top of page


 A Journey Without Luggage.


As a last resort, if Glavnauka will find it impossible to issue funds for the organisation of the exhibition or the trips of the individual heads of departments. I, as Head of the Department of Painterly Culture (Formal-Theoretical), would like to petition Glavnauka to aid me in receiving visas and credentials to facilitate my journey to France through Warsaw and Germany on foot, which I propose to begin on May 15, and reach Paris on November 1, planning to return by train on December 1.

Director of the Institute

(K. Malevich).

December 9th 1925



Have you ever walked through the farmlands between us and the border region? I doubt it, I don’t think anyone has. From here you only travel one way, the shortest way to the edge. The quickest way out, then find a different route. The first settlers probably just got bogged down in the mud and had no energy to go any further. I imagine them watching the brightly caparisoned horde trundle onwards, not realising they will never rejoin it and their descendents of a thousand years will still wonder why.


The world’s spin pulls me along, rolls me into collision, as careless of my comfort as a child is of the toy tugged on the end of a string. 


My boots are encased by two perfect spheres of mud. The strong thin wind keeps catching the canvas which is slung across my back and lifting me into the air. I am flying! The wind is occasionally strong enough to lift me above the level of the corn. I pop up into the sky, for a moment above the great green lake of the field. I see the truck, harnessed to a pair of carthorses. The driver, sitting on the roof of the cab, holding the reins, leaps up and points with a theatrical startlement worthy of an Eisenstein film. His companion hefts a rifle to his shoulder and puff, BANG. The bullet whistles hopelessly wide, and the man, thrown off balance by the recoil, totters for a second before falling backwards into the field. A distant shout, and a flock of wheeling birds rises up, disturbed by the event.


I drop back to the ground, my feet cycling wildly and then finding a grip. I walk onwards. They will soon catch up and resume their shadowing position. At night they overtake me. 


I construct my shelter from the canvases leant together. I crawl in and feel the earth soft warm hard cradle and crave and long for flight. I dream of my escape, a passage of layers, static and consanguineous, they allow me a comet trajectory. Moving through the pages, remembered held, my ideas stain the present, not changing the ink shapes of the words, but the paper of the actual book. 


Morning, face wet from dew and body aching. Imagine a watcher surprised as my eyes suddenly flick open, my gaze spearing. But there is no one there, just the blue bowl of sky. Turning onto my side I see that they have set up their table a few feet down the road. An exhausted young soldier leans on a rifle, standing next to a striped wooden barrier. He has been up all night. He notices the movement, and shouts to someone in the truck’s cab. 


Where to walk but along the road, towards the barricade? A second soldier has joined the first. He is older and has obviously just awoken. 



state your name and business…


Let me see your papers… Sit in that chair and wait to be called, my superiors will need to examine these. 


Keep him under surveillance’. 


I sit on the uncomfortable wooden chair by the roadside. The young soldier stands to one side with his gun levelled at my head, his eyelids and rifle drooping. The corporal stamps away holding the ragged stuffed envelope of documents I had handed him. Three other figures now emerge stretching from the back of the truck. They sit around a camping table and begin to consume breakfast. The corporal has placed my papers on the truck’s bonnet, perhaps hoping some will be blown away, and now acts as their servant. He tends the field samovar, like some demented engine driver swathed in clouds of steam. The three do not acknowledge him, but talk loudly grasping whatever food or drink comes near to hand. My stomach moans. My body feels light, only the weight of my heavy wool coat and trousers hold me together. Air and bones, ache and dirt. I can die but I can’t leave.


Finally they have finished their meal and amble towards another table that the corporal has put up in the shade of the van. One of them disappears into a small tent set a discreet distance from the camp. My bundle of papers is opened and examined. The old soldier clears away the breakfast table. A flock of small brown birds moves through the crops in front of me, hopping from stem to stem, up, down, sideways. 


How many times has this happened before? Thirty, maybe forty. An impromptu rolling blockage, a sudden demand for permissions, identities, plans, assurances.


‘You, here now. What is this?’ A finger points at a grubby tiny reproduction of a painting of a fruit bowl.


‘Is this what you are preaching?’


‘Bourgeois formalist!’


