Scissors versus T-square: on El Lissitzky’s Representations of Space


The first exhibition of Russian art since the Revolution was held in Berlin at the Van Diemen Gallery in the spring of 1922. In Camilla Gray’s terms it was ‘the most important and the only comprehensive exhibition of Russian abstract art to be seen in the West’ (Gray, 1962:315). The exhibition was organized and arranged by Russian architect El Lissitzky who acted as a link between the Russian avant-garde and that of the west. He played a seminal role especially in Germany, where he had lived before the war and where he was a constant visitor between 1922 and 1928. The diversity of El Lissitzky’s talents in many fields of art including graphic design, painting, and photography made him known as ‘travelling salesman for the avant-garde.’ However, what makes the theoretical and visual works of Lissitzky discontinuous and divergent is that they include apparently contradictory domains. Through his short life by shifting different modes of representations - perspective, axonometry, photomontage - Lissitzky sometimes presented us a number of problems in his irrational way of using the techniques. This article concentrates on his contradictory arguments on representation of space especially between 1920 and 1924, by re-reading his theoretical texts published in the avant-garde magazines of the period and looking through his well-preserved visual works.