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THE RUSSIAN AVANT-GARDE AND RADICAL MODERNISM An Introductory Reader Edited by Dennis G. Ioffe and Frederick H. White Cultural Syllabus ———————————————————— ———————————————————— Introduction The Russian Avant-Garde and Radical Modernism An Introductory Reader —1— ———————————————————— ———————————————————— Introduction Cultural Syllabus Series Editor: Mark Lipovetsky (University of Colorado - Boulder) —2— ———————————————————— ———————————————————— Introduction THE RUSSIAN AVANT-GARDE AND RADICAL MODERNISM An Introductory Reader Edited by Dennis G. IOFFE and Frederick H. WHITE Boston 2012 —3— ———————————————————— ———————————————————— Introduction Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: A bibliographic record for this title is available from the Library of Congress. Copyright © 2012 Academic Studies Press All rights reserved ISBN 978-1-936235-29-2 (hardback) ISBN 978-1-936235-45-2 (paperback) Book design by Adell Medovoy Published by Academic Studies Press in 2012 28 Montfern Avenue Brighton, MA 02135, USA press@academicstudiespress.com www.academicstudiespress.com —4— ———————————————————— ———————————————————— Introduction Contents List of Illustrations 7 Note from the Editors 8 I. An Introduction to the Russian Avant-Garde and Radical Modernism by Dennis Ioffe and Frederick H. White 9 II. Russian Futurism and the Related Currents 1. Hylaea by Vladimir Markov 21 54 1a) Velimir Khlebnikov: A “Timid” Futurist by Willem G. Weststeijn 1b) Mayakovsky as Literary Critic by Willem G. Weststeijn 70 2. Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Translated Texts: John E. Bowlt 85 Content and Form, 1910 — VASILII KANDINSKY 85 Preface to Catalogue of One-Man Exhibition, 1913 — NATALYA GONCHAROVA 89 Cubism (Surface-Plane), 1912 — DAVID BURLIUK 93 101 Cubism, I912 — NATALYA GONCHAROVA Why We Paint Ourselves: A Futurist Manifesto, 1913 — ILYA ZDANEVICH and MIKHAIL LARIONOV 102 Rayonists and Futurists. A Manifesto, 1913 — MIKHAIL LARIONOV and NATALYA GONCHAROVA 105 Rayonist Painting, 1913 — MIKHAIL LARIONOV 109 Pictorial Rayonism, 1914 — MIKHAIL LARIONOV 118 From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Painterly Realism, 1915 — KAZIMIR MALEVICH 120 Suprematism in World Reconstruction, 1920 — EL LISSITZKY 140 Program Declaration, 1919 — KOMFUT 147 3. The Phenomenon of David Burliuk in the History of the Russian Avant-Garde Movement by Elena Basner 150 4. The Revolutionary Art of Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov by Jane A. Sharp 170 III. Russian Suprematism and Constructivism 1. Kazimir Malevich: His Creative Path by Evgenii Kovtun 206 2. Constructivism and Productivism in the 1920s by Christina Lodder 227 3. The Birth of Socialist Realism from the Spirit of the Russian Avant-Garde by Boris Groys 250 4. Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Translated Texts: John E. Bowlt 277 The Paths of Proletarian Creation, 1920 — ALEKSANDR BOGDANOV 277 —5— ———————————————————— ———————————————————— Introduction Declaration: Comrades, Organizers of Life, 1923 — LEF 281 Constructivism [Extracts], 1922 — ALEKSEI GAN 284 IV. The OBERIU Circle (Daniil Kharms and His Associates) 1. OBERIU: Daniil Kharms and Aleksandr Vvedensky on/in Time and History by Evgeny Pavlov 296 2. Some Philosophical Positions in Some “OBERIU” Texts (Translator’s preface) by Eugene Ostashevsky 314 V. Russian Experimental Performance and Theater 1. Vsevolod Meyerhold 357 by Alexander Burry 2. The Culture of Experiment in Russian Theatrical Modernism: the OBERIU Theater and the Biomechanics of Vsevolod Meyerhold 385 by Michael Klebanov VI. Avant-Garde Cinematography: Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov 1. Eisenstein: A Short Biography by Frederick H. White 407 2. Allegory and Accommodation: Vertov’s Three Songs of Lenin (1934) as a Stalinist Film by John MacKay 420 Concluding Addendum: The Tradition of Experimentation in Russian Culture and the Russian Avant-Garde by Dennis Ioffe 454 List of Contributors 468 Bibliography 472 —6— ———————————————————— ———————————————————— Introduction List of Illustrations Image 1: The photo of the “seated Lenin” in the 1938 (and probably the 1934) 423 versions of the prologue to Three Songs Image 2: Peasant women dancing “in the round” (from Kino-Eye (1924)) 427 Image 3: The round faces of jubilant peasant women (Kino-Eye) 428 Image 4: The Pioneers arrive with rectilinearity (the sign reads, “Today is the 429 International Day of Cooperation”) (Kino-Eye) Image 5: Streaks of water, geometrical form and forward movement (Kino-Eye) 429 Image 6: A drunken man staggers to his feet in Enthusiasm (1930) 430 Image 7: The siren of industrial modernity (Enthusiasm) 431 Image 8: The Pioneers bringing (visual) order to chaos (Enthusiasm) 432 Image 9: The veil (Three Songs of Lenin (1934)) 432 Image 10: The “praying camera” in motion (Three Songs of Lenin) 434 Image 11: The activist making her notes, linking old and new (Three Songs of Lenin) 435 Image 12: The activist looks into the future (Three Songs of Lenin) 436 Image 13: Pioneers marching on the riverbank (Three Songs of Lenin) 437 Image 14: The immobile Kara-Kum desert, near the beginning of the third song (Three Songs of Lenin) 441 Image 15: The double-flow of marchers into the mausoleum (Three Songs of Lenin) 442 Image 16: The core image of the sequence: water (Three Songs of Lenin) 443 —7— ———————————————————— ———————————————————— Introduction Note from the Editors This Reader is a collection of the most salient texts about the Russian avant-garde and radical modernism. The previously published texts, for the most part, remain the way in which they originally appeared in print. Therefore, you will note seeming inconsistencies in the transliterations of names and possibly in titles of some works. The transliteration systems employed in the volume vary between the (phonetically based) Library of Congress system of transliterating Russian Cyrillic and the International system (also called the scientific or the European system). The editors of this volume decided not to standardize these transliterations as it might lead to further alterations, which would begin to impinge heavily upon the original text. —8— ———————————————————— ———————————————————— Introduction I An Introduction to the Russian Avant-garde and Radical Modernism —9— ———————————————————— ———————————————————— Introduction Introduction Modernism, as a concept, may be understood as the totality of numerous aesthetic theories that began to take shape during the second half of the nineteenth century and achieved a measure of aesthetic coherence already before the First World War. Despite the absence of an allencompassing manifesto, modernism demonstrated several consistent aesthetic principles and methods of creation that resulted in a fundamental revision of the universal values that had been previously culturally dominant. Post-Impressionism, Symbolism, Cubism, Imagism, Futurism, Dadaism, and Surrealism each represented an enthusiastic break with the positivist cultural heritage and humanistic beliefs of the nineteenth century. Although there existed within these movements intrinsic contradictions, expressed in manifestoes and declarations, there was one common artistic attitude, as a result of the unprecedented calamities of the era. All of these movements aimed to overthrow the basic aesthetics of classical Realism, which resulted in a radical opposition to these canons of realistic art that is now known as modernism. This volume is intended for a student audience and aims at providing a general overview of the main currents that constituted the final stage of the modernist creative history—the Russian avant-garde described from a historical perspective. The collection features a number of original contributions commissioned specifically for the present volume along with some scholarly classics devoted to the relevant topics. The texts presented in this reader were selected with the aim of bringing the most suitable and accessible information on the issues in question. They reflect both a high caliber of scholarly rigor and professional substantiality along with an overall accessibility for students. Let us start with defining briefly the thematic issues that will be discussed in the following pages. Constantly challenging the principles of artistic representation, modernism rejected traditional realistic art and literature by denying life-imitating techniques in favor of irrationalism and absurdity. To a certain degree, modernism was an aesthetic reaction to what was per— 10 — —————————————————— Hylaea —————————————————— 1. Hylaea 1 Vladimir Markov In November 1910, 2 Vasily Kamensky published a book entitled Zemlyanka (“The Mud Hut”). It is a romantic story with some autobiographical elements. Philip, a provincial turned fashionable writer now living in the capital, is a naively glamorized self-portrait of Kamensky down to the red shirt he wears, which Kamensky tried to use as a trademark. Philip’s love affair with the beautiful Marina is on the rocks, and he is on the verge of committing suicide, but is distracted by the rising sun and the singing birds and decides to leave Marina for nine years to test her and his own love. He goes to live in the country, in a forest on the bank of a river, in a mud hut abandoned by some hunter, in the company of a peasant boy, a dog, and a thrush. Tortured thoughts of Marina are soon replaced by his communication with the vision of the fairytale-like Maika; but, finally, Philip meets a peasant girl, Mariika, with whom he finds paradisaic happiness through marriage. The Mud Hut is an antiurbanistic work, and the first chapters are devoted to depicting the city as the reign of death. The protagonist abandons the tragic chaos of city life and returns to mother earth. In fact, for the author, the novel was an ambitious undertaking, something terribly significant, a kind of Divine Comedy with the hero going through the hell of city life, then cleansing himself in solitary communion with nature, and, at the end, entering the paradise of peasant life. The peasant, according to Kamensky, partakes of the “enormous mysteries of earth,” which the author refuses to reveal to anyone. At the end of the novel, he does reveal, however, that he follows Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy is mentioned by name and praised for his ability to write “in plain Russian so that one can understand him” while the rest of the Russian literati are dismissed as “Russian foreigners.” The best pages in The Mud Hut are those on which Kamensky describes nature. “Describes” is not the right word, because this lyric novel is an exuberant paean to nature, which it extols as the force making a wise child of a man. In all fairness, one should add, however, that though — 21 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS Kamensky is certainly familiar with and fond of nature as it is found in his beloved Perm region, his observations concerning it are inaccurate: in his novel, for instance, buttercups, bluebells, and cornflowers grow at the same time. The lyric quality of the nature chapters is further intensified by the free verse poetry that often interrupts the emotional prose in which the work is written. Many of the Mud Hut poems were published earlier in Sadok sudei. Kamensky later attached much importance to the fact that he intermingled prose with poetry in his novel. He called The Mud Hut “a new kind of novel” and was inclined to consider this inter3 a futurist device. Though some originality could be claimed in the employment of this device when seen within the context of Russian literature, its use did not constitute futurism. Kamensky’s later claim 4 that he had achieved a sdvig (“dislocation, shift”) through this intermingling of prose and poetry can hardly be recognized, because poetry does not actually interrupt prose in his work, thus producing a dissonant effect, but rather enhances the lyricism that fills the prose throughout the novel. Otherwise, the mixture of monologue and third-person narrative, the frequent exclamations, and the fragmentary composition of the work add further to the impressionistic effect. Actually, Kamensky’s originality is somewhat diminished by the fact that Guro used the same device in a less obtrusive and more subtle way. Kamensky appears as a pupil of Guro also in the frequent use of one-word sentences and in his admonitions to preserve the child in oneself. He also borrows from E. Nizen (the scene with children playing in a city-garden has much in common with her “Children’s Paradise”) and from Khlebnikov (some poems are obviously patterned on the latter’s “Zoo”; reproducing birdcalls comes from Khlebnikov, too). As a whole, to put it mildly, is hardly a masterpiece. It The Mud Hut needs much cutting, its diction is often banal, and it shows that Kamensky’s taste was always his weak point. When Philip is in distress after Marina has left him, and the homeless dogs in the streets come and sniff with sympathy at his tears dropping to the sidewalk, it is too much. The childish exuberance of the hero’s communion with nature can also be too much, as when he, overcome by the child awakening in him, jumps fully clothed into the river from a steep bank, holding the burning tree trunk pulled out of a bonfire. Nevertheless, the novel occupies an important place in this history because (1) it is another example of the impressionist beginnings of Russian futurism; (2) it is the first major work — 22 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS 1b. Mayakovsky as Literary Critic 1 Willem G. Weststeijn The Russian futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) is wellknown for his rebellious attitude: he hated bourgeois society and was an ardent supporter of the revolution. In his poetry he created a complex image of himself: that of a rebel, but at the same time of someone who is “unimpeachably tender” and, like Christ, is ready to sacrifice himself for mankind. Still another image appears from his literary criticism and literary activities. He was an excellent editor (LEF and New LEF), had a keen sense for what is really worthwhile in literature (Chekhov, Khlebnikov) and was an able craftsman with clear ideas about how poetry should be written. His most elaborate piece of literary criticism, How Are Verses Made? (Kak delat’ stikhi?, 1926), which includes a description of the way in which he wrote his poem “To Sergey Esenin,” can be considered his credo. Literary authors are, generally, not much concerned with the work of their contemporary fellow writers. That is to say, they read it, undoubtedly form an opinion about it, but do not express this opinion in the form of critical articles. There are, of course, exceptions (Thomas Mann, D.H. Lawrence, John Updike), but as a rule writers and poets stick to their own creative work and leave the writing of literary criticism to professional critics and reviewers. Mayakovsky can be considered, to a lesser degree, in this group. He has one extensive critical article to his name, How Are Verses Made?, some pieces on the occasion of the death of authors and a number of shorter and longer declarations, statements, lectures and—stenographed—addresses and speeches at literary meetings, conferences and public appearances. This does not make Mayakovsky a real literary critic, but is 2 certainly enough to study him as such and to assess what he has accomplished in the field of literary criticism. Russian Futurism appeared on the literary scene in the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century. The movement consisted of several groups: the Cubo-Futurists, at first known as the Hylaeans, the — 70 — ——————————————— Mayakovsky as Literary Critic ——————————————— Ego-Futurists, the Centrifuge and the Mezzanine of Poetry. The CuboFuturists, most of whom were artists as well as poets, hence their name, were undoubtedly the best known. Apart from Mayakovsky members of the group were David Burlyuk, Vasily Kamensky, Velimir Khlebnikov and Alexei Kruchenykh. The latter two laid the foundation of the socalled “zaumnyi jazyk” (transrational language), one of the most important and productive “discoveries” of Russian twentieth century poetry. Just as the painters of the time were not interested any longer in depicting reality, but tended to abstract art, an “independent” structure of color and line, the poets did not consider the word in its referential function, but, primarily, as a constellation of letters and sounds without any definite referential meaning. This emphasis on “the word as such” (slovo kak takovoe) was already apparent in Khlebnikov’s early poetry (from 1908), but was publicly announced only in the Cubo-Futurists’ first manifesto, A Slap in the Face of Public Taste (Poshchechina obshchestvennomu vkusu, 1912). In this manifesto the Futurists declared themselves as fierce opponents of the cultural establishment and of the entire literature of the past. To the readers of our New First Unexpected. We alone are the face of our Time. Through us the horn of time blows in the art of the word. 3 The Futurists did not restrict themselves to rude and aggressive statements on paper, but took their aesthetic revolution out on the street. As Vladimir Markov has pointed out, in 1913, the annus mirabilis of Russian Futurism, the Cubo-Futurists became notorious for their public poetry readings, which often ended in a scandal. The Futurists deliberately insulted their public and offended the audience by their provocative behavior as well as with their lectures and poetry. Mayakovsky, a born actor with a stentorian voice, was the central figure of these happenings. To advertise the poetry readings he paraded along the streets in a yellow blouse with a wooden spoon in the buttonhole and with a painted face. This guaranteed success. Tickets were generally sold out before the recitals started. Despite their professed hatred for the literature of the past (particu— 71 — ——————————————— Mayakovsky as Literary Critic ——————————————— 2. Russian Art of the Avant-Garde 1 (Translated Texts) John E. Bowlt Content and Form, 1910 — VASILII KANDINSKY Born Moscow, 1866; died Neuilly-sur-Seine. 