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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

OBERIU (in Russian, ОБэРИу - Объединение реального искусства, An Association of Real Art) was a short-lived avant-garde grouping of Russian post-Futurist poets in 1920s-1930s.

The OBERIU was founded in 1928 by Daniil Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky. Some scholars say that the OBERIU manifesto was penned mostly by the poet Nikolay Zabolotsky with the help of Kharms. In any case, the historical group included at its core Daniil Kharms, Alexander Vvedensky, Nikolay Zabolotsky, Konstantin Vaginov, Igor Bakhterev, though there were others involved, including actors, musicians and filmmakers.

The great Russian artist Kazimir Malevich gave the OBERIU shelter in his newly created arts institute for a while, letting them rehearse in one of the auditoriums. It is reported that he said to the young "Oberiuty" (as they are called in Russian): "You are young trouble makers, and I am an old one. Let's see what we can do." Malevich also gifted a book of his own ("God Is Not Cast Down") to one of the founders of OBERIU (Daniil Kharms), with the relevant inscription "Go and stop progress!".

The OBERIU group became notorious for provocative performances which included circus-like stunts, readings of what was perceived as non-sensical verse, and theatrical presentations that some view as preceding and foreshadowing the European Theatre of the Absurd (for instance, Kharms's play, "Elizabeth Bam"). The group's actions were derided as "literary hooliganism" in the ever-more conservative press of the late 1920s. It was chastised even more in the early 1930s, and many of its associates were arrested (though most were released quickly). Hence, the OBERIU has often been called "the last Soviet avant-garde." (See Jean-Phillipe Jaccard's book on Daniil Kharms.)

In the 1930s, Socialist Realism and Stalin's purges precluded the formation of any such "leftist" or "radical" public artistic groupings. After about 1931, The OBERIU held no more public performances, and most of those involved showed their writing only to a small circle of friends, though one went on to become a marginally accepted Soviet poet (Zabolotsky).

Though the group was held together for a while by common interest, some split away. Zabolotsky seems to have had a falling out with Vvedensky. In the 1930s Kharms and Vvedensky became more closely involved with a group of friends who met semi-regularly for what they called "conversations. Yakov Druskin, a Christian philosopher and music-theorist (he wrote on Bach,Schoenberg and Webern), was a key member of this group. Druskin and his friend Leonid Lipavsky (a children's writer under the name of Leonid Savelyev, and an amateur mathematician and author of philosophical tracts) had known Alexander Vvedensky in high-school, and had become friends with Kharms and Zabolotsky as well. Lipavsky actually wrote down a number of the "conversations." Nikolay Oleynikov, an editor at the children's publishing house which had long employed the young poets of the OBERIU as writers and translators of children's literature, became part of this group by the mid-thiries.

This later grouping, which had no public outlet, is generally called the "chinari" (i.e. "the titled ones") group in Russian literary scholarship, though it is uncertain that they ever formalized a name for the group, nor that they called themselves "chinari" with any consistency. Thus the names "OBERIU" and "chinari" are somewhat interchangeable in the scholarship and refer genrarlly to these writers and thinkers whether officially involved in the OBERIU project or not. The borders between the two groups are (and were) permeable, and the only basic continuity is the presence of Kharms and Vvedensky.


Though short-lived, the OBERIU seems to have had lasting effects on Russian culture. Since the late 1980s a kind of cult fervor has grown in Russia around these long-forgotten writers. And, in fact, the ideas and art of the OBERIU had been influential even in the 60s and 70s, in what is called the "unofficial" art world of the Soviet Union. Some writers and artists of that period would proudly admit the influence of the OBERIU, in others it is clear enough. The OBERIU was seen as something of a missing link from the old Russian avant-garde to the new one. Poets like Genrikh Sapgir, Alexei Khvostenko, Anri Volokhonsky, Lev Rubinstein, Dmitri Prigov, Timur Kibirov, Eduard Limonov were certainly familiar with the OBERIU writers through "samizdat" publications circulating in the underground art scene, and their writing reflects that knowledge, though in very different ways for all of them. Some scholars claim that a 1980s Novosibirsk punk rock musician Egor Letov and his Grazhdanskaya Oborona band were greatly influenced by OBERIU. Some people also see the Absurdist influences of OBERIU in the lyrics of the older Russian rock-band Aquarium, mostly written by Boris Grebenshchikov and Anatoly Gunitsky.

OBERIU in English

An important anglophone edition of OBERIU writings translated by Eugene Ostashevsky, Matvei Yankelevich, Genya Turovskaya, Thomas Epstein and Ilya Bernstein was published by the Northwestern University Press in 2006.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Oberiu" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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