Futurism in Russia
February 2, 2010 11:02 PM   Subscribe

Tango With Cows is an exhibition by the Getty Museum of the book art of the Russian avant-garde from 1910 to 1917, which included a performance of sound poetry, all captured on video, both of Futurist poems, other historical sound poems, and contemporary works. Among performers are Christian Bök and Steve McCaffery. The exhibition takes its name from the book of ferro-concrete poems, one of 21 books can be downloaded as PDFs, most are by Alexei Kruchenykh but there are also works by Roman Jakobson, Vladimir Mayakovsky, David Burliuk, Andrei Kravtsov, Vasily Kamensky and Velimir Khlebnikov. These were all Futurists.

"From December 1913 to April 1914, the notoriety of the Cubo-Futurists reached its peak as Burliuk, Maiakovsky, and Kamensky toured 17 cities in the Russian Empire. The appearance of the Futurists (they liked to wear gaudy waistcoats, sometimes painted animals on their faces and wore carrots in their lapels) and their 'performances,' which included drinking tea on stage under a suspended piano, drew packed audiences, scandalized many, but also won converts to the new art." - Dr. Myroslav Shkandrij

Khlebnikov: The World of Velimir Khlebnikov is a great site to start exploring the many-splendored wonders of Khlebnikov. It has many of his works in English translation, photos of him and more. Oh, and really don't miss out on Oleg Minin reciting Khlebnikov's poems in Russian and Bök performing the translations

Kamensky: The Wikipedia page on his Tango With Cows is fabulous (it's written by Francis Elliot whose written a number of great pages about artists' books). Kamensky was one of Russia's first pilots, reputedly taught flying by Louis Blériot.

Kravtsov: There's precious little info on the man. This is the best I could find was this passage from Russian Futurism: A History by Vladimir Markov:
Andrei Kravtsov [was] a doctor whom Kamensky during the famous futurist tour through the Russian provinces. Kravtsov never published anything after this book; not, it seems, did he join any futurist groups. His five rhymed contributions slightly resemble Burliuk's verse in that they are essentially conventional, cliché-ridden poems (in this instance, mostly with erotic themes) in which Kravtsov tries very hard to appear avant-garde through the use of occasional "daring" imagery ("I dip my nerves into the blood of my heart") and typographical means.
Burliuk: After having to leave Russia following the revolution, he traveled the world spreading the gospel of the avant-garde. Notably he spent time in Japan, where he helped launch a Japanese Futurist movement, about which you can learn in this YouTube video, one of nine excerpts available from the six documentaries Copernicus Films has done on the Russian avant-garde. He immigrated to the US during the 20s where he was best known as a painter.

Mayakovsky: He's probably best known of anyone involved in Futurism. A good chunk of his superb poetry can be read in English translation on marxists.org and Andrey Kneller's Mayakovsky page. You can also listen to a couple of recordings of him reciting his own poems on Pennsound.

Jakobson: He's one of the great linguists and literary theorists of the 20th Century. He wrote a memoir of time in the avant-garde called My Futurist Years. The Wikipedia page on him is not a bad place to start.

Krucenykh: The Tango With Cows exhibitions is probably the best introduction to Kruchenykh available online, so go look at it! And don't forget Oleg Minin's readings of his poems, with Steve McCaffery reciting the English translations, including the famous Dyr Bul Schyl.
posted by Kattullus (12 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this, lots of interesting stuff there to wander around
posted by fallingbadgers at 11:58 PM on February 2, 2010

Nancy Perloff, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Collections of the Getty Research Institute, provides a short essay on budetlianstvo (a neologism used to describe the Russian movement), its inception, and how it differs from Marinetti's Italian Futurism.