1944. 1890: arrived in Munich; 1896: with Alexei von Jawlensky et al. founded the Neue Künstlerveremigung (New Artists’ Association); began Improvisations; 1909-10: Munich correspondent for Apollon; 1910: contributed to the first “Knave of Diamonds” exhibition; 1910 onwards: began to explore an abstract mode of painting; 1911-12: exhibitions of Der Blaue Reiter [The Blue Rider]; 1914-21: back in Russia; 1920: participated in the organization of Inkhuk; 1921: participated in the organization of the Russian Academy of Artistic Sciences; 1921: emigrated; 1922-33: taught at the Bauhaus. The text of this piece, “Soderzhanie i forma”, is from the catalogue for the second “Salon” exhibition, organized by Vladimir Izdebsky in Odessa in 1910. Apart from the list of exhibitors and this text, the catalogue included articles by Izdebsky, Nikolai Kulbin, a certain “Dr. Phil. A. Grinbaum, Odessa” (perhaps the philosopher Anton Grinbaum), a discourse on “Harmony in Painting and Music” by Henri Rovel, a long poem by Leonid Grossman (later to achieve fame as a literary critic), and Kandinsky’s translation of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Parallels in Octaves and Fifths.” With such a synthetic composition and, moreover, with a cover designed, after a Kandinsky woodcut, this catalogue might well have formed the prototype for Der Blaue Reiter almanac itself. Although most contemporary trends in Russian painting were represented at the exhibition—from neoprimitivism (David and Vladimir Burliuk; Mikhail Larionov, Vladimir Tatlin, etc.) to symbolism (Petr Utkin), from the St. Petersburg Impressionists (Kulbin) to the World of Art (Mstislav Dobuzhinsky), the Munich artists (Jawlensky, Kandinsky, Gabriele Munter, Marianne von Werefkin) constituted an impressive and compact group. Indeed, the German contribution both to the exhibition and to — 85 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS the catalogue was indicative of Izdebsky’s own interest in Kandinsky (he intended, for example, to publish a monograph on him in 1911) and, generally, in the Neue Künstlerveremigung. Kandinsky’s text shares certain affinities with his article “Kuda idet ‘novoe’ iskusstvo” (Whither the ‘New’ Art), which was published a few weeks later (also in Odessa) and in which he went so far as to assert that “any kind of content is unartistic and hostile to art. . . . Painting as such, i.e., as ‘pure painting’ affects the soul by means of its primordial resources: by paint (color), by form, i.e., the distribution of planes and lines, their interrelation (movement)…” Of course, both this article and the text below constituted previews of Kandinsky’s On the Spiritual in Art, which was given as a lecture by Kulbin on Kandinsky’s behalf at the All-Russian Congress of Artists in St. Petersburg on December 29 and 31, 1911. The present text reflects both Kandinsky’s highly subjective interpretation of art and his quest for artistic synthesism, attitudes that were identifiable with a number of Russian artists and critics at this time, not least Kulbin, Aleksandr Skryabin, and of course, the symbolists. Kandinsky’s attempts to chart the “artist’s emotional vibration” and to think in comparative terms is still evident in his programs for the Moscow Inkhuk and for the Russian Academy of Artistic Sciences. *** A work of art consists of two elements: the inner and the outer. The inner element, taken separately, is the emotion of the artist’s soul, which (like the material musical tone of one instrument that compels the corresponding tone of another to covibrate) evokes a corresponding emotional vibration in the other person, the perceptor. While the soul is bound to the body, it can perceive a vibration usually only by means of feeling—which acts as a bridge from the nonmaterial to the material (the artist) and from the material to the nonmaterial (the spectator). Emotion—feeling—work of art—feeling—Emotion. As a means of expression, therefore, the artist’s emotional vibration must find a material form capable of being perceived. This material form — 86 — ——————————————— Russian Art of the Avant-Garde ——————————————— The combination is infinitely fine and refined, infinitely complex and complicated. The task of drawing or drawn form follows from the second stipulation. Drawing is the combination of linear planes determined by inner necessity. Its refinement and complexity are infinite. The first task is, in fact, indissolubly linked to the second and represents, generally speaking, the primary task in a composition of painting and drawing; it is a task that is now destined to advance with unprecedented force, and its threshold is the so-called new painting. It is self-evident that this innovation is not a qualitative one (fundamentally) but a quantitative one. This composition has been the invariable law of any art of any period, beginning with the primitive art of the “savages.” The imminent Epoch of the Great Spirituality is emerging before our very eyes, and it is precisely now that this kind of composition must act as a most eminent prophet, a prophet who is already leading the pure in heart and who will be leading the whole world. This composition will be built on those same bases already familiar to us in their embryonic state, those bases that will now, however, develop into the simplicity and complexity of musical “counterpoint.” This counterpoint (for which we do not have a word yet) will be discovered further along the path of the Great Tomorrow by that same ever-faithful guide—Feeling. Once found and crystallized, it will give expression to the Epoch of the Great Spirituality. But however great or small its individual parts, they all rest on one great foundation—the PRINCIPLE OF INNER NECESSITY. Preface to Catalogue of One-Man Exhibition, 1913 — NATALYA GONCHAROVA Born near Tula, 1881; died Paris, 1962. 1898-1902; studied at the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, attending sculpture classes under Paolo Trubetskoi; thereafter turned to painting; 1910: one-man exhibition at the Society of Free Aesthetics in Moscow resulting in a scandal—works called pornographic [see Mikhail Larionov: “Gazetnye kritiki v roli politsii nravov” (Newspaper Critics in the Role of Morality Police) in Zolotoe runo, Moscow, no. 11/12, — 89 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS 1909(=1910), pp. 97-98]; ca. 1913 illustrated futurist booklets; 191015: contributed to the “Knave of Diamonds,” “Donkey’s Tail,” “Target,” “No. 4,” “Exhibition of Painting; 1915,” and other exhibitions; 1914: went to Paris with Larionov; after outbreak of war, returned to Moscow briefly; 1915: joined Sergei Diaghilev in Lausanne; 1917: settled in Paris with Larionov. The translation is of the preface to the catalogue of Goncharova’s second one-woman exhibition in Moscow, pp. 1-4, which displayed 768 works covering the period 1900-1913 and ran from August until October 1913; at the beginning of 1914 it opened in St. Petersburg, but on a smaller scale. This Moscow exhibition did not create the scandal associated with the 1910 show, although Goncharova’s religious subjects were criticized as they had been at the “Donkey’s Tail.” The catalogue saw two editions. *** In appearing with a separate exhibition, I wish to display my artistic development and work throughout the last thirteen years. I fathomed the art of painting myself, step by step, without learning it in any art school (I studied sculpture for three years at the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture and left when I received the small medal). At the beginning of my development I learned most of all from my French contemporaries. They stimulated my awareness and I realized the great significance and value of the art of my country—and through it the great value of the art of the East. Hitherto I have studied all that the West could give me, but in fact, my country has created everything that derives from the West. Now I shake the dust from my feet and leave the West, considering its vulgarizing significance trivial and insignificant—my path is toward the source of all arts, the East. The art of my country is incomparably more profound and important than anything that I know in the West (I have true art in mind, not that which is harbored by our established schools and societies). I am opening up the East again, and I am certain that many will follow me along this path. We have learned much from Western artists, but from where do they draw their inspiration, if not from the East? We have not learned the most important thing: not to make stupid imitations and not to seek our individuality, but to create, in the main, works of art — 90 — ——————————————— Russian Art of the Avant-Garde ——————————————— last word is a stone thrown at artistic vulgarity—ever aspiring to occupy the place of an achievement of genius. P.S.: My aspiration toward the East is not my last development—I mean only to broaden my outlook; countries that value artistic traditions can help me in this. For me the East means the creation of new forms, an extending and deepening of the problems of color. This will help me to express contemporaneity—its living beauty— better and more vividly. I aspire toward nationality and the East, not to narrow the problems of art but, on the contrary, to make it all-embracing and universal. If I extol the art of my country, then it is because I think that it fully deserves this and should occupy a more honorable place than it has done hitherto. Cubism (Surface-Plane), 1912 — DAVID BURLIUK Born Kharkov, 1882; died Long Island, New York, 1967. 1898-1904: studied at various institutions in Kazan, Munich, Paris; 1907: settled in Moscow; soon befriended by most members of the emergent avantgarde; 1911: entered the Moscow Institute if Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, but was expelled in 1913; ca. 1913: illustrated futurist booklets; 1910-1915: contributed to the “Triangle,” “Knave of Diamonds,” “Union of Youth,” “Exhibition of Painting 1915,” and other exhibitions; 1915: moved to the Urals; 1918-1922: via Siberia, Japan, and Canada, arrived in the United States; active as painter and critic until his death. The text of this piece, “Kubizm,” is from the anthology of poems, prose pieces, and articles, “Poshchechina obshchestvennomu vkusu” (A Slap in the Face of Public Taste) (Moscow, December 1912). The collection is prefaced by the famous declaration of the same name signed by David Burliuk, Velimir Khlebnikov, Aleksei Kruchenykh, and Vladimir Mayakovsky and dated December 1912. The volume — 93 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS also contained a second essay by David Burliuk on texture, verse by Khlebnikov and Benedikt Livshits, and four prose sketches by Vasilii Kandinsky. Both the essay on cubism and the one on texture were signed by N. Burliuk, although, it is obvious that both were written by David and not by Nikolai (David’s youngest brother and a poet of some merit). David Burliuk was deeply interested in the question of cubism and delivered several lectures on the subject: on February 12, 1912 he gave a talk “On Cubism and Other Directions in Painting” at a debate organized by the Knave of Diamonds in Moscow, and on the twentyfourth of the same month, again under the auspices of the Knave of Diamonds, he spoke on the same title under the title “The Evolution of the Concept of Beauty in Painting”; on November 20, 1912, he spoke on “What Is Cubism?” at a debate organized by the Union of Youth in St. Petersburg, which occasioned a scornful response by Alexandre Benois which, in turn, occasioned a reply by Olga Rozanova. Burliuk’s references to the Knave of Diamonds members Vladimir Burliuk, Alexandra Exter, Kandinsky, Petr Konchalovsky, and Ilya Mashkov, all of whom had contributed to the first and second “Knave of Diamonds” exhibitions (and Mikhail Larionov and Nikolai Kulbin, who had been at the first and second exhibitions, respectively), would indicate that the text is an elaboration of the Knave of Diamonds lecture; moreover, the Knave of Diamonds debate had been chaired by Konchalovsky, and it had witnessed a heated confrontation between the Knave of Diamonds group as such and Donkey’s Tail artists. As usual with David Burliuk’s literary endeavors of this time, the style is clumsy and does not make for clarity; in addition, the text is interspersed somewhat arbitrarily with capital letters. *** Painting is colored space. Point, line, and surface are elements of spatial forms. the order in which they are placed arises from their genetic connection. the simplest element of space is the point. its consequence is line. the consequence of line is surface. — 94 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS without hesitation the position of the Knave of Diamonds, which has replaced creative activity with theorizing. The creative genius of art has never outstripped practice with theory and has built theory on the basis of earlier works. If religious art and art exalting the state had always been the most majestic, the most perfect manifestation of man’s creative activity, then this can be explained by the fact that such art had never been guilty of theoreticalness. The artist well knew what he was depicting, and why he was depicting it. Thanks to this, his idea was clear and definite, and it remained only to find a form for it as clear and as definite. Contrary to Burliuk, I maintain that at all times it has mattered and will matter what the artist depicts, although at the same time it is extremely important how he embodies his conception. Why We Paint Ourselves: A Futurist Manifesto, 1913 — ILYA ZDANEVICH and MIKHAIL LARIONOV Larionov—Born Tiraspol, 1881; died Paris, 1964. 1898: entered the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture; 1906: went to Paris at Sergei Diaghilev’s invitation for the Salon d’Automne. 1910: mainly responsible for establishment of the Knave of Diamonds, which he soon rejected: early 1910s: 15 contributed to the “Donkey’s Tail,” “Target,” “Exhibition of Painting. 1915.” and other exhibitions; ca. 1913: illustrated futurist booklets; 1914: went to Paris to work for Diaghilev at the outbreak of the war was forced to return to Moscow; 1915: wounded on the East Prussian front and hospitalized in Moscow; 1915: left to Moscow to join Diaghilev in Lausanne; 1918: settled in Paris with Natalya Goncharova. Zdanevich—Born Tiflis, 1894; died Paris, 1975. Brother of the artist and critic Kirill; 1911: entered the Law School of the University of St. Petersburg; 1912; with Kirill and Mikhail Le-Dantiyu discovered the primitive artist Niko Pirosmanishvili; 1913: under the pseudonym of Eli Eganbyuri (the result of reading the Russian handwritten form of Ilya Zdanevich as Roman characters) published a book on Goncharova and Larionov; 1914: met Marinetti in Moscow; 1917-1918: with Kirill, Aleksei Kruchenykh, and Igor Terentev organized the futurist group 41° in Tills; 1921: settled in Paris. — 102 — ——————————————— Russian Art of the Avant-Garde ——————————————— The text of this piece, “Pochemu my raskrashivaemsya” appeared in the magazine Argus (St. Petersburg), Christmas number, 1913. The text is similar in places to the Italian futurist manifestoes La pittura futurista and Gli espositori al pubblico, both of which had appeared in Russian translation in Soyuz molodezhi [Union of Youth] (St. Petersburg), The original text in Argus contains photo portraits of Goncharova, Larionov, Mikhail Le-Dantiyu and Ilya Zdanevich with their faces decorated with futurist and rayonist designs, a practice that they and others (including David Burliuk) engaged in during some of their public appearances , in 1912 and 1913. Several of these photographs had been reproduced already in connection with a court case involving Le-Dantiyu (see the journal Zhizn’ i sud [Life and Court] [St. Petersburg], May 9, 1913). Argus was by no means an avant-garde publication, and this piece was included evidently to satisfy the curiosity of its middle-class readers. *** To the frenzied city of arc lamps, to the streets bespattered with bodies, to the houses huddled together, we have brought our painted faces; we’re off and the track awaits the runners. Creators, we have not come to destroy construction, but to glorify and to affirm it. The painting of our faces is neither an absurd piece of fiction, nor a relapse—it is indissolubly linked to the character of our life and of our trade. The dawn’s hymn to man, like a bugler before the battle, calls to victories over the earth, hiding itself beneath the wheel until the hour of vengeance; the slumbering weapons have awoken, and spit on the enemies. The new life requires