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Russian Futurism

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El Lissitzky's poster for a post-revolutionary production of the drama Victory Over the Sun. The multilingual caption reads: All is well that begins well and has not ended.

Russian Futurism was a movement of Russian poets and artists who adopted the principles of Filippo Marinetti's "Manifesto of Futurism," which espoused the rejection of the past, and a celebration of speed, machinery, violence, youth, industry, destruction of academies, museums, and urbanism[1]; it also advocated the modernization and cultural rejuvenation. The Manifesto celebrated the “beauty of speed” and the machine as the new aesthetic.[1] Marinetti explained the “beauty of speed” as “a roaring automobile is more beautiful than the Winged Victory” further asserting the movement towards the future. Artforms were greatly affected by the Russian Futurism movement within Russia, with its influences being seen in cinema, literature, typography, politics, and propoganda. The Russian Futuristic movement saw its demise in the early 1920s.


Russian Futurism may be said to have been born in December 1912, when the Moscow-based literary group Hylaea (Russian: Гилея [Gileya]) (initiated in 1910 by David Burlyuk and his brothers at their estate near Kherson, and quickly joined by Vasily Kamensky and Velimir Khlebnikov, with Aleksey Kruchenykh and Vladimir Mayakovsky joining in 1911)[2] issued a manifesto entitled A Slap in the Face of Public Taste (Russian: Пощёчина общественному вкусу).[3] Other members included artists Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, Kazimir Malevich, and Olga Rozanova.[4] Although Hylaea is generally considered to be the most influential group of Russian Futurism, other groups 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 the dynamism, speed, and restlessness of modern machines and urban life. They purposely sought to arouse controversy and to gain publicity by repudiating the static art of the past. The likes of Pushkin and Dostoevsky, according to them, should be "heaved overboard from the steamship of modernity". They acknowledged no authorities whatsoever; even Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, when he arrived in Russia on a proselytizing visit in 1914, was obstructed by most Russian Futurists, who did not profess to owe him anything.


Russian Futurist cinema refers to the futurist movement in Soviet cinema. Russian Futurist cinema was deeply influenced by the films of Italian futurism (1916-1919) most of which are lost today. Some of the film directors identified as part of this movement are Lev Kuleshov, Dziga Vertov, Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin and Aleksandr Dovzhenko.

Literature and typographyEdit

In contrast to Marinetti's circle, Russian Futurism was primarily a literary rather than a plastic philosophy. Although many poets (Mayakovsky, Burlyuk) dabbled with painting, their interests were primarily literary. However, 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 collaborated on such innovative productions as the Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun, with music by Mikhail Matyushin, texts by Kruchenykh and sets contributed by Malevich.

Natalia Goncharova. Cyclist, 1913. The painting Cyclist is an example of how Russian Futurism affected Natalia's later works.

Members of Hylaea elaborated the doctrine of Cubo-Futurism and assumed the name of budetlyane (from the Russian word budet 'will be'). They found significance in the shape of letters, in the arrangement of text around the page, in the details of typography. They considered that there is no substantial difference between words and material things, hence the poet should arrange words in his poems like the artist arranges colors and lines on his canvas. Grammar, syntax, and logic were often discarded; many neologisms and profane words were introduced; onomatopoeia was declared a universal texture of verse. Khlebnikov, in particular, developed "an incoherent and anarchic blend of words stripped of their meaning and used for their sound alone",[5] known as zaum.


With all this emphasis on formal experimentation, some Futurists were not indifferent to politics. In particular, Mayakovsky's poems, with their lyrical sensibility, appealed to a broad range of readers. He vehemently opposed the meaningless slaughter of World War I and hailed the Russian Revolution as the end of that traditional mode of life which he and other Futurists ridiculed so zealously. Although never a member of the Russian Communist Party (RKP(b)), he was active in early 1919 in the attempt to set up Komfut as an organisation promoting Futurism affiliated to the Viborg District Branch of the Party.[6]

The Bolshevik propaganda trainsEdit

War correspondent Arthur Ransome and five other foreigners were taken to see two of the Bolshevik propaganda trains in 1919 by their organiser, Burov. He first showed them the "Lenin", which had been painted a year and a half ago when, as fading hoardings in the streets of Moscow still testify, revolutionary art was dominated by the Futurist movement. Every carriage is decorated with most striking but not very comprehensible pictures in the brightest colours, and the proletariat was called upon to enjoy what the pre-revolutionary artistic public had for the most part failed to understand. Its pictures are ‘art for arts sake’, and can not have done more than astonish, and perhaps terrify, the peasants and the workmen of the country towns who had the luck to see them. The "Red Cossack" is quite different. As Burov put it with deep satisfaction, At first we were in the artists’ hands, and now the artists are in our hands (The other three trains were the "Sverdlov", the "October Revolution", and the "Red East"). Initially the Department of Proletarian Culture had delivered Burov bound hand and foot to a number of Futurists , but now the artists had been brought under proper control.[7]


After the Bolsheviks gained power, Mayakovsky's group—patronized by Anatoly Lunacharsky, Bolshevik Commissar for Education—aspired to dominate Soviet culture. Their influence was paramount during the first years after the revolution, until their program—or rather lack thereof—was subjected to scathing criticism by the authorities. By the time OBERIU attempted to revive some of the Futurist tenets during the late 1920s, the Futurist movement in Russia had already ended. The most militant Futurist poets either died (Khlebnikov, Mayakovsky) or preferred to adjust their very individual style to more conventional requirements and trends (Aseyev, Pasternak).

See alsoEdit

References and sourcesEdit

  1. ^ a b Lawton, Anna;, Eagle, Herbet (1988). Russian Futurism through Its Manifestoes, 1912-1928. United States: Cornell University Press. pp. 1–3. ISBN 0-8014-9492-3.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Victor Terras, Handbook of Russian Literature (Yale University Press, 1990), s.v. "Hylaea", p. 197.
  3. ^ "Selected Poems with Postscript, 1907–1914". World Digital Library. 1914. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
  4. ^ Gurianova, Nina "Game in Hell, Hard Work in Heaven: Deconstructing the Canon in Russian Futurist Books" The Russian avant-garde book, 1910-1934 Ed. Margit Rowell and Deborah Wye. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002.
  5. ^ "Futurism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 2 January 2013. Retrieved 30 June 2013.
  6. ^ Jangfeldt, Bengt (1976). Majakovskij and Futurism 1917-21 (PDF). Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
  7. ^ Ransome, Arthur (2010) [1921]. The Crisis in Russia, 1920 (2 ed.). London. pp. 68, 69. ISBN 978-0-571-26907-5.
  • Markov, Vladimir (1968) Russian Futurism. University of California Press.
  • Petrova, Ye (2000) Russkiy futurizm ('Russian Futurism'). SPb.
  • V. N. Terekhina, A. P. Zimenkov (1999) Russkiy futurizm. Teoriya. Praktika. Kritika. Vospominaniya. ('Russian Futurism. Theory. Practice. Criticism. Memoir.'). Nasledie: Moscow.

External linksEdit