Start of the “FUTUROMARENNIA” exhibition project: curatorial textAbout Us

Start of the “FUTUROMARENNIA” exhibition project: curatorial text

Mystetskyi Arsenal rediscovers the cultural heritage of Ukraine of the 20th century once again, and presents the “FUTUROMARENNIA” exhibition project. The exhibition will run in the Mystetskyi Arsenal from October 15, 2021 to January 30, 2022. You can learn more about the exhibition at the link.

Futurism is an outstanding and iconic phenomenon of world art history originated in Italy and spread throughout Europe in the first decades of the last century along with other experimental and innovative practices. Uncertainty (delirium) and procedurality are at the heart of Futurists’ creative pursuits; hence the name of the exhibition that continues rediscovery by the Mystetskyi Arsenal of Ukraine’s cultural heritage of the twentieth century. This uncertainty, or defocus, encompasses not only Futurism but also the latest trends of the time which reflected upon the art of the future.

In the first third of the twentieth century, the search for a universal style continued. If we consider Futurism in a broader historical context, the starting point is Cubo-Futurism, quite limited and even scandalous for the conservative public. At the same time, the experiments of the Burliuk brothers or Oleksandra Ekster, geographically connected with Ukraine, remained part of the all-Russian, cosmopolitan artistic discourse of the 1910s. Organically linked to the process of industrialization and urbanization, Futurism did not gain widespread influence within the predominantly agrarian province of the Russian Empire. For the same reasons, it did not find a response in Austria-Hungary and, later, in its former territories because the then-Galicia was a “decent province on the outskirts of Europe” (Andrij Bojarov).

On the eve of the First World War, the destruction of old artistic practices in order to modernize them was manifested by Kvero-Futurists. In contrast to Cubo-Futurism, exploratory (quero) Futurism appealed primarily to the Ukrainian context. However, this trend was ostracized by the ideologues of the national movement who took Mykhail Semenko’s call, “I burn my Kobzar,” a little too literally (Kobzar, Taras Shevchenko’s major work, was revered by Ukrainians as a national symbol). This is quite understandable since it was the myth of Shevchenko that became the basis of the ideology of the nation’s revival.

The processes of the 1910s and 1920s are markedly different: although ideologically connected, they are fundamentally dissimilar. One of the focuses of our study is Panfuturism—a futuristic experiment carried out in the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic under favorable political conditions in the 1920s. In essence, the phenomenon of Futurism suited to become an instrument of the National Communists who sought in their own way to simultaneously solve social and national issues, overcoming the conflict between the proletarian city and the petty-bourgeois element of the Ukrainian countryside.

The rapid pace of economic and social transformations—industrialization and urbanization—forced the Ukrainian Futurists to “hurry.” Adjusting formal searches to the needs of the time, they “skipped” entire stages of artistic progress and rejected both the legacy of the past and the practices of their contemporaries. In order to demonstrate the interactions of different artistic trends and to present the broader context of the artistic processes of the 1920s from the “formal” Futurists who identified themselves as such, the range of artists represented in this project was expanded to include various seekers of new philosophy and form. This is illustrative of the common interest in contiguous art forms shared by the entire cultural environment of the time, which eventually materialized in the creation of synthetic forms.

The 19th century idea of ​​the synthesis of the arts was adopted by the 20th century avant-garde artists as the so-called “total art.” This meant breaking down the boundaries between life and art. “Art-action” came to be reflected in the total painting of Italian Futurists that synthesized “sounds, noises and smells”; as well as in the “synthetic” theater of the father of Italian Futurism Tommaso Marinetti, with his intention to “destroy the very idea of ​​the limelight, to tie the stage and the audience with threads of emotion.” The idea of “total art” in the 1920s was fully embodied in the various practices of the German Bauhaus that combined the ideas of social egalitarianism with the principles of functionality and artistically perfect industrial and technical form in architecture and design. It is these concepts that Ukrainian Futurists realized in poetry-painting, poetry-films, and synthetic theater.

Despite the common roots of the constructs of Futurism, its national histories were very different, and the passionate message was manifested individually in each country. This allows us to talk about Ukrainian Futurism as a self-sufficient phenomenon that has become part of the “left” nation-building project in Ukraine. It was formed in response to challenges for a national culture that had long been in a state of defending its own identity. In a fierce debate with the Russians who considered Ukrainians the epigones of their own concepts, Ukrainians defended their right to free creation quite vehemently. Mykhail Semenko always emphasized: “We are all loyal to Ukraine, we are revolutionaries and so on, but no one will dictate to us how to write.” From today’s perspective, this sounds especially naive. However, “the Empire struck” in the end, and representatives of innovative movements were subdued by totalitarianism.

From a century-long distance, one can compare what was dreamed of in the artistic reflection of the future and what has happened in actuality. The current wave of attention to Futurism is not accidental. In some respects, the pursuits of the 1920s coincide with the problems of contemporary art—self-awareness, interest in form, irony, rebellion (Oleh Ilnytskyi). The “FUTUROMARENNIA” project is not about art only. It is, above all, about society and individuals that face the challenges of the day, be it social, economic, or ideological. Civilization goes through this cycle repeatedly, facing new experiences and inevitably fantasizing about the future.

Authors: Viktoriia Velychko, Ihor Oksametnyi.