a new community and a new way of propagation. Our self-painting is the first speech to have found unknown truths. And the conflagrations caused by it show that the menials of the earth have not lost hope of saving the old nests, have gathered all forces to the defense of the gates, have crowded together knowing that with the first goal scored we are the victors. The course of art and a love of life have been our guides. Faithfulness to our trade inspires us, the fighters. The steadfastness of the few presents forces that cannot be overcome. — 103 — ——————————————— Russian Art of the Avant-Garde ——————————————— Facial expressions don’t interest us. That’s because people have grown accustomed to understanding them, too timid and ugly as they are. Our faces are like the screech of the trolley warning the hurrying passers-by, like the drunken sounds of the great tango. Mimicry is expressive but colorless. Our painting is the decorator. Mutiny against the earth and transformation of faces into a projector of experiences. The telescope discerned constellations lost in space, painting will tell of lost ideas. We paint ourselves because a clean face is offensive, because we want to herald the unknown, to rearrange life, and to bear man’s multiple soul to the upper reaches of reality. Rayonists and Futurists. A Manifesto, 1913 — MIKHAIL LARIONOV and NATALYA GONCHAROVA The text of this piece, “Luchisty i budushchniki. Manifest,” appeared in the miscellany Oslinyi khvost i Mishen (Donkey’s Tail and Target] (Moscow, July 1913). The declarations are similar to those advanced in the catalogue of the “Target” exhibition held in Moscow in March 1913, and the concluding paragraphs are virtually the same as those of Larionov’s “Rayonist Painting.” Although the theory of rayonist painting was known already, the “Target” acted as the formal demonstration of its practical achievements. Because of the various allusions to the Knave of Diamonds, “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste,” and David Burliuk, this manifesto acts as a polemical response to Larionov’s rivals. The use of the Russian neologism budushchniki, and not the European borrowing futuristy, betrays Larionov’s current rejection of the West and his orientation toward Russian and Eastern cultural traditions. In addition to Larionov and Goncharova, the signers of the manifesto were Timofei Bogomazov (a sergeant-major and amateur painter whom Larionov had befriended during his military service—no relative of the artist Aleksandr Bogomazov) and the artists Morits Fabri, Ivan Larionov (brother of Mikhail), Mikhail Le-Dantiyu, Vyacheslav Levkievsky, Vladimir Obolensky, Sergei Romanovich, Aleksandr Shevchenko, and Kirill Zdanevich (brother of Iliya). All except Fabri and Obolensky took — 105 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS part in the “Target” exhibition, and Oslinyi khvost i Mishen’ carried reproductions of some of their exhibits. *** We, Rayonists and Futurists, do not wish to speak about new or old art, and even less about modern Western art. We leave the old art to die and leave the “new” art to do battle with If; and incidentally, apart from a battle and a very easy one, the “new” art cannot advance anything of its own. It is useful to put manure on barren ground, but this dirty work does not interest us. People shout about enemies closing in on them, but in fact, these enemies are, in any case, their closest friends. Their argument with old art long since departed is nothing but a resurrection of the dead, a boring, decadent love of paltriness and a stupid desire to march at the head of contemporary, philistine interests. We are not declaring any war, for where can we find an opponent our equal? The future is behind us. All the same we will crush in our advance all those who undermine us and all those who stand aside. We don’t need popularization—our art will, in any case, take its full place in life—that’s a matter of time. We don’t need debates and lectures, and if we sometimes organize them, then that’s by way of a gesture to public impatience. While the artistic throne is empty, and narrow-mindedness, deprived of its privileges, is running around calling for battle with departed ghosts, we push it out of the way, sit up on the throne, and reign until a regal deputy comes and replaces us. We, artists of art’s future paths, stretch out our hand to the futurists, in spite of all their mistakes, but express our utmost scorn for the socalled egofuturists and neofuturists, talentless, banal people, the same as the members of the Knave of Diamonds, Slap in the Face of Public Taste, and Union of Youth groups. We let sleeping dogs lie, we don’t bring fools to their senses, we call trivial people trivial to their faces, and we are ever ready to defend our interests actively. We despise and brand as artistic lackeys all those who move against a — 106 — ——————————————— Russian Art of the Avant-Garde ——————————————— colored misses, depth, texture; anyone who is interested in painting can give his full attention to all these things. The picture appears to be slippery; it imparts a sensation of the extratemporal, of the spatial. In it arises the sensation of what could be called the fourth dimension, because its length, breadth, and density of the layer of paint are the only signs of the outside world—all the sensations that arise from the picture are of a different order; in this way painting becomes equal to music while remaining itself. At this juncture a kind of painting emerges that can be mastered by following precisely the laws of color and its transference onto the canvas. Hence the creation of new forms whose meaning and expressiveness depend exclusively on the degree of intensity of tone and the position that it occupies in relation to other tones. Hence the natural downfall of all existing styles and forms in all the art of the past—since they, like life, are merely objects for better perception and pictorial construction. With this begins the true liberation of painting and its life in accordance only with its own laws, a self-sufficient painting, with its own forms, color, and timbre. Rayonist Painting, 1913 — MIKHAIL LARIONOV The text of this piece, “Luchistskaya zhivopis,” appeared in the miscellany Oslinyi khvost i Mishen’ [Donkey’s Tail and Target] (Moscow, July 1913) and was signed and dated Moscow, June 1912. Larionov seems to have formulated rayonism in 1912, not before; no rayonist works, for example, figured at his one-man exhibition at the Society of Free Aesthetics in Moscow in December 1911, Goncharova was the first to use the term rayonism, although Larionov’s interest in science (manifested particularly while he was at high school) had obviously stimulated his peculiarly refractive conception of art. While rayonism had apparent cross-references with Franz Marc, the Italian futurists, and later, with Lyonel Feininger, the upsurge of interest in photography and cinematography in Russia at this time provided an undoubted stimulus to Larionov’s concern with light and dynamics. It is of interest to note that in 1912/1913 the Moscow photographer A. Trapani — 109 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS invented the photographic technique of “ray gun” (luchistyi gummi)—a version of the gum-arabic process—which enabled the photographer to create the illusion of a radial, fragmented texture. Larionov himself exhibited several “photographic studies” at the “Donkey’s tail” in 1912, and his famous picture Glass (1912-1913) at the Guggenheim Museum demonstrates an obvious interest in optics. Of possible relevance to Larionov’s derivation of rayonism was the peculiarly “broken” texture that Mikhail Vrubel favored in so many of his works in the 1890s and 1900s—a technique admired by a number of young Russian artists. Moreover, Vrubel’s theory of visual reality came very close to Larionov’s formulation, as the following statement by Vrubel would indicate: The contours with which artists normally delineate the confines of a form in actual fact do not exist—they are merely an optical illusion that occurs from the interaction of rays falling onto the object and reflected from its surface at different angles. In fact, at this point you get a ‘complimentary colour’—complementary to the basic, local color.” Goncharova shared Larionov’s interest in radiation and emanation and at her one-man exhibition in 1913 presented several works based on the “Theory of transparency” formulated by her fellow artist Ivan Firsov. *** Painting is self-sufficient; it has its own forms, color and timbre. Rayonism is concerned with spatial forms that can arise from the intersection of the reflected rays of different objects, forms chosen by the artist’s will. *** How they are provided for upon the earth, (appearing at intervals). How dear and dreadful they are to the earth. How they inure to themselves as much as to any— what a paradox appears their age, How people respond to them, yet know them not. — 110 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS or concentrated rayonism; this is concerned with joining elements together into general masses between spatial forms present in a more sectional, rayonist background. Pictorial Rayonism, 1914 — MIKHAIL LARIONOV The text of this piece, “Le Rayonisme Pictural,” appeared in French in Montjoie! (Paris), no. 4/5/6, April/May/June, 1914. This was Larionov’s first contribution to the French press and was printed just as the “Exposition de Natalie Gontcharowa et Michel Larionow” opened at the Galerie Paul Guillaume, Paris, at which rayonist works by both Goncharova and Larionov were presented. In places the text is similar to that of Larionov’s “Rayonist Painting”; however, the occasional repetitions have been retained in order to preserve the original format of this, the first elucidation of rayonism to be published in the West. *** Every form exists objectively in space by reason of the rays from the other forms that surround it; it is individualized by these rays, and they alone determine its existence. Nevertheless, between those forms that our eye objectivizes, there exists a real and undeniable intersection of rays proceeding from various forms. These intersections constitute new intangible forms that the painter’s eye can see. Where the rays from different objects meet, new immaterial objects are created in space. Rayonism is the painting of these intangible forms, of these infinite products with which the whole of space is filled. Rayonism is the painting of the collisions and couplings of rays between objects, the dramatic representation of the struggle between the plastic emanations radiating from all things around us; rayonism is the painting of space revealed not by the contours of objects, not even by their formal coloring, but by the ceaseless and intense drama of the rays that constitute the unity of all things. Rayonism might appear to be a form of spiritualist painting, even mystical, but it is, on the contrary, essentially plastic. The painter sees — 118 — ——————————————— Russian Art of the Avant-Garde ——————————————— new forms created between tangible forms by their own radiation, and these are the only ones that he places on the canvas. Hence he attains the pinnacle of painting for painting’s sake inspired by these real forms, although he would neither know how to, nor wish to, represent or even evoke them by their linear existence. Pictorial studies devoted to a formal representation by no matter what kind of geometrical line—straight, curved circular still regard painting, in my opinion, as a means of representing forms. Rayonism wishes to regard painting as an end in itself and no longer as a means of expression. Rayonism gives primary importance only to color. To this end, rayonism has come naturally to examine the problem of color depth. The sensation a color can arouse, the emotion it can express is greater or lesser in proportion as its depth on the plane surface increase or decreases. Obviously, a blue spread evenly over the canvas vibrates with less intensity than the same blue put on more thickly. Hitherto this law has been applicable only to music, but it is incontestable also with regard to painting: colors have a timbre that changes according to the quality of their vibrations, i.e., of their density and loudness. In this way, painting becomes as free as music and becomes self-sufficient outside of imagery. In his investigations the rayonist painter is concerned with variety of density, i.e., the depth of color that he is using, as much as with the composition formed by the rays from intervibrant objects. So we are dealing with painting that is dedicated to the domination of color, to the study of the resonances deriving from the pure orchestration of its timbres. Polychromy is not essential. For example, in a canvas painted in one color, a street would be represented by one flat, very brilliant and lacquered surface between houses depicted in relief with their projections and indentations; above would be a very smooth sky. These different masses would be combined by the intersections of the rays that they would reflect and would produce a supremely realistic impression—and just as dynamic—of how the street appeared in reality. This example is actually rather clumsy and serves only to elucidate the question of color timbre, since in a rayonist canvas a street, a harvest scene, a sky exist only through the relationships between their intervibrations. In rayonist painting the intrinsic life and continuum of the colored masses form a synthesis-image in the mind of the spectator, one that — 119 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS goes beyond time and space. One glimpses the famous fourth dimension since the length, breadth, and density of the superposition of the painted colors are the only signs of the visible world; and all the other sensations, created by images, are of another order—that superreal order that man must always seek, yet never find, so that he would approach paths of representation more subtle and more spiritualized. We believe that rayonism marks a new stage in this development. From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Painterly Realism, 1915 — KAZIMIR MALEVICH Born near Kiev, 1879; died Leningrad, 1935. 1903 onwards: studied in Moscow; ca. 1910: influenced by neoprimitivism; 1913: took part in a futurist conference in Uusikirkko, Finland; designed decor for the Aleksei Kruchenykh-Mikhail Matyushin opera Victory over the Sun, produced in December in St. Petersburg; illustrated futurist booklets; 1914: met Filippo Marinetti on the latter’s arrival in Russia; 1915-16: first showing of suprematist works at “0.10”; 1911-17: contributed to the “Union of Youth,” “Donkey’s Tail,” “Target,” “Tramway V,” “Shop,” “Knave of Diamonds,” and other exhibitions; 1918: active on various levels within Narkompros; 1919-22: at the Vitebsk Art School, where he replaced Marc Chagall as head; organized Unovis [Uniya novogo iskusstva/Utverditeli novogo iskusstva - Union of the New Art/ Affirmers of the New Art]; 1920 to late 1920s: worked on his experimental constructions the socalled arkhitektony and planity; 1922: joined IKhK; 1927: visited Warsaw and Berlin with a one-man exhibition; contact with the Bauhaus; late 1920s: returned to a more representational kind of painting. The translation is of Malevich’s Ot kubizma i futurizma k suprematizmu. Novyi zhivopisnyi realizm (Moscow, 1916). This text, written in its original form in 1915, saw three editions: the first appeared in December 1915 in Petrograd under the title Ot kubizma к suprematizmu. Novyi zhivopisnyi realizm (From Cubism to Suprematism. The New Painterly Realism) and coincided with the exhibition “0.10”; the second followed in January 1916, also in Petrograd; the third, from which this translation is made, was published in November 1916, but in Moscow, and is signed and dated 1915. The first eight paragraphs of the text are similar to — 120 — ——————————————— Russian Art of the Avant-Garde ——————————————— Malevich’s statement issued at “0.10”. The style is typical of Malevich’s writings, and the grammatical eccentricities and somewhat arbitrary italicizing create occasional ambiguities. Certain ideas and expressions used in the text recall the writings of Nikolai Kulbin, Vladimir Markov, and Olga Rozanova, which Malevich undoubtedly knew. *** Only when the conscious habit of seeing nature’s little nooks, Madonnas, and Venuses in pictures disappears will we witness a purely painterly work of art. I have transformed myself in the zero of form and have fished myself out of the rubbishy slough of academic art. I have destroyed the ring of the horizon and got out of the circle of objects, the horizon ring that has imprisoned the artist and the forms of nature This accursed ring, by continually revealing novelty after novelty, leads the artist away from the aim of destruction. And only cowardly consciousness and insolvency of creative power in an artist yield to this deception and establish their art on the forms of nature, afraid of losing the foundation on which the savage and the academy have based their art. To produce favorite objects and little nooks of nature is just like a thief being enraptured by his shackled legs. Only dull and impotent artists veil their work with sincerity. Art requires truth, not sincerity. Objects have vanished like smoke; to attain the new artistic culture, art advances toward creation as an end in itself and toward domination over the forms of nature. The Art of the Savage and Its Principles The savage was the first to establish the principle of naturalism: in drawing a dot and five little sticks, he attempted to transmit his own image. This first attempt laid the basis for the conscious imitation of nature’s forms. — 121 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS of objects from the obligations of art. And appeals to the academy to renounce the inquisition of nature. Idealism and the demands of aesthetic sense are the instruments of torture. The idealization of the human form is the mortification of the many lines of living muscle. Aestheticism is the garbage of intuitive feeling. You all wish to see pieces of living nature on the hooks of your walls. Just as Nero admired the torn bodies of people and animals from the zoological-garden. I say to all: Abandon love, abandon aestheticism, abandon the baggage of wisdom, for in the new culture, your wisdom is ridiculous and insignificant. I have untied the knots of wisdom and liberated the consciousness of color! Hurry up and shed the hardened skin of centuries, so that you can catch up with us more easily. I have overcome the impossible and made guild with no breath. You are caught in the nets of the horizon, like fish! We, suprematists, throw open the way to you. Hurry! For tomorrow you will not recognize us. Suprematism in World Reconstruction, 1920 — EL LISSITZKY Real name Lazar M. Lisitsky. Born near Smolensk, 1890; died Moscow, 1941. 