Plato’s Analogy of the Black Square: Boris Groys, Anton Vidokle and Russian Cosmism

Last night I attended the talk at the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) by philosophy and art-writer Boris Groys. He spoke about his recent project, an exhibition in Berlin called Art Without Death: Russian Cosmism, and he grounded the thought and art of this obscure Russian avant-garde movement in a reexamination of Kazmir Malevich’s Black Square, whereby we see it less as an absolute abstraction and more as a particular view of the cosmos.

At the end of his lecture, Groys mentioned Plato’s Republic and the question of whether the ideal state described in the dialogue was realizable. Groys articulated the distinction between the logical and psychological responses Plato makes to this question, whereby the philosopher defends the possibility of his state in terms of its logical coherence (it could be created), but is less certain that people would psychologically want to implement it (but would it be created). While Groys’ reference to Plato was clear enough, what I didn’t know was where he placed the movement of Russian Cosmism within it. So I asked him and below is a video that I made from his (barely audible) answer. I have juxtaposed Groy’s audio from yesterday with images of a slide show from the Berlin exhibition. The slideshow concludes with a photograph of a screening of Anton Vidokle’s three-part film Immortality and Resurrection for All, 2017. While I have not seen this film, I have seen two stills, one showing a bandaged man in what looks like a natural history museum and another showing a magnifying glass examining Malevich’s Black Square.

Both images reminded me of Plato’s analogy of the cave, both the prisoners and the whole setting. I mentioned to Groys after the talk, I have always seen this distinction of the logical and psychological realization of his utopia in terms of the analogy of the cave, wherein the logical valence operates as the basic structure and world of the analogy and the psychological valence function in terms of the actions of the prisoner who returns to the cave and is threatened with death for suggesting that they exist in an unreal world. Given this, I wondered what possible implications were there for Plato’s analogy that resulted from Groys and Vidokle’s exhibition? In expanding the art historical attention of the Russian avant-garde, away from Malevich as abstraction and into Cosmism as a view of the cosmos, could they have unwittingly reduced Plato’s analogy of the cave, which exhibits a particular view of the cosmos, into Plato’s analogy of the black square, a mere abstraction or idea?

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