‘Black currency’ – The portable monument

A circulating tribute to El Lissitzky (1890–1941) and Sophie Lissitzky-Kueppers (1891–1978).

‘Worlds of El Lissitzky’
Siberian Center for Contemporary Art and the Siberian Center for the Promotion of Architecture in Novosibirsk.

International design competition won by Gabor Stark, architect and senior lecturer at the University for the Creative Arts – Canterbury School of Architecture.

Stark won the competition by designing a ‘symbolic monument/object’ representing El Lissitzky and the Russian Avant-garde. His design proposal was a hand-held, multiple and migratory monument. The design pays tribute to the lives of both artists El Lissitky and his wife Sophie Lissitzky-Kueppers.

Sophie followed her husband from Hannover to Moscow in the late 1920s. Both being key-personalities and hugely influential in the contemporary cultural circles, travelled widely across the european continent – from Russia via Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Austria and France. After El Lissitzky’s death in 1941, Sophie was deported to Siberia by the Stalin regime and died in Novosibirsk in 1978.

Gabor Stark’s winning entry is a designed shape (silhouette of a perspective hollow cube) inspired by El Lissitzky’s Prouns and his concepts of Pangeometry and imaginary space. Lissitzky’s lifelong journey is manifested along its edges.

Detailed information about the monument/object visit Gabor Stark’s project website.

Monument/object held by Sergei Lissitzky, the grandson of El and Sophie
Monument/object held by Sergei Lissitzky, the grandson of El and Sophie
Short project description and the presentation board for the competition.
Short project description and the presentation board for the competition.

Interview with Gabor Stark by Alexandra Arkhipova

Brief personal information about yourself

I’m an architect, urbanist and lecturer living and working in and between Berlin and Canterbury. After studying architecture in Berlin and Glasgow, I co-founded tx – office for temporary architecture together with my partner Ines-Ulrike Rudolph in 2000. I started teaching in Berlin in the same year, and in 2007 I joined the UCA Canterbury School of Architecture in England, where I currently run a post-graduate research and design studio.

What is the scope of your professional interests?

For the work of our practice, we have coined the term programmatic urbanism. Oscillating between the disciplines of architecture, landscape and urban design, we always focus on the temporal and programmatic aspects of spatial transformation processes. The formats range from competitions, via research projects and publications, to immediate interventions within the built environment. Last year for example, we completed the conversion of an abandoned railway station into a public park in Berlin-Friedrichshain. The project was rooted in an active community-involvement and user-participation, and experimented with the integration of formal and informal instruments within the context of an incremental urban regeneration process. The agenda of temporal planning and pioneer urbanism is something I also pursue with my students in Canterbury.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the school of architecture where you teach?

The School of Architecture in Canterbury is part of the University for the Creative Arts. Specialising in film, fashion, art and design, UCA provides a multi-disciplinary environment within a network of five campuses in the South-East of England. In Canterbury, architecture shares the campus with the fine art department, a setting that allows for productive cross-fertilisations. This academic year, we started the curriculum for the post-graduate courses in architecture with the Worlds of El Lissitzky competition. All students developed a proposition and I’m very pleased that so many of them were selected for the exhibition in Novosibirsk. As you can imagine, discussing the history and legacy of Suprematism and the Russian avant-garde with staff and students had a great impact on the development of my own proposal. Special thanks go to my colleague Kristina Kotov. An intense brainstorming session with her helped a lot to clarify and to sharpen the concept of the hand-held, multiple and migratory monument.

When and why did you become interested in the Russian avant-garde?

My first encounter with Russian art and architecture of the early 20th century dates back from my time as a student in Berlin. In the 1990s, Leonidov, Melnikov, Ginzburg and Lissitzky were all part of the architecture curriculum. But more importantly, the interwoven political and cultural history of Russia and Germany had and has a very strong presence in Berlin. The intricate relationship between Tzarist Russia and Prussia, the history of Russian-Jewish immigration to Berlin, and the influence of artists like Wassily Kandinsky, Vladimir Majakowski and Ilja Ehrenburg on the intellectual life of Weimar Germany is something that is still tangible within the contemporary cultural landscape of the city.

And then there is of course the much more difficult legacy of World War II and of Berlin’s past as a divided city in a divided country, in fact, in a divided world during the Cold War. And whilst the Berlin Wall has nearly completely disappeared as a physical reality, the many Soviet monuments and war memorials in the eastern part of the city remind one of this historic chapter of the entangled strands of the Russian-German cultural, political and ideological contexts.

Coming back to architecture and the avant-garde of the 1920s and 30s, one aspect that specifically interests me are the manifold co-operations between the protagonists in Russia and their contemporaries in Western Europe. I mentioned the impact of Russian artists on the cultural life of Berlin; El Lissitzky’s influence as an artist, designer and theoretician spans an even wider territory, covering Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Austria and France. His life and work links places like Pochinok, Vitebsk, Smolensk and Moscow with Darmstadt, Hanover, Berlin, Dresden, Cologne, Locarno, Rotterdam, Vienna and Paris, to name just the more important ones. And then there is the other vector, with architects like Bruno Taut, Hannes Meyer, Ernst May and Margarete Schuette-Lihotzky escaping from the rise of fascism in Germany to the young Soviet Union; most of them leaving and continuing their diaspora after only a few years, professionally and ideologically disillusioned by their experiences under Stalin.

This double-heritage of a highly productive and creative cosmopolitan culture on the one hand, and of the peripatetic and sometimes tragic biographies of some of the avant-garde’s most important figures on the other hand, was a theme that inspired my proposal for the circulating artefacts, which pay tribute to the often nomadic lives of artists in the first half of the 20th century.

How did the concept and the form of the portable monument evolve? What are your ideas for the implementation of the project?

Although I’m not proposing a sited memorial in a particular location, Novosibirsk as a place was crucial for the formulation of the principal idea. When I did research on El Lissitzky’s life, I learned that his wife Sophie Lissitzky-Kueppers, who followed him to Moscow in the early 1930’s, was deported to Siberia shortly after El Lissitzky’s death in 1941. Once an active member of the European intellectual circles in Hanover and for several years part of the cultural elite in Moscow, conversing with Eisenstein, Vertov, Meyerhold, Ginzburg, Tatlin and others, she spent the last four decades of her life in relative isolation and died in Novosibirsk in 1978. With the portable monuments I want to pay tribute to the curriculum vitae of both Lissitzkys. The key stations of their bio-geographical itineraries will be registered along the sides of the proposed artefacts. Being launched in Novosibirsk, they are supposed to travel with their individual carriers. The place of an ending would thus turn into the place of a beginning, with the 10,000 artefacts becoming a gift from Novosibirsk, slowly disseminated throughout the world.

The form of the actual object is derived from a painting of mine, showing the silhouette of a perspectival hollow cube. Referring back to El Lissitzky’s Prouns and his concepts of Pangeometry and Imaginary Space, the visual and haptic perception of the hand-held monument is supposed to oscillate between a two-, and a three-dimensional piece. For the lettering and manufacturing process I am hoping to utilize the local expertise of the existing metallurgy and engineering industries in Novosibirsk. I’m sure that the fabrication process and the spatial and institutional setting for the launch will be the subject of the coming discussions with the responsible partners in Siberia. For now, I feel honoured and excited that the jury appreciated my competition entry. I’m looking forward to the next stage of the project and to travelling to Novosibirsk in the hopefully not so distant future – it would be my first visit to Russia.

‘Black currency’ – The portable monument
Gabor Stark

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