1909-1914: at the Technische Hochschule in Darmstadt; also traveled in France and Italy; 1914: returned to Russia; 1918-1919: member of IZO Narkmpros; professor at the Vitebsk Art School; close contact with Kazimir Malevich; 1920: member of Inkhuk; 1921: traveled to Germany; 1922: in Berlin, edited Veshch/Gegenstand/Objet (Object) with Ilya Ehrenburg; 1925: returned to Moscow; taught interior design at Vkhutemas. The text of this piece is from a typescript in the Lissitzky archives and, apart from the notes, is reproduced from Sophie LissitzkyKüppers, El Lissitzky (London and Greenwich, Conn., 1968). Despite — 140 — ——————————————— Russian Art of the Avant-Garde ——————————————— its title, this essay acts as a retrospective commentary on Malevich’s original formulation of suprematism and advances a far wider concept with its emphasis on such ideas as visual economy and the universal application of suprematism (ideas also developed by Malevich in his О novykh sistemakh v iskusstve (On New Systems in Art) (Vitebsk, 1919); Both for Lissitzky and for Malevich, but more so for the former, the architectural discipline presented itself as an obvious vehicle for the transference of basic suprematist schemes into life itself. In this respect, Lissitzky’s so-called Prouns (proekty ustanovleniia novogo—projects for the establishment of the new), which he designed between 1919 and 1924 were of vital significance since they served as intermediate points between two- and three- dimensional forms or, as Lissitzky himself said, “as a station on the way to constructing a new form”. In a wider context, the spatial graphics of Petr Miturich, the linear paintings of Aleksandr Vesnin, and the mono- and duochromatic paintings of Aleksandr Rodchenko, all done about 1919, symbolized the general endeavor to project art into life, to give painting a constructive dimension. More obviously, the suprematist constructions—the socalled arkhitektony and planity—modeled as early as 1920 by Malevich and the unovisovtsy (members of the Unovis group organized by Malevich in Vitebsk) also supported this trend, thereby proving Ilya a Ehrenburg’s assertion that the “aim of the new art is to fuse with life”. Lissitzky’s description of the radio transmitting tower as the “centre of collective effort” is therefore in keeping with this process and anticipates the emergence of constructivism and the emphasis on industrial design a few months later. In this context, Lissitzky’s references to the “plumbline of economy” and the “counterrelief” remind us of Naum Gaho and Vladimir Tallin, respectively, and of course, reflect the general concern with veshch [the object as such] on the one hand, and the contrary call for its utilitarian justitification on the other, manifested in Inkhuk in the course of 1920. *** at present we are living through an unusual period in time a new cosmic creation has become reality in the world a creativity within ourselves which pervades our consciousness. for us SUPREMATISM did not signify the recognition of an absolute — 141 — ——————————————— Russian Art of the Avant-Garde ——————————————— clearing the field of its old rubbish in preparation for the new life. therefore THE IDEA OF “ARTISTIC WORK” MUST BE ABOLISHED AS A COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY CONCEPT OF WHAT IS CREATIVE and work must be accepted as one of the functions of the living human organism in the same way as the beating of the heart or the activity of the nerve centers so that it will be afforded the same protection. it is only the creative movement towards the liberation of man that makes him the being who holds the whole world within himself, only a creative work which fills the whole world with its energy can join us together by means of its energy components to form a collective unity like a circuit of electric current. the first forges of the creator of the omniscient omnipotent omnific constructor of the new world must be the workshops of our art schools, when the artist leaves them he will set to work as a master-builder as a teacher of the new alphabet and as a promoter of a world which indeed already exists in man but which man has not yet been able to perceive. and if communism which set human labor on the throne and suprematism which raised aloft the square pennant of creativity now march forward together then in the further stages of development it is communism which will have to remain behind because suprematism— which embraces the totality of life’s phenomena—will attract everyone away from the domination of work and from the domination of the intoxicated senses, it will liberate all those engaged in creative activity and make the world into a true model of perfection, this is the model we await from kasimir malevich. AFTER THE OLD TESTAMENT THERE CAME THE NEW—AFTER THE NEW THE COMMUNIST—AND AFTER THE COMMUNIST THERE FOLLOWS FINALLY THE TESTAMENT OF SUPREMATISM. Program Declaration, 1919 — KOMFUT Komfut (an abbreviation of Communists and futurists) was organized formally in Petrograd in January 1919 as an act of opposition to the Italian futurists, who were associating themselves increasingly with Fascism. According to the code of the organization, would-be members had to belong to the Bolshevik Party and had to master the principles — 147 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS of the “cultural Communist ideology” elucidated at the society’s own school. Prominent members of Komfut were Boris Kushner (chairman), Osip Brik (head of the cultural ideology school), Natan Altman, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and David Shterenberg. Komfut prepared for publication several brochures including “The Culture of Communism,” “Futurism and Communism,” “Inspiration,” and “Beauty,” but none, apparently, was published. The text of this piece, “Programmnaya deklaratsiya,” is from Iskusstvo kommuny [Art of the Commune] (Petrograd), no. 8, January 26, 1919. A second Komfut statement giving details of proposed lectures and publications was issued in Iskusstvo kommuny, no. 9, February 2, 1919. The destructive, even anarchical intentions of Komfut, while supported just after 1917 by many of the leftist artists, including Kazimir Malevich, were not, of course, shared by Lenin or Anatolii Lunacharsky, who believed, for the most part, that the pre-Revolutionary cultural heritage should be preserved. In its rejection of bourgeois art, Komfut was close to Proletkult, although the latter’s totally proletarian policy excluded the idea of any ultimate ideological consolidation of the two groups. Altman’s, Kushner’s, and Nikolai Punin’s articles of 1918-1919 can, in many cases, be viewed as Komfut statements. *** A Communist regime demands a Communist consciousness. All forms of life, morality, philosophy, and art must be re-created according to communist principles. Without this, the subsequent development of the Communist Revolution is impossible. In their activities the cultural-educational organs of the Soviet government show a complete misunderstanding of the revolutionary task entrusted to them. The social-democratic ideology so hastily knocked together is incapable of resisting the century-old experience of the bourgeois ideologists, who, in their own interests, are exploiting the proletarian cultural-educational organs. Under the guise of immutable truths, the masses are being presented with the pseudo teachings of the gentry. Under the guise of universal truth—the morality of the exploiters. Under the guise of the eternal laws of beauty—the depraved taste of the oppressors. — 148 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS 3. The Phenomenon of David Burliuk in the History of the Russian Avant-Garde Movement 1 Elena Basner 2 Translated from the Russian by Kenneth MacInnes “...Blind in one eye, artist of strapping health.” If, in the history of the Russian avant-garde, we were to try to select a figure who imbibed its whole energy, concentrating around himself the most active and vigorous of its forces and giving them a definite direction, then such a figure would very likely be David Burliuk. And although Mikhail Larionov’s remarkable talent proved far more valuable in regenerating painting and Velimir Khlebnikov’s brilliant observations stimulated twentieth century literature far more than the sum total of Burliuk’s offerings in art and poetry ever did, it was Burliuk who went down in the history of modern art as “The Father of Russian Futurism.” Such was the name given to him by his friends and which he himself often used. It was David Burliuk—with his inordinate “Homeric” love of life, his eternally passionate, impetuous even, enthusiasm for people and ideas and his ability to quickly win these same people over to his own ideas and give vigorous breadth to them—who for contemporaries and their offspring alike personified a “Futurist of Futurists”. Everything contributed to that image: his truly oratorical ardour and all his scandalous outbursts at lectures, bringing faint-hearted listeners to the verge of passing out (there was such a case); his unforgettable appearance—glass eye, monocle which he claimed belonged to Marshal Davout of the Napoleonic army, his corpulent woman’s figure, trademark baggy clothes (add to that a top hat)—which he further exploited with his great actor’s talent; and of course his surname, which gave journalists wide scope for fantasy. Poet, orator, painter, theorist and publisher all rolled into one, he was both a fanatical Kulturträger and an exceptionally talented person. He was a personality—and this is the most important thing of all. — 150 — ———— The Phenomenon of David Burliuk in the History of the Russian Avant-Garde Movement ———— In his 1913 article on the middle Burliuk brother (the artist Vladimir), the youngest Burliuk brother, the poet Nikolai, wrote the following: “Modern art <...> teaches us to love not just the artist’s pictures, but also the artist himself <...> Hence I apologise here and now if it becomes necessary to define the creation by its creator” 3 . And when speaking of David Burliuk the artist we too first and foremost define the creation by its creator. *** The image of David Burliuk is so vividly and convincingly presented in Benedikt Livshits’ memoirs “The One-And-A-Half-Eyed Archer” and Velimir Khlebnikov’s poem “Burliuk” that we have decided to let these two wonderful portraits of Burliuk, left to us by his friends and fellowthinkers, form the basis of this article. *** The brothers and sisters, robust in their laughter, giants all, With their brittle skin, Loose like sacks of flour. The warm and friendly Burliuk family, in which David was the eldest of six children, was the first debt he owed for his exceptional character, his artistic temperament that often went over the top and for his voracious love of life. Without understanding this it is difficult to understand the nature of his gift for painting and poetry, as well as to understand the simple human charm with which he was over-flowing. “The bonds of a remarkable love united all members of the family. The clan principle bared itself on a philological basis. Driven by the planetary winds to this corner of the earth, to the one-storey house swept by the steppe winds, the Burliuks anxiously pressed close to one another, as if trying to preserve the last piece of human warmth on earth.” 4 Apart from this very descriptive artistic image of the Burliuk family, Benedikt Livshits also depicts its every member in turn: “The Burliuk family consisted of eight people: the parents, three sons and three daughters. The father, David Fyedorovich, manager of the Chernaya — 151 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN FUTURISM AND THE RELATED CURRENTS 4. The Revolutionary Art of Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov 1 Jane A. Sharp On 30 September 1913, Natalia Goncharova’s mammoth one-person exhibition opened in Moscow with over eight hundred works on display, accompanied by a catalogue that proclaimed a shift in her orientation from West to East. The exhibition of such a body of work was a major coup for any artist in 1913—but especially for a woman representing Moscow’s most radical avant-garde faction. Goncharova could count on most viewers to react with surprise. All parties, critics, and the public understood that although she might declare West European modernism “outlived,” the exhibition proved beyond all doubt that she spoke as one of its key exponents. In presenting her work to the public on such a massive scale, Goncharova and her colleagues gained a rare opportunity to neutralize—even reverse—the critical prejudice that cast Russian art as a failed mimesis of Western (French) modernism. No longer exclusively focused on participating in the Parisian art world, they addressed their audiences from a newly empowered cultural sphere, more Eastern than Western. Written in the spring of 1913 in the wake of two exhibitions, the Donkey’s Tail and Target, which she dominated, Goncharova’s catalogue Preface claims that Russia’s cultural plurality makes its art truly avant-garde: a challenge from Europe’s eastern periphery to its center. These professions of cultural identity, and the practices that underpin them, defined Russian modernism at a pivotal moment—between the revolution of 1905 and the First World War. Goncharova’s tremendous output and conspicuous status as Mikhail Larionov’s colleague and consort (it was he who principally promoted her work) put her on the modernist map before 1913. In Moscow and St. Petersburg her practices seemed to gain significance and sophistication in inverse proportion to her adherence to the imperatives of modernist art history established in the West. The promotion of Goncharova’s turn to the East, of neoprimitivism and vsechestvo as historical movements, countered the image of the European master artist, author of a singular — 170 — ———————— The Revolutionary Art of Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov ———————— style, with a complex feminine creative persona who openly appropriates and seeks to perpetuate plural traditions. Goncharova’s elusiveness as author, and particularly her celebration of the East, cast doubt on the homogeneity of modernist discourse at a critical moment in its Russian formation. 2 She has been represented as an “amazon of the avant-garde” any number of times, but today we appreciate her contribution to Russian modernism still less than viewers of her retrospective did in 1913. 3 A pioneer of abstract painting, rayism (luchizm) was only one, and perhaps not the most important, of her identities. In gaining visibility, Goncharova represented avant-garde difference along two axes: those of gender and of cultural voice. As the focus of “new” Eastern-oriented, Muscovite painting (and conspicuously female), she became a lightning rod for critics, reviled in obvious analogy to the antichrist—as antiartist (anti-khudozhnik). 4 In 1914, her art and its reception dominated critical review in the Russian art world but would be eclipsed by war and overwhelmed by Malevich’s invention of suprematism within the course of a year. The self-conscious mediation of traditions East and West that she presented to Russian viewers, whatever their cultural inclination, finally was rendered irrelevant—or at least seriously compromised—by her emigration to France. Having appropriated individual Western and period styles with particular purpose, she herself became transformed into something other than the preeminent artist provocatrice; “after Russia” she became, almost by default, the purveyor of Russian orientalia for Sergei Diagilev’s Saisons Russes. 