‘Wanker.'  This last muttered by the corporal.


I know these three at the table, I remember them from when they were journalists and advisors in the old days. For a while, I think even my supporters. 


‘You tried to shoot me again.’


‘An accident, comrade…’


‘The corporal was alarmed by the sudden appearance of what he took to be a counter- revolutionary flying device’.


‘Wanker… next time we won’t miss.’ The words spat, emphatic and quiet, from just behind my ears. The corporal’s breath has a strange sweet sourness. It reminds me of sandalwood. 


‘Leaving without luggage.’ He examines my face looking for signs of fear or hopelessness that he can exploit, cracks he can prise open.




The young soldier had finally succumbed to exhaustion and let the barrel of his rifle drop down onto the ground.


‘You there! To attention! You are on a charge.’ The young man snaps woozily back into his toy soldier stance. As the rifle comes level with my head he gives me a goofy grin. The corporal pulls a small tatty notebook from his tunic pocket and makes a mark with a pencil stub on a page already covered with similar scrawls. He finishes with a stabbed full stop, then fixes the soldier and me with a bored sneer, as if trying to commit the scene to some special part of his memory.


‘Wankers.’ the corporal spits again then strides behind the truck towards the field toilet.


The horses which have been tethered to graze nearby, stir and paw. Moments later we hear the sound that has spooked them. A popping motorbike engine, a spot appears on the horizon, resolving itself into a cloud of dust, and then clearly a man, his machine roaring and bumping along the dirt track. 


The rider is all but invisible inside a leather coat and helmet, his eyes covered with goggles, and a scarf wrapped around mouth and nose. He seems of a piece with the heavy leather saddle bags slung on his bike, and over his shoulder. 


Telegram, urgent.


The soldier does not lower his rifle, so he pushes the slip of paper into the soldier’s hand, then spins back up the road, covering us with another small dust cloud. The three at the table wait for it to settle, then one of them strolls to collect the message. I know this insouciance is affected. These telegrams bring orders from Command. They are important enough to warrant the petrol denied to their truck. 


As the message is read, all pretence of casualness is dropped. The face of the reader turns pale, and the message is passed to another of the three.


‘For you, comrade’ 


I call out.


‘What is it comrade? Invitation to a show trial? Demotion to the ranks? Home without luggage? Immediate accidental death?’


The three are no longer seamless, but look at each other with a horror of contamination.


‘You be quiet’ one squeaks at me, and then louder ‘where is the corporal?’


All eyes turn towards the small canvas construction that is the field toilet. We realise something is wrong. The canvas bulges violently and the guy ropes strain.


‘The corporal is being attacked!’ 


They rush toward the tent, fumbling to pull their well-polished revolvers from holsters. 


‘Mind you don’t hurt someone with those toys.’


‘Private, keep that man quiet.’ The soldier prods me with his gun barrel.


Before they reach the tent, the whole structure topples sideways and the corporal staggers out. His trousers are round his ankles. His cap has fallen forward over his eyes. He clasps his chest and falls to the ground, taking great shuddering breaths. I wonder how many he has got left, and begin to count them. Fifteen as it happens, and then he slumps inert. His face falls into a look of bored disappointment. His penis swells into a rictus erection. None of the three has done anything but stand and watch, but now they approach.


‘He is dead’


‘Heart seizure or something… he never ate anything but pig fat. No man’s bowels can take that.’


‘He drank a whole bottle of rum last night. 


A pause.


‘An unfortunate but natural occurrence.’


This seems to satisfy their desire for a post mortem. They confer, shooting anxious glances first at me, then at the body.


‘We need to go to the next town and telegram a report. This is urgent. We must do it by the book…’

 ‘Maybe they will give us some petrol.’

‘What about the telegram’

‘You’ll soon find out about that…”

‘To town, get the private to harness the horses… and this…

‘Get the private to bury him?’

‘There are tests, papers…’

 ‘I suppose you had better wrap him up soldier, use the canvas from the tent’.


‘And him?’

‘Let him go. I don’t want to be out in the sun with this… with him, if you see what I mean. We will catch up with him later’



The young soldier still has his gun levelled at me and gives me another conspiratorial smirk. I turn away and begin to walk along the road.

bottom of page