Tuesday Poem: Revolution - Tatlin's Flight


It is machine, eviscerated, just
a grace of polished ash and canvas

the elegant equivalence of flight

I stand under its shadow
watching the cage of  ribs
rotating dark and light

on a white screen; a metaphor
for all our airborne dreamings.

Long spokes - the aluminium pin feathers
of its wings - scissor across
the backdrop simulating naked aviation

the fish-shaped tail tilts up, nose down,
a structure arrested
in beautiful fall, what is left

of himself and the revolutionary music
trapped - a gigantic insect - revolving
in the moment of its execution.

© Kathleen Jones 2017

Photo Hettie Judah, Instagram.

It's NaPoWriMo - and I can't write a poem a day.  Maybe a poem a week.  This poem (still in progress) came out of a visit to the Revolution exhibition at the Royal Academy.  Tatlin's Glider, 'Letatlin', suspended under the dome and lit so that images are projected onto the canvas backdrop as it rotates, was one of the most interesting things I saw.  I could have sat for hours watching the images changing, in a silent simulation of flight.

Vladimir Tatlin was a Russian artist and architect and is usually mentioned alongside Malevich as one of the most influential artists of the revolutionary period, though the two had violent disagreements.  Tatlin became a 'constructionist'.  He was fascinated by the flight of birds and constructed many 'gliders' in an effort to facilitate human flight.  He called them 'Letatlin' - a play on words.  'Letat' is the Russian word for flight and he combined it with his own name.

There were many other wonderful things at the exhibition - film footage by Eisenstein, a lot of paintings and sculptures by Malevich, Kandinsky, and other major painters of that period. There is some wonderful photography, and propaganda, as well as ceramics and textiles, showing the struggle that artists had to conform to the political agenda and still make a living. There are portraits of Anna Akhmatova and her lover, the artist Nikolai Punin, who was sent to the Gulags by Stalin and died there. One of the most moving parts of the exhibition was the Memory Room where you can sit and look at a screen projecting images of some of those unfortunate people Stalin sent to the camps. Civil servants, teachers, doctors, workers, writers, artists, students. Some of them survived, but many of them were shot or died of ill-treatment.  It's not often that an exhibition is able to give you a glimpse of a whole culture, but this one does.  It's a chilling taste of what it is like to live as a creative being under authoritarianism.  Let's just pray that it never comes back. 


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