5 By 1913, Goncharova strongly opposed the emerging narrative of originality and individual style as “the hidebound of holies” in contemporary art criticism. In the texts she produced that year, she sought to distance herself from artists whose work seemed to presage or confirm a modernist canon—the Jack of Diamonds painters (also based in Moscow). Yet with her disengagement from this group, Goncharova was perceived as epitomizing the aspirations (and deficiencies) of “new Russian painting.” Such staged disagreements within avant-garde groupings polarized the urban art world and challenged the authority of its institutions with plural and sometimes contradictory versions of its own recent history. This tension lies at the heart of Goncharova’s early success and is a condition of Russian avant-garde praxis that cannot be explained through any single methodological paradigm. — 171 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN suprematism and constructivism 1. Kazimir Malevich: His Creative Path 1 Evgenii Kovtun (1928-1996) Translated from the Russian by John E. Bowlt The renewal of art in France dating from the rise of Impressionism extended over several decades, while in Russia this process was consolidated within a span of just ten to fifteen years. Malevich’s artistic development displays the same concentrated process. From the very beginning, his art showed distinctive, personal traits: a striking transmission of primal energy, a striving towards a preordained goal, and a veritable obsession with the art of painting. Remembering his youth, Malevich wrote to one of his students: “I worked as a draftsman... as soon as I got off work, I would run to my paints and start on a study straightaway. You grab your stuff and rush off to sketch. This feeling for art can attain huge, unbelievable proportions. It can make a man explode.” 2 Transrational Realism From the early 1910s onwards, Malevich’s work served as an “experimental polygon” in which he tested and sharpened his new found mastery of the art of painting. His quest involved various trends in art, but although Malevich flirted with Cubism and Futurism, his greatest achievements at this time were made in the cycle of paintings he called “Alogism” or “Transrational Realism.” Cow and Violin, Aviator, Englishman in Moscow, Portrait of Ivan Kliun—these works manifest a new method in the spatial organization of the painting, something unknown to the French Cubists. In using “Alogism,” Malevich tried to go beyond the boundaries of “common sense” the condition that establishes relationships between surface phenomena. Endeavouring to find a deeper understanding of the world through intuition, Russian painting—through Malevich’s experiments—attempted to master intuition as a creative method. This same aspiration inspired the work of poets such as Velimir Khlebnikov, Alexei Kruchenykh, Elena Guro, and others. What was closed to com— 206 — —————————————— Kazimir Malevich: His Creative Path —————————————— mon reason would now become accessible through intuition, allowing the deliberate extraction of ideas from the unconscious. 3 Malevich’s Cow and Violin is the earliest “manifesto” of “Alogism.” On the back of the canvas Malevich wrote: “Alogical comparison of the two forms—violin and cow—as an element in the struggle against logic, natural order, and philistine meaning and prejudice. K. Malevich.” Absurd from the view of common sense, the combination of a cow and violin proclaims the general interconnection of phenomena in the world. Intuition reveals distant connections within the world, connections which logic interprets as absurd. This same position was maintained by Khlebnikov, who wrote: “There exist certain quantities through the transformation of which the blue color of a cornflower (I mean pure sensation), is changing continuously and passing through spheres of rupture unknown to us, turns into the sound of a cuckoo bird calling or that of a child crying— and it becomes it.” 4 To recognize any isolated event as part of a universal system, to see and incarnate the invisible revealed through “spiritual sight”—this is the essence of the Post-Cubist research in Russian painting, and the most intense expression of this movement is found in Malevich’s work. For him “transrational” did not mean madness—its logic was of a higher order. In 1913 Malevich wrote Matiushin: “We come to the rejection of reason, but this has been possible only because a different form of reason has arisen within us. When compared with what we are repudiating, one could call it transrational. It has its own law and construction and also meaning, and only in the light of this knowledge will our work be based on a totally new, transrational precept.” 5 A painting executed according to the system of Transrational Realism which manifests a new relationship, with the environment. It still has a sense of “above” and “below,” but is now deprived of weight. Its plastic structures are, as it were, suspended within universal space. This “absence of gravity” as a structure-organizational principle finds vivid expression in Aviator where the figure seems to rise or soar in weightlessness. Victory over the Sun The idea of Futurist performance arose after the merging of the Union of Youth artists and the Hylaea literary group in March 1913 (the members of Hylaea were Khlebnikov, Guro, Kruchenykh, Vasilii Kamensky, David and Nikolai Burliuk, and Benedikt Livshits). The First All-Russian Con6 207 — ———————————— Constructivism and Productivism in the 1920s ———————————— 2. Constructivism and Productivism in the 1920s 1 Christina Lodder “All forms of everyday life, morals, philosophy, and art must be recreated on communist principles. Without this the further development of the communist revolution is not possible.” 2 Boris Kushner’s comment of early 1919 expresses the strong identification that artists were beginning to make, in the first years after the October Revolution, between their own activity and the social and political aims of the new state. His words epitomize the artists’ aspiration to use their art in the service of the Revolution, a desire that underpinned the formulation of Productivist theory and Constructivist practice during this period. In this essay, I should like to look at some of the ways in which this theory and practice developed in the following decade, in response both to external pressures and internal debates. A practical and ideological emphasis on industrial technology is inherent in Lenin’s famous remark of 1920 “Communism equals Soviet Power plus the electrification of Russia.” Indeed, the idea of uniting art and industrial manufacture appeared soon after the October Revolution. David Shterenberg, the head of the Department of Fine Arts of the Commissariat of Enlightenment (Otdel izobrazitelnykh iskusstv pri Narodnom komissariate po prosveshcheniu, IZO, Narkompros) asserted that as soon as it was established in 1918 the department was committed to “art’s penetration” into production. 3 As another writer observed, “the theory of production art was developed in 1918-19 and formulated in the pages of the newspaper Art of the Commune (Iskusstvo kommuny).” 4 The paper was published by IZO in Petrograd between 7 December 1918 and 13 April 1919. Its contributors included theorists and critics like Osip Brik, Nikolai Punin and Boris Kushner, artists such as Natan Altman and the poet Vladimir Mayakovskii. As the official organ of IZO, the journal expounded a whole range of ideas that — 227 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN suprematism and constructivism were being discussed by avant-garde artists at the time, including such fundamental issues as the nature of proletarian art, the role of art in a socialist society, and whether art itself was not an essentially bourgeois phenomenon. It is not surprising that the journal was eclectic and never formulated a coherent program. Nevertheless, many of the ideas that were later developed by the Constructivists were first articulated within its pages. As Nikolai Chuzhak later pointed out, “It was a time of happy attacks on the most inviolable ‘cultural values’ . . . all the most important words used later were employed in Art of the Commune . . . but half were issued by accident.” 5 In the first number, Mayakovskii issued his famous poem, “Order to the Army of Art,” which exhorted artists to go out into the urban environment, proclaiming “the streets are our brushes; the squares are our palettes.” Brik went further in bringing art into closer contact with 6 everyday life. He declared, “Do not distort, but create . . . art is like any other means of production . . . not ideas, but a real object is the aim of all true creativity”. As soon as Brik defined art as a category of work, 7 or rather of industrial work, he opened up the way for the concept of production art. He declared that the existing division between art and production was “a survival of bourgeois structures”. Punin tried to distinguish between this new relationship between art and industry and the already established category of applied art. He stated, “It is not a matter of decoration, but of the creation of new artistic objects. Art for the proletariat is not a scared temple for lazy contemplation, but work, a factory, producing completely artistic objects.” 8 Some of these ideas were developed at greater length in a small collection of essays entitled Art in Production, written in November 1920 and published the following year by the Art and Production subsection of IZO Narkompros. 9 According to the editorial, “The problem of art in production in the light of the new culture is, for us, one of the basic problems of liberated work, linked in the closest way to the problem of the transformation of production culture on the one hand, and with the problem of the transformation of everyday life on the other.” 10 The booklet was not at all unified in the solutions that it offered, which suggests that in the winter of 1920-21 a clearly formulated theory of production art had not as yet emerged. Indeed, the phrase “artistic production” (khudozhestvennoe proizvodstvo) seems to have been used almost as much as the term “production art” (proizvodstvennoe iskusst— 228 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN suprematism and constructivism The Birth of Socialist Realism from the Spirit of the 3. Russian Avant-Garde 1 Boris Groys I Students of Soviet culture have recently devoted increasing attention to the period of transition from the avant-garde of the 1920s to Socialist Realism of the 1930s and 1940s. Earlier, this transition did not seem 2 problematic. It was usually regarded as the result of the crushing of “true, contemporary revolutionary art of the Russian avant-garde” by Stalin’s conservative and despotic regime and the propagation of a “backward art” in the spirit of nineteenth century realism. According to prevailing opinion, the shift also reflected the low cultural levels of the broad Soviet masses and Party leadership. But as this period is studied more closely, such a purely sociological explanation of the transition is no longer satisfactory. There is an essential difference in the approach to the represented subject, rightly stressed by Soviet criticism, between nineteenth-century realism, customarily called “critical realism” in Soviet art history, and the art of Socialist Realism. Unlike the former, Socialist Realism has a positive relation to its subject. Its aim is to “celebrate Socialist reality,” instead of keeping it at arm’s length and treating it objectively and “realistically.” This difference has also been noted by Paul Sjeklocha and Igor Mead: To us “Westerners” this realism implies a dispassionate analytical stance which is assumed by the artist without sentiment. If emotion enters into realism, it is generally of a critical nature intended to instruct by way of bad example rather than a good. . . . In short, although such realism is essentially didactic, it is also essentially negative. Visionary artists have not been found among the realists. However, the Soviet State requires that its artists combine realism and visionary art. 3 — 250 — ——————— The Birth of Socialist Realism from the Spirit of the Russian Avant-Garde ——————— Socialist Realism shows the exemplary and the normative, which are worthy of emulation. Yet it cannot be considered a new version of classicism, although we may indeed find classical elements in Socialist Realist artistic compositions. Antiquity and the Renaissance were highly praised by Soviet critics, but the art of Socialistic Realism is without the direct antique stylization so characteristic, for example, of the art of Nazi Germany, which is in many other respects quite similar to Socialist Realism. Unlike typical West European neoclassicist art, Socialist Realism judges the reality created in the Soviet Union to be the highest achievement of the entire course of human history and does not, therefore, oppose the antique ideal to the present as a “positive alternative” or a “utopia already once realized.” 4 Socialist Realism is just one of the ways in which world art in the 1930s and 1940s reverted to the figurative style after the period of relative dominance of avant-garde trends—this process embraces such countries as France (neoclassicism), the Netherlands and Belgium (different forms of magical realism), and the United States (regional painting) as well as those countries where various forms of totalitarianism became established. At the same time, the stylistic differences between Socialist Realism and other, parallel artistic movements are obvious on even the most superficial examination. All this indicates that the Socialist Realism of the Stalin period represents an original artistic trend with its own specific stylistic features, which cannot simply be identified with other artistic principles and forms familiar from the history of art. Therefore it also becomes impossible to speak of the simple “propagation” of Socialist Realism: before something can be propagated, it must already exist. Although, like any other artistic trend, Socialist Realism belongs to its time and place, it cannot be regarded in a purely sociological and reductionist light, but should, first and foremost, be subjected to normal aesthetic analysis with the object of describing its distinctive features. This task is not, of course, possible within the framework of the present essay. My aim, rather, is to distinguish in the most general terms between Socialist Realism and a number of other artistic phenomena with which it may be confused. By artistic means that are similar to those in conventional nineteenth-century realistic painting—above all the work of the Russian Wanderers (Peredvizhniki)—Socialist Realism seeks to express a completely different ideological content in radically — 251 — ———————————————— Russian Art of the Avant-Garde ———————————————— 4. Russian Art of the Avant-Garde 1 (Translated Texts) John E. Bowlt The Paths of Proletarian Creation, 1920 — ALEKSANDR BOGDANOV Aleksandr Bogdanov: Pseudonym of Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Malinovsky. Born Grodno Province, 1873; died Moscow, 1928. 1896: joined the Social-Democratic Party; 1899: graduated from the medical faculty of Kharkov University; 1903: joined the Bolsheviks; 1905: took an active part in the in the first Revolution; 1907: arrested and exiled to Western Europe; 1909: with Anatolii Lunacharsky organized the Bolshevik training school on Capri; 1914-1918: internationalist; 1917 on: played a major role in the organization and propagation of Proletkult; member of the Central committee of the All-Russian Proletkult and coeditor of Proletarskaya kultura [Proletarian Culture]; maintained close contact with Proletkult in Germany, where several of his pamphlets were published; 1929: became less active in politics and returned to medicine; 1926: appointed director of the Institute of Blood Transfusion, Moscow; 1928: died there while conducting an experiment on himself. The text of this piece, “Puti proletarskogo tvorchestva,” is from Proletarskaya kul’tura [Proletarian Culture] (Moscow), no. 15/16, 1920. This text demonstrates Bogdanov’s ability to argue in terms both of art and of science and testifies to Proletkult’s fundamental aspiration to conceive art as an industrial, organized process. The text also reveals Bogdanov’s specific professional interest in neurology and psychology. He wrote several similar essays. *** 1. whether technological, socioeconomic, political, domestic, Creation, scientific, or artistic, represents a kind of labor and, like labor, is composed of organizational (or disorganizational) human endeavors. It is — 277 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN suprematism and constructivism exactly the same as labor, the product of which is not the repetition of a ready-made stereotype, but is something “new.” There is not and cannot be a strict delineation between creation and ordinary labor; not only are there all the points of interchange, but often it is even impossible to say with certainty which of the two designations is the more applicable. Human labor has always relied on collective experience and has made collective use of perfected means of production; in this sense human labor has always been collective; this was so even in those cases where its aims and outer, immediate form were narrowly individual (i.e., when such labor was done by one person and as an end in itself). This, then is creation. Creation is the highest, most complex form of labor. Hence its methods derive from the methods of labor. The old world was aware neither of this social nature germane to labor and creation, nor of their methodological connection. If dressed, up creation in mystical fetishism. 