(full title 'El Lissitzky: a suprematist story -- about two squares. in 6 constructions: Berlin, Skythen, 1922.')

Possibly El Lissitzky's most famous work, a revolutionary children's book published in 1922. Lissitzky worked as a member of the Soviet Institute of Art and created the book to teach children about mathematics and politics by using nothing more than two squares (a red one and a black one) as the characters in his book.

The purpose of the book is to promote revolutionary Communism by telling the story of the struggle between a red square and a black one in which the red square emerges as the victor by destroying the chaos brought by the black square.

The genius of this work lies in it's simplicity; the body consists of no more than ten pages in a minimal, modernist graphical style in which typography plays as much a part as narrative or illustration. In fact, many of the pages consist of nothing more than one or two words rendered using contorted typography to convey its meaning. The reason for Lissitzky's minimalist approach is to free the book from the influences of the past in its representation of the present and the future.

Plot summary

1: We are introduced to the two squares - 'Here are two squares'.

2: The two squares are on their way to the Earth - 'From far away, flying towards the Earth'

3: 'see black Chaos' - we are shown a collection of black squares and rectangles arranged without a unifying purpose.

4: The red square falls on the black and breaks it apart - 'crash -- all scattered'.

5: 'and on the Black was established Red Clearly'

6: 'Thus it ends -- further' - the black square leaves the page as red establishes a colony of orderly read squares.

While the original message of the book has become redundant and discredited the work itself is still an amazingly powerful encapsulation of the political and artistic idealism of the time in which it was created. It challenges notions of what a picture book should be and the limitations in communicating with words and images.

The visionary status of this book and its author were confirmed in 1978 when Kraftwerk used an image from it on the back cover of their album, 'TheMan Machine'.

The entire book (colour scans) and explanatory notes is available from If you've read this far you really owe it to yourself to see the original pages. They are far more powerful than any description could ever be.

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