reconstruction of Malevich's costumes by Galina Gubanova, music by Mikhail Matyushin arranged and with additions by Vyacheslav Artemov, Leningrad, 1988 (piece of it here)

Victory over the Sun, New York, Vassar College, music by George Firtich, 2007 (watch part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4)

Victory over the Sun, Stas Namin Theatre in association with the State Russian Museum, music by Mikhail Matyushin interpreted by Alexander Slizunov, Costume reconstruction based on sketches by Kazimir Malevich at the workshops of the Stieglitz State Academy of Arts and Industry, 2015 (watch the show for Art Basel, for the Louis Vuitton Foundation)

The 2007 performance is of great interest. The music was written by the St Petersburg composer Georgy Firtich, and it was the best idea that could have been imagined. If for Malevich "Victory over the Sun" was an impulse leading to abstract art, for Georgy Firtich working on a new score for this opera was a natural adherence to his favorite line of creativity — futurism and the avant-garde. Firtich is the author of the ballet Klop (1961) and the opera Banya (1971) based on works by the futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, as well as the cantata Spring Songs based on poems by Velemir Khlebnikov (1997), Futu-Rus and Compositions for Six based on poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Elena Guro, David Burliuk and Alexey Kruchonykh.

Everything looks organic, starting from the subtitle "for singers, piano and percussion": for the 1913 premiere of "Victory" in Luna Park, patrons found only an out-of-tune piano, vocal lines and monologues make up the grain of the opera, and percussion and noise effects seem to be a natural part of such an action. It is also appropriate to recall the Vitebsk production of 1920, when, due to technical circumstances, the opera was performed exclusively under noise accompaniment. Clusters of notes in the introduction, endless signs of alterations, a scattering of tessituras, glissandos, "deaf" notes in vocal parts, active dynamics, tempo play – and then half-empty note-bearers with pauses and modest accompaniment. The Bright, carnivalesque, disorderly, sits evenly in its places, grimacing at a masterfully set angle. The combination of understandable means of expression with the way they are combined gives rise to the effect of musical noise. There is room for both choir and soloists. The comical and menacing is heard clearly, the characteristics are written out quite straightforwardly and vividly. Firtich uses his musical palette boldly, as if paying tribute to Malevich, for whom the life of color as such is inextricably linked with the universe, and the speed of time can be determined by color.

The production of Vassar College University was carried out by students and professors as part of a graduation project that grew out of the course on the Russian avant-garde by Nikolai Firtich (director – Catherine Marvin, concertmaster – Lydia Yankovskaya, project manager/consultant – Professor Nikolai Firtich) and is notable for its attention to costumes, scenery, intonation and work with text. The play is played by American college students. Honor and praise to them for the fact that they learned all the musical numbers in Russian, while the spoken fragments were translated into English – on the one hand, the audience could better understand what was happening on stage, and on the other, this approach added a new layer to the clever linguistic construction by Kruchonykh, at the same time simplifying it for perception, and complicating.

Kazimir Malevich, Budetlyanskie strongman, 1920-th, State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg


The mad knights of the art of the future – Matyushin, Malevich, Kruchonykh – threw a stone so gloriously that "Victory over the Sun", this illogical dreamy spectacle, still emits circles on the water. Threads of futurism stretched in all directions and echoes of the ideas of "Victory" can be found everywhere: the Triadisches ballets of Oscar Schlemmer, the cosmic creations of Paco Rabanne, the stunning images of Ziggy Stardust, the Space Odyssey of Stanley Kubrick, the Black Hole Sun of the Soungarden group – the consequences are endless, and soon we will see new knights of this universal victorious order.

Text: Elizaveta Goleva


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