2. All methods of labor, including creation, remain within the same framework. Its first stage is the combined effort and its second the selection of results—the removal of the unsuitable and the preservation of suitable. In “physical” labor, material objects are combined; in “spiritual” labor, images are combined. But as the latest developments in psychophysiology show us, the nature of the efforts that combine and select are the same—neuromuscular. Creation combines materials in a new way, not according to a stereotype, and this leads to a more complicated, more intensive selection. The combination and selection of images take place far more easily and quickly than those of material objects. Hence creation takes place very often in the form of “spiritual” labor—but by no means exclusively. Almost all “fortuitous” and “unnoticeable” discoveries have been made through a selection of material combinations, and not through a preliminary combination and selection of images. 3. The methods of proletarian creation are founded on the methods of proletarian labor, i.e., the type of work that is characteristic for the workers in modern heavy industry. The characteristics of this type are: (1) the unification of elements in “physical” and “spiritual” labor; (2) the transparent, unconcealed, and unmasked collectivism of its actual form. The former depends on the scientific character of modern technology, in particular on the transfer— 278 — ———————————————— Russian Art of the Avant-Garde ———————————————— aspire half-consciously toward truth in life—or deviate from it; the new artist must realize that truth, objectivity support the collective in its labor and struggle. The old artist need or need not value artistic clarity; for the new artist, this means nothing less than collective accessibility, and this contains the vital meaning of the artist’s endeavor. 10. The conscious realization of collectivism will deepen the mutual understanding of people and their emotional bonds; this will enable spontaneous collectivism in creation to develop on an incomparably broader scale than hitherto, i.e., the direct collaboration of many people, even of the masses. 11. In the art of the past, as in science, there are many concealed collectivist elements. By disclosing them, the proletarian critics provide the opportunity for creatively assimilating the best works of the old culture in a new light, thereby adding immensely to their value. 12. The basic difference between the old and the new creation is that now, for the first time, creation understands itself and its role in life. Declaration: Comrades, Organizers of Life, 1923 — LEF The journal Lef (Levyi front iskusstv—Left Front of the Arts) existed from 1923 until 1925 and then resumed as Novyi lef (Novyi levyi front iskusstv—New Left Front of the Arts) in 1927 and continued as such until the end of 1928. Among the founders of Lef were Boris Arvatov, Osip Brik, Nikolai Chuzhak, Boris Kushner, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Sergei Tretyakov. Its editorial office was in Moscow. In 1929 the group changed its name to Ref [Revolyutsionnyi front—Revolutionary Front]. In 1930 the group disintegrated with Mayakovsky’s entry into RAPP [Rossiiskaya assotsiatsiya proletarskikh pisatelei—Revolutionary Association of Proletarian Writers] and with the general change in the political and cultural atmosphere. LEF was especially active during its early years and had affiliates throughout the country including Yugolef [Yuzhnyi LEF—South LEF] in the Ukraine. As a revolutionary platform, Lef was particularly close to the constructivists and formalists; Novyi lef devoted much space to aspects of photography and cinematography, Aleksandr Rodchenko playing a leading part. — 281 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN suprematism and constructivism The text of this piece “Tovarischi, formovschiki zhizni!” appeared in Lef in 1923 in Russian, German, and English. This translation is based on the English version, pp. 7-8. This was the fourth declaration by Lef, the first three appearing in the first number of the journal: “Za chto boretsia LEF?” (“What Is LEF Getting Its Teeth into?”] and “Kogo predosteregaet LEF?” [“Whom Is LEF Warning?”]. However, they were concerned chiefly with literature and with history and had only limited relevance to the visual arts. *** Today, the First of May, the workers of the world will demonstrate in their millions with song and festivity. Five years of attainments, even increasing. Five years of slogans renewed and realized daily. Five years of victory. And— Five years of monotonous designs for celebrations. Five years of languishing art. So-called Stage Managers! How much longer will you and other rats continue to gnaw at this theatrical sham? Organize according to real life! Plan the victorious procession of the Revolution! So-called Poets! When will you throw away your sickly lyrics? Will you ever understand that to sing praises of a tempest according to newspaper information is not to sing praises about a tempest? Give us a new Marseillaise and let the Internationale thunder the march of the victorious Revolution! So-called Artists! Stop making patches of color on moth-eaten canvases. Stop decorating the easy life of the bourgeoisie. Exercise your artistic strength to engirdle cities until you are able to take part in the whole of global construction! — 282 — ——————————— ——————————— RUSSIAN suprematism and constructivism Down with the boundaries of countries and of studios! Down with the monks of rightist art! Long live the single front of the leftists! Long live the art of the Proletarian Revolution! Constructivism [Extracts], 1922 — ALEKSEI GAN Born 1893; died 1942. 1918-20: attached to TEO Narkompros [Teatralnyi otdel Nar-komprosa—Theater Section of Narkompros] as head of the Section of Mass Presentations and Spectacles; end of 1920: dismissed from Narkompros by Anatolii Lunacharsky because of his extreme ideological position; close association with Inkhuk; cofounder of the First Working Group of Constructivists; early 1920s: turned to designing architectural and typographical projects, movie posters, bookplates; 1922-23 editor of the journal Kino-fot [Cine-Photo]; 192630: member of OSA [Obedinenie sovremennykh arkhitektorov—Association of Contemporary Architects] and artistic director of its journal, Sovremennaya arkhitektura (Contemporary Architecture); 1928: member of October group; during 1920s: wrote articles on art and architecture; died in a prison camp. The translation is of extracts from Gan’s book Konstruktivizm (Tver, October-December 1922). The book acted as a declaration of the industrial constructivists and marked the rapid transition from a purist conception of a constructive art to an applied, mechanical one; further, it has striking affinities with the enigmatic “Productivist” manifesto. It is logical to assume that the book’s appearance was stimulated be the many debates on construction and production that occurred in Inkhuk during 1921 and in which Boris Arvatov, Osip Brik, El Lissitzky, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, Nikolai Tarabukin, et al., took an active part, and also by the publication of the influential collection of articles Iskusstvo v proizvodstve [Art in Production] in the same year. Moreover, the First Working Group of Constructivists, of which Gan was a member, had been founded in 1920 (see p. 24iff). However, the book, like Gan himself, was disdained by many contemporary constructivists, and the significance of the book within the context of Russian constructivism has, perhaps, been overrated by modern observers. — 284 — ———————————————— Russian Art of the Avant-Garde ———————————————— In keeping with its tenets, the book’s textual organization and imagery are highly “industrial”: the elaborate typographical layout designed by Gan and the book’s cover (designed allegedly by Gan but suggested probably by Rodchenko were intended, of course, to support the basic ideas of the text itself. Such terms as tektonika [tectonics], faktura [texture], and konstruktsiya [construction] were vogue words during the later avant-garde period, especially just after the Revolution, and implied rather more than their direct English translations. The concepts of texture and construction had been widely discussed as early as 1912-14, stimulating David Burliuk and Vladimir Markov, for example, to devote separate essays to the question of texture; and the concept of construction was, of course, fundamental to Markov’s “The Principles of the New Art”. The term “texture” was also used by futurist poets, and Aleksei Kruchenykh published a booklet entitled Faktura slova [Texture of the Word] in 1923. The term “tectonics” was, however, favored particularly by the constructivists and, as the so-called “Productivist” manifesto explained, “is derived from the structure of communism and the effective exploitation of industrial matter”. But nonconstructivists also used the term; to Aleksandr Shevchenko, for example, a tectonic composition meant the “continual displacement and modification of tangible forms of objects until the attainment of total equilibrium on the picture’s surface”. To confuse matters further, Gan’s own explanation of tectonics, texture, and construction was not at all clear: “Tectonics is synonymous with the organicness of thrust from the intrinsic substance… Texture is the organic state of the processed material. . . . Construction should be understood as the collective function of constructivism…” (Konstruktivizm). Nevertheless, despite Gan’s rhetoric and obscurity, the value of his book lies in the fact that it crystallized, as it were, certain potential ideas in evidence since at least 1920 and presented them as what can be regarded as the first attempt to formulate the constructivist ideology. *** From “Revolutionary Marxist Thought in Words and Podagrism in Practice” Year in year out, like a soap bubble, Narkompros fills out and bursts after overloading its heart with the spirits of all ages and — 285 — ————————— ————————— The OBERIU Circle (Daniil Kharms and His Associates) 1. OBERIU: Daniil Kharms and Aleksandr Vvedensky on/in Time and History Evgeny Pavlov The literary group OBERIU is generally regarded as the last Russian avant-garde circle with whose demise the history of post-revolutionary experimentation in Russia comes to a halt. A relatively recent explosion 1 of scholarly interest in its two main figures, Aleksandr Vvedensky and Daniil Kharms (with the latter getting considerably more attention) has firmly established it among the most important experimental movements of twentieth century European literature. 2 In what follows, I would like to approach a topic that has not been particularly well-covered by OBERIU scholarship beyond some of its obvious implications for the group: history and the political in the work of Kharms and Vvedensky. Notwithstanding the fact that their most productive years coincided with the height of Stalinist terror in which they eventually perished, very little in their respective work is overtly concerned with either history or politics. Yet the obsessive thinking about time that marks the entire oeuvre of both men is not a mere exercise in abstract speculation, but inevitably represents an engagement with the political in ways that are no less radical than an open confrontation with the regime. In his recent biography of Kharms, Aleksandr Kobrinskii cites in full Kharms’s repentant “confession,” forced out of him by Stalin’s secret police at one of the interrogations of 1932, shortly before his conviction for anti-Soviet activities. Apart from confessing to having undermined Soviet power in his published works (especially for children), Kharms had to describe the philosophical basis of his convictions and to demonstrate their profoundly anti-Soviet and anti-Marxist tenor. The confession, in part, reads: The philosophy which I elaborated and sought, consciously removing myself from contemporary reality . . . is deeply hostile to contemporary life and will never be able to engage with it. . . . Immersing myself in trans-ra— 296 — —————— OBERIU: Daniil Kharms and Aleksandr Vvedensky on/in Time and History —————— tional work [zaumnoe tvorchestvo] and mystico-idealist philosophical quests, I consciously opposed myself to contemporary socio-political order. This forced me to look for a political order under which there would be no need for such opposition. 3 Kobrinskii admits that although much of this was prompted by the interrogators, there is no reason to assume that there was no truth in Kharms’ description on where he stands vis-à-vis the regime. His active opposition, however, was not some absurd conspiracy to restore monarchic rule or to adversely indoctrinate Soviet children (these were the charges), but rather in textual strategies that led to a very thorough deconstruction of every fundamental notion on which the regime based its legitimacy. Most of all, it was a deconstruction of the notion of time as a simple temporal progression and of the idea of history that went with it. Much of the literary and artistic experimentation of the 1920s took place under the slogans of killing history as we know it (cf. Mayakovsky’s “We’ll ride the jade of history to death!”). Yet what in the first post-Revolutionary years seemed to many a utopian release from the empty time of linear history, by the early 1930s was firmly established as immutable cyclicity guaranteed by the supreme victory of absolute truth. As many recent studies point out, while the rhetoric of the revolutionary avant-garde is turned towards an open-ended future full of infinite possibilities, in Stalinist culture, the future has always already happened, and it is the past that gets constantly rewritten in order to legitimize the circular course of post-historical stability. Stalin’s present becomes 4 a timeless continuum unproblematically embracing the entirety of the past and all of the future. A certain time machine is at work during the years of high Stalinism: it aims to conquer time by “petrifying the utopia” of the future and remaking history as it ought to have happened. As Evgeny Dobrenko argues, different competing strands of revolutionary culture eventually synthesized to create Socialist Realism, which in turn made them obsolete: “the attempt to ‘leap out of history’ proves to be history.” As a petrified utopia, the culture of Stalinism is no longer 5 interested in the future because history has seen its completion in Stalinism’s present moment. It is, in essence, a static and simultaneously backward-looking culture: — 297 — ————————— ————————— The OBERIU Circle (Daniil Kharms and His Associates) 2. Some Philosophical Positions in Some “OBERIU” Texts (Translator’s preface) Eugene Ostashevsky Many of these translations come from a volume called OBERIU: An Anthology of Russian Absurdism, published a few years ago under my editorship. The title I picked is inaccurate, since of the six figures rep1 in the collection, only three had been members of OBERIU, Russia’s last and very short-lived avant-garde group (1927-1930). Even for these three—the poets Alexander Vvedensky, Daniil Kharms and Nikolai Zabolotsky—almost every text I included dates to a time after OBERIU folded, for the very simple reason that what they were writing in the 1930s, as part of their conversations with the poet Nikolai Oleinikov and the philosophers Leonid Lipavsky and Yakov Druskin, greatly surpasses the OBERIU-era material in depth and resonance. As for the term “absurdism” on the cover, the less said of it the better. It encourages undergraduates to speculate about the Absurd with a capital A, a Cold War concept whose fogginess allows for heroic overtones so dear to budding masculinities, and absolves them from trying to make sense of the texts. Why then did I pick such a misleading title? Because I wanted the manuscript to be published, reviewed, and read. “OBERIU” and “absurdism” at least had some precedent in English academic usage, and there was nothing much better available in Russian. Some Russian scholars have of late employed the term chinari, which may be preferable since it includes Lipavsky, Druskin and Oleinikov as well as Vvedensky and Kharms (and, I would argue, some of Zabolotsky)—but unfortunately these writers referred to themselves as chinari only in the 1920s, before the formation of OBERIU, while in the 1930s, when their collaboration was at its peak, they used no name at all. On the level of personal safety, given the authorities’ passion for ferreting out conspiracies, being a member of an unsanctioned literary-philosophical association was simply a bad idea, and a name would make the existence of an association indisputable. On the philosophical level, the members of this nameless association no longer believed that words — 314 — ————————— Some Philosophical Positions in Some “OBERIU” Texts ————————— stand for the things they appear to stand for. Vvedensky wrote a piece conventionally titled “Rug-Hydrangea” in late 1933 or early 1934. His reciting it to his friends is recorded in both the “Conversations” of Leonid Lipavsky and in Kharms’ diaries. According to the “Conversations,” Lipavsky remarked after the reading: Astonishing, how the exactly and correctly posed questions of your poem at the same time remain art. It’s as