Embodying Abstraction: The Multimedia Works of Wassily Kandinsky and Natalia Goncharova, 1909-1916
Though eager to insert avant-garde artists into the history of abstract painting, scholarship has largely resisted including their equally abstract multimedia works into the narrative of modernism. Due to the lack of visual analysis of such works, the opportunity to historically ground multimedia within artists’s oeuvre or within an artistic movement is often overlooked. I will attend to this lacuna by interrogating the interconnection between visual abstraction, representation and expression through the lens of two early episodes of Modernist multimedia performance: Kandinsky’s 1909 to 1915 stage works, The Yellow Sound, The Green Sound, Black and White and Violet Curtain, and Liturgie, a ballet by Goncharova from 1915. I will stage the works that I have not already realised and use the visual documentation and knowledge from mounting a performance to conduct visual and critical analysis. I will then locate these early twentieth-century multimedia works in media theory, specifically, between late nineteenth-century notions of the total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk) and Rosalind Krauss’s late twentieth-century conception of the post-medial condition. My method of performance as research is underpinned by my specific skill set in musicology, performance and art history, something I believe few other scholars could combine. Given the import placed upon abstraction in the history of art, my exploration of the performance of that abstraction – the embodiedness of the thing without a body – will offer a new angle to the discipline.