8 November 2024

Clemena Antonova, “Sacred Space as an Icon”

Advanced studies’ seminar on sacred space hosted by Eric Parry Architects, 8 November 2023. With Dr Clemena Antonova (Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna), “Sacred Space as an Icon: A New Reading of Malevich’s Black Square”:

00:00:00 José de Paiva
00:00:58 Eric Parry
00:01:36 Clemena Antonova – Keynote presentation
00:37:07 José de Paiva
00:43:22 Eric Parry
00:44:20 Peter Newby
00:47:49 Tracey Winton
00:54:00 Christian Frost

Online talks on sacred space:
Presence, Person, Beauty

This series brings contemporary authors to reflect on some of the most primary questions for theology and philosophy as well as the history of art and architecture. From divine dwelling in the Old Testament to its Christian understanding, the question of divine presence in the visible world has been at the heart of the community of the faithful. From the ancient search for the face of God to the traditional understanding of person, the question of personhood and its myriad implications have challenged our understanding throughout history. They have also guided our understanding of what it means to live together and build our world. And yet, in our contemporary lives, we often seem oblivious to the natural goodness and beauty of the created world in which we dwell and build; even in today’s sacred art and architecture, the word beauty is scarcely, if ever, used. These online seminars on presence, person and the theology of beauty – of the created world, of art and architecture – explore these topics in a way that is by no means exclusive to the sacred, but hopefully provocative in the best sense of the term.

Synopsis: In 1915, Russian avant-garde artist, Kazimir Malevich, displayed his work The Black Square at the Last Futurist Exhibition 0,10 in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg). Malevich’s highly abstract painting was famously hung in the corner of the room. The retrospective Malevich exhibition at the Tate Modern Gallery in London in 2014 reproduced this arrangement (in photo). Interestingly, both Malevich himself, as well as his scandalized critics at the time, kept referring to the figureless painting as an “icon,” i.e., a religious image that holds the presence of a holy figure. In my talk, I will suggest that what really mattered about Malevich’s painting was not what was represented. There is, indeed, a long history of black squares in art (as Andrew Spira has shown in his 2022 book) and these representations do not, as a rule, claim a special religious meaning. Malevich’s work does because of where it was placed. What was sacred was not the square, but the actual space in which it was displayed. In the Russian context, the krasnii ugol,’ i.e., the beautiful or red corner, is the place where Russian believers hang their icons. If this interpretation is accepted, the very definition of an “icon” comes under question – a problem I would like to discuss in my talk.

Clemena Antonova was trained as an art historian at the universities of Edinburgh and Oxford. Her first book is entitled Space, Time, and Presence in the Icon: Seeing the World with the Eyes of God (Ashgate, 2010), while her second monograph came out as Visual Thought in Russian Religious Philosophy: Pavel Florensky’s Theory of the Icon, (Routledge, 2020). She has published widely on the art of the icon, Russian critiques of the image, and the problem of religious art in a secular modernity. Recently she guest-curated the exhibition “Icons for Our Time: Orthodox Art from around the World” at the Museum of Russian Icons, USA (14 October 2021-3 April 2022). Currently, Clemena is the Research Director of the “World in Pieces” Programme at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, Austria.