gorgeous as light refraction. In your other pieces it sometime happens that indifference rules them to such an extent that they almost cease being art. But here there’s an especial nobility or elegance. The piece is an elegy. In the beginning a facet of it recalls some of Khlebnikov’s pieces, like “Animals, when they love…” But Khlebnikov would never have been able to say it so simply: “And then there’s this grudge that I bear, / that I’m not a rug, nor a hydrangea.” Since grammatically “Rug-Hydrangea” has almost no questions, Lipavsky sees the questions posed by the work as existential ones. “What is it like to be temporal?” asks “Rug-Hydrangea.” “What is it like to be temporary? What is it like to be alone among others?” Here is Vvedensky’s response: This poem, unlike the others, I wrote over a long time, three days, weighing each word. Everything in it is meaningful for me, so one could even write a little treatise about it. It started when that thing about the eagle came into my head, that’s what I wrote at your place the last time, do you remember? Then another variant appeared. I thought, why is always only one chosen, and included both. Writing about the hydrangea felt embarrassing; I even crossed it out initially. I wanted to end with the question: why am I not a seed. There are a lot of repetitions here, but I think they’re all necessary, if you look at them closely, they repeat in another way, they explain. And the “candle that is grass” and the “grass that is candle,” all of that is personally significant for me. 2 — 315 — —————————————————— Vsevolod Meyerhold —————————————————— 1. Vsevolod Meyerhold Alexander Burry “We, too, will show you life that’s real—very! But life transformed by the theater into a spectacle most extraordinary.” —Vladimir Mayakovsky, Mystery Bouffe “What we need are new forms!” —Konstantin Treplev, in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull “Meyerhold is to theater what Picasso is to painting. Their task is to search, to experiment, to chart new paths… Like Picasso, Meyerhold indicates possibilities. Without stopping at them, rushing to find strongholds that must be destroyed by the hand of the revolutionary warrior.” —Nikolai Foregger 1 Perhaps more than any other early twentieth-century theater director, Vsevolod Meyerhold exemplified the avant-garde mission to destroy traditional artistic boundaries. His transformation of dramatic space, acting techniques, stage design, and all other elements of the theater was intended to shock spectators into viewing plays anew, and to increase their participation in the spectacle. By finding ways to remove or minimize the so-called fourth wall that separated spectators from the stage, and turned them—from Meyerhold’s point of view—into passive observers, the director hoped literally to open up a new space in the theatrical structure itself, and to induce active, impassioned responses to his art. Background and Theatrical Apprenticeship Meyerhold’s background distinguished him from other Russian avant-garde artists both because of his cultural heritage, and because he was considerably older than many of the figures, such as Vladimir — 357 — ————————— ————————— Russian Experimental Performance and Theater Mayakovsky and Nikolai Erdman, with whom he collaborated. Vsevolod Emilevich Meyerhold was born Karl Theodor Kasimir Meyergold on 10 February 1874 (28 January, old style), in Penza, a city near the Volga River in southeastern Russia. He was the eighth child of Russified German parents; his father Emil owned a vodka distillery. As the youngest child—and therefore unlikely to inherit the family business—he was able to explore his early love for theater in relative freedom. Despite its provincial location, Penza was a center of radical thought, and this politically charged environment strongly affected Meyerhold’s development. The Penza Popular Theater, which he led in the mid-1890s, sought to bring culture to the masses. Thus began a lifelong quest by the director to produce theater that was politically relevant and, after the Bolshevik Revolution in particular, held mass appeal. On his twenty-first birthday, Meyerhold converted from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy, and chose Vsevolod (after the late nineteenth-century short story writer Vsevolod Garshin, whom he idolized) as his Orthodox Christian name. This conversion enabled him to become a Russian national, and thereby avoid conscription into the Prussian army. It also allowed him, as a member of the Orthodox Church, to marry his first wife, the Russian Olga Munt. After completing school in 1895, he studied law at Moscow University for two years, but left before completing his degree. At the same time he was study2 acting and violin, failing an audition for the Moscow University orchestra before successfully trying out for acting classes at Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko’s Moscow Philharmonia School in 1896. He 3 studied there for two years, and then joined the company as an actor from 1898-1902. Meyerhold’s apprenticeship at the Moscow Art Theater revealed him to be an actor of exceptional abilities: along with Chekhov’s wife-to-be, actress Olga Knipper, he earned a silver medal upon graduating in 1898. His first important role was Konstantin Treplev, a symbolist playwright and the hero of Chekhov’s first major play, The Seagull. Treplev offered Meyerhold the first of many roles that he would act and direct of talented but alienated outsiders. Other major roles included the utopian intelligent Petr Trofimov in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, and Prince Shuisky and Ivan the Terrible in Aleksei Tolstoy’s Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich and The Death of Ivan the Terrible, respectively. The intelligence and careful preparation Meyerhold brought to his roles, as well as his — 358 — ———————— The Culture of Experiment in Russian Theatrical Modernism ———————— 2. The Culture of Experiment in Russian Theatrical Modernism: the OBERIU Theater and the Biomechanics of Vsevolod Meyerhold Michael Klebanov It can be argued that the OBERIU Theater, whose agenda was proclaimed in 1929, sought to challenge the dominance of Meyerhold on the Russian experimental theatrical scene of the day, rather as Meyerhold in his early days departed from seeking more radical alternatives to Stanislavsky’s system. However, whereas his “biomechanics” proceeded from the ambition to relieve actors from verbal speech, imparting particular intensity to their body language instead, its message hardly varied in its essence from that of the preceding theater schools. It is mostly the method of expression, the set of instruments that underwent substantial changes. Although biomechanics, according to Meyerhold, strove to discover experimentally the laws of the actor’s movement onstage, it still spoke of ‘norms of human behavior’ from which the rules of play-acting were to be derived. OBERIU devotees of the ‘real (concrete) art’, however, were quite ready to renounce all norms and use any available language for the sake of presenting, as their Manifesto states, ‘the world of concrete objects onstage in their interaction and collision’. Furthermore, they asserted that the laws of ‘reality’ were inapplicable in the ‘alternate’ reality of theater. In what follows below, I aim to explore the relationship, if unilateral, between the two mindsets, with an emphasis on the novelty, though almost unmarked at its time, of the respective OBERIU ideas. In a 1933 letter to the actress Klavdia Pugacheva, 1 Daniil Kharms (1905-1942), Russian poet, author and playwright, one of the founders and prominent members of the avant-garde union of artists OBERIU, made the following observation: I love theater dearly, but alas, there is no theater now. The age of theater, long poems and beautiful architecture was over a hundred years ago. Don’t be tempted by — 385 — ————————— ————————— Russian Experimental Performance and Theater the false hope that Khlebnikov wrote long poems, and Meyerhold’s theater is still theater. Khlebnikov is better than all other poets of the second half of 19 and th first quarter of 20 century, but his poems are only long th verses, and Meyerhold has done nothing. 2 Those even vaguely familiar with the theater director, actor, and producer Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874-1940) and the role he played in the development of Russian theatrical art, might find these words blunt, to the point of provocation. One might almost think that Kharms pretended to ignore Meyerhold’s achievements for the sake of some purportedly radical gesture. However, this ostensibly nihilist rhetoric hides a deeper meaning. Nostalgia for the times when Neo-Classicists dominated European culture (eighteenth—early nineteenth century) is overt here, and it seems quite in line with the set of ideas that Kharms consistently pursued. As early as 1927, a group of prospective OBERIU members decided to call themselves The Academy of Left Classicists; and 3 almost a decade later Kharms publicly denounced both “impressionism” and “left art” in his speech at the Leningrad Writers’ Union, asserting 4 that “the time has come when art can start developing again with a classical force.” 5 One may question the sincerity of this speech, delivered in a politically charged and potentially dangerous atmosphere; it would be more questionable though to doubt the candour of the author’s private correspondence. Referring to Klavdia Pugacheva’s recently abandoned position at the Leningrad Young Spectator’s Theater, Kharms wrote: If I were you, I would either try to create the new theater myself, if I felt grand enough for such an endeavour, or hold on to the theater of the most archaic forms. By the way, Children’s Theater stands in a better position than theaters for adults. Even if it doesn’t launch a new era of renaissance, even if it is contaminated by theatrical science, “constructions” and “leftism”, due to the peculiar nature of the children’s audience… it is still purer than other theaters. 6 These lines seem to be in direct correspondence to the comprehensive revision that Kharms tried to apply in the 1930s to his early attempts to — 386 — ——————————————— Eisenstein: A Short Biography ——————————————— 1. Eisenstein: A Short Biography Frederick H. White Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein is acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of cinema, best known for his montage style and one of the greatest films ever made—The Battleship Potemkin. Eisenstein, however, was a complex man who may also be considered a talented film theorist, teacher, essayist, set-designer and much more. For the many facets of his character, there are just as many interpretations for understanding his life. Was he an apologist for political tyranny, Iosif Stalin’s lackey, or a victim of that tyranny? Did he actively keep alive the ideals of the Russian intelligentsia during the dark times of Soviet repression or simply play the system against itself? These are difficult questions that are still being debated. What can be said is that Eisenstein has had a profound influence on world cinema as well as generations of experimental filmmakers. What follows is a short biography of his life. Eisenstein was born on 3 January 1898 in Riga. His father was a civil engineer and his mother was the daughter of a wealthy St. Petersburg merchant. Unfortunately, it was not a successful marriage. Eisenstein’s mother considered her husband vulgar and thought that her son should grow up to become a man of culture. With this aim in mind she not only supplied him generously with books of all kinds, but even took him at the age of eight to Paris where he saw many things, but remembered most of all an early film of George Méliès, Four Hundred Jokes of the Devil. Even so, Eisenstein mainly lived with his father in Riga, after his parents divorced, and was raised in the style typical of the upper classes—a private governess, tutors and instructors for music, dance and horseback riding. As a child in Riga, Eisenstein was an avid reader in three foreign languages—German, French and English. He was greatly impressed by the circus and the theater, the later being his first true passion while cinema was still in its infancy. 1 Although Eisenstein’s international fame would eventually rest on his reputation as a film director, he was actually accomplished in many other artistic areas. He became an author of film — 407 — —————— —————— Avant-Garde Cinematography: Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov scripts, essays, memoirs; his first published work was as a caricaturist at the age of 19, he designed sets and costumes for many plays and films he directed; and he returned to the stage in 1939 to direct Richard Wagner’s opera Die Walküre at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Eisenstein’s path from a childhood of privilege in Riga to a leading Soviet film director was not a simple one, especially given the political upheaval of the times. Still under his father’s influence, Eisenstein registered as a student at the Institute of Civil Engineering in 1915. The urge to become an artist, and especially work in the theater, became ever more persistent while a student in Petrograd, where the opportunities were much greater than they had ever been in Riga. Yet, it was the 1917 Revolution, according to Eisenstein himself, which changed his mind about becoming an engineer. With most of his fellow students he volunteered in 1918 to fight for the Red Army in the Civil War, although his mother was able to secure a post for him far from the military action. In the fall of 1920 Eisenstein was demobilized. By then, he had decided to make his career in Moscow rather than Petrograd, for it was clear that in the new Russia, Moscow would be the artistic as well as the political center of the country. That November, he ran into a childhood friend, Maxim Strauch, at the Kamerny Theater. After the performance they realized that they were equally enthralled by the theater and the Revolution. In response to this revelation they both joined Moscow’s Proletkult Theater (Worker’s Culture), where Eisenstein accepted a job as a set designer. One of the first productions made Eisenstein famous among the theater community. The play was based on Jack London’s The Mexican. In the play, Mexican anarchists need to send one of their own into the boxing ring in order to win money for the weapons they need to buy. The first episode is among the anarchists, the second in the office of the boxing manager and the third is the boxing match. Eisenstein, showing the influence of both Cubism and the circus, made the office of one of the managers circular and the other square. This stylization applied to the actors’ costumes as well as to the theater lay-out. On stage left the cast had square heads and wore square, checkered costumes, and on stage right they were all circular. The central moment of the play was a boxing match which was to take place off-stage while the visible cast merely reacted to it. Eisenstein, however, transformed the boxing match into the focal point of the scene, placing the boxing ring downstage and as close to the audience as possible. He made the sporting as real as pos— 408 — —————— —————— Avant-Garde Cinematography: Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov 2. Allegory and Accommodation: Vertov’s Three Songs of Lenin (1934) as a Stalinist Film 1 John MacKay Until at least the late 1980s, most film historians in the USSR (if not elsewhere) would doubtless have identified Three Songs of Lenin (1934; silent version 1935; re-edited in 1938 and 1970) as Dziga Vertov’s greatest and most important contribution to Soviet and world cinema. 2 Although its reputation has now been definitively eclipsed by that of Man with a Movie Camera (1929), Three Songs was certainly more widely exhibited and unambiguously honored than any of Vertov’s other films during his lifetime. After being briefly shelved during the first half of 3 1934, the film was shown to great acclaim at the Venice Film Festival 4 in August 1934. 5 Prior to its general Soviet release in November 1934, 6 starting in July 1934, the film was exhibited in Moscow at private but publicized screenings to both Soviet (Karl Radek, Nikolai Bukharin, Stanislav Kossior) and foreign (H.G. Wells, André Malraux, M.A. Nexoe, Paul Nizan, William Bullitt, Sidney Webb) cultural and political luminaries; tributes to Three Songs by all of these figures were widely disseminated in the Soviet press. 7 For unknown reasons, the original sound version of Three Songs was withdrawn somewhere around 13 November from the major Moscow theaters where it had been playing, although it continued to be exhibited, apparently in substandard or fragmentary copies, for some time after that in Moscow and elsewhere. 8 A silent version prepared especially for cinemas without sound projection capability was completed in 1935 and distributed widely in the USSR; both this version and the original sound Three Songs were re-edited by Vertov and re-released in 1938. Vertov never ceased speaking of with pride, even (or 9 Three Songs especially) when he was compelled to apologize for his earlier “formalist” works; and it was the one Vertov film singled out for attention by 10 Ippolit Sokolov in his 1946 collection of reviews of Soviet sound films. 