Russian Futurism  

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

Russian Futurism is the term used to denote a group of Russian poets and artists who adopted the principles of Marinetti's manifesto. Russian futurism may be said to have been born in December 1912, when the St. Petersburg-based group Hylaea (Velimir Khlebnikov, Aleksey Kruchenykh, Vladimir Mayakovsky, David Burlyuk) issued a manifesto entitled A Slap in the Face of Public Taste. Although the Hylaea is generally held to be the most influential group of Russian Futurism, other centres were formed in St. Petersburg (Igor Severyanin's Ego-Futurists), Moscow (Tsentrifuga with Boris Pasternak among its members), Kiev, Kharkov, and Odessa.

Like their Italian counterparts, the Russian Futurists were fascinated with dynamism, speed, and restlessness of modern urban life. They purposely sought to arouse controversy and to attract publicity by repudiating static art of the past. The likes of Pushkin and Dostoevsky, according to them, should have been "heaved overboard from the steamship of modernity". They acknowledged no authorities whatsoever; even Filippo Tommaso Marinetti — when he arrived to Russia on a proselytizing visit in 1914 — was obstructed by most Russian Futurists who did not profess to owe him anything.

In contrast to Marinetti's circle, Russian Futurism was a literary rather than plastic movement. Although many leading poets (Mayakovsky, Burlyuk) dabbled in painting, their interests were primarily literary. On the other hand, such well-established artists as Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, and Kazimir Malevich found inspiration in the refreshing imagery of Futurist poems and experimented with versification themselves. The poets and painters attempted to collaborate on such innovative productions as the Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun, with texts by Kruchenykh and sets contributed by Malevich.

Members of the Hylaea elaborated the doctrine of Cubo-Futurism and assumed the name of budetlyane (from the Russian word for "future"). They found significance in the shape of letters, in the arrangement of text around the page, in the details of typography. They held that there is no substantial difference between words and material things, hence the poet should arrange words in his poems like the sculptor arranges colors and lines on his canvas. Grammar, syntax and logic were discarded; many neologisms and profane words were introduced; onomatopoeia was declared a universal texture of the verse. Khlebnikov, in particular, developed "an incoherent and anarchic blend of words stripped of their meaning and used for their sound alone"[1], known as zaum.

With all this focus on formal experimentation, some Futurists were not indifferent to politics. In particular, Mayakovsky's poems, with their exuberant outbursts of lyrical sensibility and bravado, appealed to a broad range of readers. He vehemently opposed the meaningless slaughter of the Great War and hailed the Russian Revolution as a debacle of that traditional mode of life which other Futurists ridiculed so zealously.

After the Bolsheviks came to power, Mayakovsky's circle — patronized by Anatoly Lunacharsky, Lenin's minister of education — aspired to dominate the Soviet cultural life. Their influence was paramount in the first years after the revolution, until their program — or rather lack thereof — was subjected to scathing criticism of the authorities. By the time when the OBERIU attempted to revive some of the Futurist tenets in the late 1920s, the Futurist movement in Russia had already died away. The most militant Futurist poets either died (Khlebnikov, Mayakovsky) or preferred to adjust their highly individual style to more conventional requirements and trends (Aseyev, Pasternak).

See also

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