[The essay is highlighted in the sidebar of the first link. It makes a nice departure point for those interested in a brief overview of Russian Futurism before delving into Kattullus' interesting post.]
posted by skenfrith at 1:54 AM on February 3, 2010

I'll be spending some time with that Khlebnikov page.
posted by ersatz at 5:08 AM on February 3, 2010

In '07, the Corcoran's Modernism exhibition covered some of the same territory. I love the Russian avant-garde. Thanks for the heads-up on the Getty show.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:01 AM on February 3, 2010

Tangentially, Alexandra Exter's designs for the Russian sci-fi movie Aelita: Queen of Mars were heavily influenced by the art of the Russian constructivists and influenced in turn Lang's Metropolis and the Flash Gordon serials. Aelita presents an example of how popular culture appropriates avant-garde art and it's available on YouTube in nine parts.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:28 AM on February 3, 2010

Alexandra Exter was a constructivist artist and the movie, Aelita was definitely not "popular culture".
posted by JJ86 at 6:36 AM on February 3, 2010

Alexandra Exter was a constructivist artist

Thanks, I knew that.

Aelita was definitely not "popular culture"

No? It was a big-budget film that was intended to compete with the movies produced by Hollywood. That's practically a definition of "popular culture."
posted by octobersurprise at 6:51 AM on February 3, 2010

Years ago I had a whirlwind romance with a russian-constructivist-mexican-futurist neo-hobo who dragged me on a greyhound bus ride to Chicago to visit the Maholy-Nagy archive. Walking down the streets of Chicago and making musiq concrete on hand held tape recorders with radio shack tape loop cassettes, and playing back these noise loops with our jaws hanging open as if our mouths were making the sounds as we walked down the sidewalks of a hip neighborhood's Saturday night, sleeping huddled under my wool coat at a construction site, making sculptures out of animal bones and cigarette butts and detritus from ditches and giving them away to grateful strangers - I could write for pages listing the ridiculous and pointless and fun and self indulgent things we did in that short period of time, it was probably the most romantic and foolish and decadent and stupid and delightful thing I have ever done.
posted by idiopath at 8:47 AM on February 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Great post! (The Russian Avant-Garde Book previously on MeFi.) I wish I liked the Futurists more, but my heart belongs to the Acmeists, and I can't help wishing Jakobson had fallen for Mandelstam rather than Mayakovsky and Khlebnikov. (Minor point: Jakobson himself wasn't a Futurist, though he loved them, but a Formalist critic.) I highly recommend My Futurist Years, as well as Shklovsky's A Sentimental Journey.

> It was a big-budget film that was intended to compete with the movies produced by Hollywood. That's practically a definition of "popular culture."

Not in Soviet Russia it wasn't. The government handed out money based on perceived ideological value, not popularity. But Aelita is included in Richard Stites's Russian Popular Culture, p. 57:
Protazanov [the director] has been called the "king of the popular film." Aelita (1924) based loosely on Alexei Tolstoy's fantasy about a voyage to Mars was as distinctly old fashioned as the novel itself. Its main charm is the acting of Nikolai Batalov and the comic Igor Ilinsky and the futuristic sets on Mars. But it also contained sharp visual comments on the past and present as when nobles arrive at an illegal ball with high heels and gowns hidden beneath shapeless peasant boots and coats.
The Russian equivalent of the Hugo is the Aelita Prize.
posted by languagehat at 10:37 AM on February 3, 2010

Heh. If anyone watches the linked Aelita YouTube videos, at 1:35 in the first one there's a title "At the evacuation center in Kursk." The Russian actually says "На эвак-пункте при Курском вокзале," that is, "...by the Kursk Station," a railway station in Moscow—the action hasn't suddenly shifted a couple of hundred miles south!
posted by languagehat at 10:46 AM on February 3, 2010

This is excellent, thank you!
posted by jokeefe at 11:35 AM on February 3, 2010

octobersurprise said: Thanks, I knew that.

Sorry, I just assumed that you didn't know based on how you strangely worded your earlier post. It would be hard for Alexandra not to be influenced by Constructivists if she was actually, you know, a Constructivist. It would be like showing surprise that Hans Richter painted in the style of Dadaists.
posted by JJ86 at 2:20 PM on February 3, 2010

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