11 During the Vertov revival of the post-Stalin years, Three Songs was apparently the first of his (in 1960) to receive publicized re-release in the — 420 — ————— Allegory and Accommodation: Vertov’s Three Songs of Lenin (1934) as a Stalinist Film ————— USSR. A few years later, the film was subjected to a most problematic 12 “restoration,” carried out in 1969 by Vertov’s wife and co-creator Elizaveta Svilova, together with Ilya Kopalin and Serafima Pumpyanskaya, and released (along with a very informative book) as part of the 1970 13 Lenin centenary. It is this 1970 version, distributed by Kino Video on VHS and DVD, which most of us know as Three Songs of Lenin. Despite all of this, and notwithstanding its ready availability on VHS/DVD in the US and Europe, Three Songs has attracted remarkably little scholarly attention, at least until recently. Surely this neglect has something to do with the political-ethical embarrassment now attendant upon both the film’s ardent rhetorical participation in the Lenin cult and its unabashed celebration of the “modernization” of the Muslim regions of the USSR and hymning of Soviet industrial and agricultural achievement more generally. It would seem that, for many critics, Three Songs stands in the same relation to Vertov’s earlier films as Alexander Nevsky (1938) does to Sergei Eisenstein’s experimental work of the 1920s: a clear sign of that regression into authoritarianism and myth that came to compromise both filmmakers as creative artists and Soviet culture as a whole over the course of the 1930s. 14 Meanwhile, the film’s fraught history, involving three major reedits and the consequent disappearance of the original sound and silent versions, has no doubt made scholars rightly wary of investing too much interpretive energy in such a dubious text. The three versions coincide with three quite different political movements—specifically, the fullscale inauguration of Stalin’s “personality cult” (and the waning of Lenin’s) 15 during the Second Five-Year Plan (1933-37); the complete establishment of the Stalin cult by the purge years of 1937-1938; and the ongoing anti-Stalinist revisionism of the early “stagnation” period (1969-1970). Given that the transition into (and out of) “Stalinist culture” is the real issue here, it is inevitable that the presence or absence of “Stalin” and “Stalinism” in Three Songs will figure centrally in any interpretation of the film. Although many questions remain unanswered about the original 1934 Three Songs, archival evidence demonstrates rather clearly that Stalin’s image was far more prominent in that original film than in the familiar Svilova-Kopalin-Pumpyanskaya reedit, which can be described, with only the slightest qualification, as a “de-Stalinization” of the versions of the 1930s. Contemporary reviews, for instance, make it plain — 421 — ———————————————— ———————————————— Concluding ADDENDUM Concluding Addendum: The Tradition of Experimentation in Russian Culture and the Russian Avant-Garde Dennis Ioffe We believe that radical modernism and the avant-garde in Russia developed as the result of a tradition of profound experimentation. In order to discuss the legacy of this experimental “testing” culture in 1 Russia of the last three centuries, it is necessary to start by determining the capacity of experimentation as a phenomenon, along with reviewing the complex of ideas and historical factors relevant for this purpose. It appears important to try to comprehend, in the first place, what the word “experiment” means, especially with regard to various Russian 2 cultural practices. Experiment is always invoked by a certain measure of dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs in this or another sphere of human existence. Experiment proceeds from the necessity to alter the state of things by the means of testing an experience, which has been obtained in accordance with a certain scientific or cultural agenda. This experience is expected to establish a sequence of major changes addressing a certain phenomenon or object, with the intention of creating a “new reality” based on this experiment. First and foremost, experiment is a method of research, scrutinizing a phenomenon in terms of particular conditions. Consequently, it always takes place within the limits of a certain laboratory (or semi-laboratory) test. The laboratory ad hoc can be represented by almost any set of circumstances actually playing this role, that of a field of inquiry. Thus, for Russian Symbolists, such conditions of inquiry emerged during the revolution of 1905; and for Russian Futurists, during the period of the two revolutions of 1917. The degree of involvement with the phenomenon in question is pivotal for the backbone of the experiment, ever aiding to expand the limits of the relevant area of expertise. Changing paradigms of knowledge, along with various revolutions occurring in science, are also closely tied to experiment. The validity of — 454 — ————— The Tradition of Experimentation in Russian Culture and the Russian Avant-Garde ————— any hypothetical component of practical knowledge, as well as stability of any given social condition (the so called “social experiment” is an example), has to be assessed by the means of special testing procedures, which put every theory through a practical and empirical trial, as noted by Karl Popper. 3 The issues related to the psychological constituent of experiment were seminally examined in the mid-1950’s by Robert M. Gottsdanker 4 . The species of psychological experiment was intended to analyze the mental experience of a person or a group of people in their interaction with either scientists conducting scholarly inquiry or cultural actors in search of new ideas. One of the most essential things in order to understand experimentation is that in almost every case its concrete results may not (and should not) be fully predictable. Moreover, an experiment cannot always proceed in full compliance with the way in which it was conceived, planned and designed. The Stochastic nature of experimentation (the term oriστοχαστικός, from the Greek “able to guess”) becomes apparent in the intuitive perception of the fortuity of a given phenomenon. The stochastic intuitivism largely forms the conceptual basis of phenomenology and the prognostics of experiment. The contemporary methodology of experiment owes a lot to William Gilbert and Galileo Galilei; and also to Francis Bacon who was one of the first to come up with the initial theoretical description of an experiment as a phenomenon. The trad5 of the “visionary” creative experiment enlists such names as Jacob Boehme, Emmanuel Swedenborg and William Blake; and later, about the same time as the early stages of Russian modernism, Rudolph Steiner. It is also worth mentioning that the entire history of alchemy, that is, the realm of (esoteric) communion between the spheres of spiritual and physical matter has also directly involved permanent experimentation with chemical, alchemistic and other substances. The possibility to delimitate between the “theoretical” and the “empirical” was disputed in the following years. In the context of contemporary science, in the aspect of its fundamental methods and principles, experiment is usually intended to determine theoretical validity and, ideally, some universal significance for the hypothesis. In this regard, the importance of “mental” experimentation cannot be overstated with reference to the issues associated with culture and society, particularly the creations of the human spirit that often cannot be fully implemented in an empirical sense. Here the experiment conducted in the imagination — 455 — —————————————————— List of Contributors —————————————————— List of Contributors Basner, Elena has a PhD in Art History from the St. Petersburg State Academic Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. She is one of the leading experts in the visual art of the Russian avant-garde and has authored hundreds of publications in her field of research. Dr Basner works in the Department of Modern Art at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. She teaches at the European University of St. Petersburg and consults for the Bukowskis auction house (Sweden & Finland). She has been a curator for a number of major exhibitions concerning the Russian avant-garde, both in Russia and abroad, including the first Malevich International exhibition (1988-91, Leningrad, Moscow, Amsterdam, Washington, Los-Angeles, New-York), “New Art for the New Era” (Barbican Art Centre, London), “Russian Futurism” (2000), “Kazimir Malevich” (2000) and many others. Bowlt, John E. is a professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, where he is also director of the Institute of Modern Russian Culture. He has written extensively on Russian visual culture, especially on the art of Symbolism and the avant-garde, his latest book being Moscow, St. Petersburg. Art and Culture during the Russian Silver Age. Dr Bowlt has also curated or co-curated exhibitions of Russian art, including “A Feast of Wonders. Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes” at the Nouveau Musée de Monte Carlo, Monaco, and the State Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow (2009-10); and “El Cosmos de la vanguardia rusa” at the Fundacion Marcelino Botin, Santander, and the State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki. He is now preparing an exhibition entitled “Di fuoco e di ghiaccio: Siberia, Asia e l’avanguardia russa” for the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, for 2013. In September, 2010, he received the Order of Friendship from the Russian Federation for his promotion of Russian culture in the USA. Burry, Alexander holds a PhD from Northwestern University. Currently, he is an Associate Professor of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures at The Ohio State University. He recently published — 468 — —————————————————— List of Contributors —————————————————— a book entitled Multi-Mediated Dostoevsky: Transposing Novels into Opera, Film, and Drama, and has also written articles on Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Prokofiev, Venedikt Erofeev, and other writers and cultural figures. Groys, Boris received a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Münster. He is the Global Distinguished Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University and a Senior Research Fellow at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design in Karlsruhe, Germany. He is best known as the author of The Total Art of Stalin. This work is credited for introducing Western readers to Russian postmodernist writers. Dr Groys has authored many books on Russian art and philosophy, and has also edited several collections of articles in Russian and German as well as published over a hundred scholarly articles. Ioffe, Dennis (PhD University of Amsterdam) is an Assistant Professor ("Doctor-Assistent"), at The Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Ghent University, Belgium. He is also a research fellow at the UvA Slavic Seminarium and the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA). In the previous years he served as Visiting Assistant Professor in Russian and German Studies at Memorial University (Canada) and as Teaching & Research Fellow, managing the Russian Centre at the University of Edinburgh, (Scotland, the UK). Dr Ioffe has authored more than 50 scholarly articles, and edited and co-edited several academic collections. Klebanov, Michael holds a Bachelor’s Degree of Architecture from Technion, Israeli State Institute of Technology, and presently continues his research at the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. He is an architectural & design professional and an independent scholar based in Toronto, Canada. Aside from architecture, his academic interests include the history of the Russian avant-garde, experimental performance and creative philosophy. He has published widely on the history of Russian literature, music, and art. Kovtun, Evgeny Fedorovich (1928-1996) was one of the leading researchers of the Russian avant-garde. After defending his PhD in Art History at the State University of St Petersburg, he worked at the State Russian Museum of Art until his death. During his scholarly career Dr — 469 — —————————————————— Bibliography —————————————————— Bibliography Various transliteration systems exist and are employed in academic publications. Because of this, there are often two or more spellings for the same person, for the same publication, or for the same work. Maksim Gor’kii may also be Maxim Gorky. Vladimir Mayakovsky may also be Vladimir Maiakovskii. One of our editorial choices was to re-publish many of these seminal texts in their original form, which means that within this Reader, you will find several conflicting methods of transliteration from article to article. If we were to regularize the transliteration system for the bibliography, then the endnotes of the articles themselves would not correspond with the bibliographic entries. Therefore, we have chosen to provide a bibliography using the transliteration systems employed in the articles themselves. As a result, one may find an entry for the same person in two different places—Khlebnikov and Xlebnikov, for example. We have chosen to reflect this condition in the compiled bibliography included in this Reader. Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992. Andersen, Troels. Moderne Russisk Kunst 1920-1925. Copenhagen: Borgen, 1967. -------. K.S. Malevich. The world as Non-Objectivity. Essays Vol. III. Copenhagen: 1976. Andrews, Richard and Milena Kalinovska, intro. Art into Life: Russian Constructivism 1914—1932. Seattle: The Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington and New York, Rizzoli, 1990. Anonymous. “Beseda s N. S. Goncharovoi.” Stolichnaia molva, no. 115 (5 April 1910): 3. Anonymous [V. Giliarovskii?]. “Brattsy-estety.” Golos Moskvy, no. 69 (25 March 1910): 4. Anonymous. “Bubnovaia dama pod sudom.” Protiv techeniia (4 January 1911): 4. Anonymous. “Moskovskaia khronika: Delo Obshchestva svobodnoi estetiki.” Rech’ (23 December 1910): 3. Anonymous. “O. Kh.” Golos Moskvy, no. 45 (24 February 1912). Artaud, Antonin. The Theater and Its Double. Translated by Mary Caroline Richards. New York: Grove Press, 1958. Arvatov, Boris. “Proletariat i levoe iskusstvo.” Vestnik Iskusstvo, no. 1 (1922): 10. ------. “Oveshchestvelennaya utopiya.” Lef, no. 1 (1923): 61-64. Arvatov, B. “Über die Reorganisation der Kunstfakultaten an den VChUTEMAS.” In Zwischen Revolutionskunst. Edited by Gassner and Gillen. 154-55. — 472 — —————————————————— Bibliography —————————————————— Avtonomova, N., et. al. eds. N. Goncharova, M. Larionov: Issledovaniia i publikatsii. Moscow: Nauka, 2003. Bakhterev, Igor. “Kogda my byli molodymi.” In Vospominaniia o N. Zabolotskom. A. Zabolotskaya et al. Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1987. Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Translated by Helene Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984. Barskaia, A. French Painting in the Hermitage from the mid-18th to the 20th Century. Leningrad: Hermitage, 1975. Basner, E. V. “Metamorfy ‘chuzhogo siuzheta’ v zhivopisi M. F. Larionova i N. S. Goncharovoi.” Stranitsy istorii otechestvennogo iskusstva, XVIII-XX vek, vypusk IX. St. Petersburg: Palace Editions, 2003. Begicheva, Anna. “Vospominaniya o Tatline. Do kontsa ne razgadai.” MS, private archive, Moscow. Benedetti, Jean. London: Methuen, 1999. Stanislavski, His Life and Art: A Biography. Benois, A. “Posledniaia futuristskaia vystavka.” Rech', Petrograd, (9 January 1916). Berdiaev, Nikolai. “Picasso.” Sofiia, 1, no. 3 (1914): 57-8; 161-2. Berezark, I. “Veshch’ na stene.” no. 32-3 (1929): 10. Novyi zritel’, Bergan, Ronald. Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict. New York: The Overlook Press, 1999. Bilibin, Ivan Iakovlevich. Stati, pis’ma, vospominania o khudozhnike. Leningrad: Khudozhnik RSFSR, 1970. Bishop, Thomas. “Changing Concepts of Avant-Garde in XXth Century Literature”. The French Review 1 Vol.38 (1964): 34-41. Bogdanov, Alexander. “The Proletarian and the Art.” In Russian Art of the AvantGarde. Edited by J. Bowlt. 177. Bowlt, J. ed. Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Theory and Criticism 1902-1934. New York: Viking, 1976. Bowlt, John and Olga Matich, eds. Laboratory of Dreams: The Russian Avant-Garde and Cultural Experiment. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999. Bowlt, John E. and Matthew Drutt, eds. Amazons of the Avant-Garde, exhibition catalogue. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1999. Braun, Edward. Meyerhold: A Revolution in Theatre. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995. -------. “Vsevolod Meyerhold: The Final Act.” In Enemies of the People: The Destruction of Soviet Literary, Theater, and Film Arts in the 1930s. Edited by Katherine Bliss Eaton. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2002, 145-62. -------. tr. and ed. Meyerhold on Theatre. London: Methuen; Hill & Wang, 1969. Brik, Osip. “Drenazh iskusstvu.” Iskusstvo kommuny, no. 1, 7 December (1918): 1. -------. “Primechanie redaktsii.” Iskusstvo kommuny, no. 8 (1919): 2. -------. “V poryadke dnya.” Iskusstvo v proizvodstve, Moscow: IZO Narkompros, 1921, 6-7. -------. “Ot kartiny k sittsu.” Lef, no. 2 (6) (1924): 27-34. Briusov, V., Dnevniki 1891-1910. Zapisi proshlogo. Moscow: Sabashnikov, 1927. — 473 —