There is a red circle and a black square “on top” of it. There is a universe of smaller, more random, Supremacist elements at the picture’s edges, most of the elements being segment of circles. as if answering the shape of the central red planet. And then, written into the square and the circle — seemingly half- inscribed through them, but with color seeping into the lines of the lettering — the words ROSA LUXEMBURG, in formal script, complete with a period.
The effect, as I say, is simple. The symbolism is more or less transparent. Red = world = revolution. Black = death = matter = nothing. (The last two terms in the series would have had, under Malevich’s influence in 1920, a strong positive valency.) The arrows and the aeroliths are the various forces, some of them maybe still hostile, about to be brought into the orbit of the revolution. None of this is exactly disturbed by the final inscription of Rosa Luxemburg’s name, but I do think that the presence of energizes and complicates the picture’s whole economy.
It is hard to say exactly how the unsettling takes place. Partly it is matter of lettering being ineluctably flat, and being placed by the mind and the eye on some further, absolute proximate surface, which is here— in front even of the flattest and simplest slice of geometry. Malevich and co. were steeped in Cubism— it was the first and main thing UNOVIS students were taught. This was one of Cubism’s basic lessons. But something more is going on in the original Luxemburg gouache, I think, than a mere rehearsal of writing = flatness. An immense deal of care has been taken to get the letters to be visually “in” the black and red. And to have the black and red be fields— materialities— only partly interrupted by the presence of writing across them. Where is “flatness” in this case? As usual the jesting Plate will not stay for an answer. The letters float, and take on airy substance. They sink back into the black square. They are no more than temporary— barely legible— eddie’s in the black’s real, that is, material, indifference. “I paint energy, not the soul.” “Anarchy is colored black… a single dark ray has swallowed up all the colors and placed everything beyond mere difference and advantage. Everything is now the same…”
~T. J. Clark, Farewell to An Idea