The Contexts of Ukrainian Futurism. Day 1 | Synopsis of the international roundtable within the exhibition “FUTUROMARENNIA”About Us

The Contexts of Ukrainian Futurism. Day 1 | Synopsis of the international roundtable within the exhibition “FUTUROMARENNIA”

On October 14 and 15, 2021, Mystetskyi Arsenal hosted an International Round Table “The Contexts of Ukrainian Futurism”. The online events took place within the framework of the exhibition “FUTUROMARENNIA”.
Speakers of the first day, October 14:

  • Oleh Ilnytskyi — Professor of the University of Alberta, Canada, author of the book “Ukrainian Futurism (1914 — 1930th)”;
  • Przemysław Strączek — Doctor of the Artistic Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences of Warsaw, curator of the Dresden Avant-Garde Archive;
  • Andriy Boyarov — media artist, architect, supervisor, and explorer of Ukrainian and Lviv avant-garde.

On the second day of the round table, October 15, the speakers were:

  • Hanna Veselovska — the Doctor of Arts, the professor of the Institute of Problem of Contemporary Art of the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine, author of the book “Ukrainian theatrical avant-garde”;
  • Piotr Ripson — the Professor for the Polish-Japanese Academy of Computer Technologies, the curator of the Jewish Historical Institute and the Head of the ICOM Poland;
  • Yaryna Tsymbal — Ph.D. of Philological Science, literature critics and literature theorist from the Institute of Literature named after Taras Shevchenko of the National Academy of Science of Ukraine, researcher of literature of the 1920s, Ukrainian avant-garde, author of the project “Our 20s” in the publishing house “Tempora”.

The two-day round table was moderated by Ihor Oksametny, co-curator of the FUTUROMARENNIA project.

Ihor Oksametnyi: I am happy to greet everyone who is listening us today. We are about to start our roundtable discussion, and the topic of today’s discussion is “The Contexts of Ukrainian Futurism”. It’s happening as part of the project “Футуромарення (Futuromarennia, “The Futuristic Deliriums”), and it is taking place here, in Kyiv, in Mystetskyi Arsenal venue. It is starting from tomorrow, October 15th, and will last until January 29th, 2022.
My name is Ihor Oksametnyi, and I will be the moderator of today’s roundtable. And as a co-supervisor of this project, together with my colleague, Victoria Velychko, I would like to say a couple of words about this project.

The project “The Futuristic Delirium” is an attempt to visualize this complex, this controversial but yet so interesting phenomenon of Ukrainian futurism. During these projects, we are trying and doing our best to discover the impacts of Ukrainian futurism, and to go deeper in its aspects. And we try to discover how different aspects of Ukrainian culture were influenced by Ukrainian futurism at the beginning of the 20th century. Performing arts, visual arts, cinema, theatre, literature, architecture – those are all the spheres that we are discovering, and the museums of Ukraine have kindly supplied us with different exhibits, and today we have more than five hundred of those in our collection. We also contacted archives, libraries and private collectors to enrich our exhibition. We are hoping that people who will come to Mystetskyi Arsenal and who will discover this phenomenon for the first time, will feel the atmosphere of that period and will indulge the energy of artists of that time. We hope that through space and time they will be able to spiritually meet poets, artists, and directors of that time. We also hope that this exhibition will be as interesting to the people who are experts on the topic and who are collecting the valuable artistic works from that epoch.
That’s why we have tried our best to collect rare, valuable and collectible items that haven’t been exposed before. Also, I wanted to state and mention that this project is being sponsored by Ukrainian Cultural Fund. Also, as I have already mentioned, this topic is so complicated and so controversial that we thought it wouldn’t have been right to discuss it without the presence of an expert on this topic. So we have divided our roundtable discussion into two days, today and tomorrow. That’s why we also have invited people on whose scientific, journalistic, and literature work and articles, on which we have based our research with Victoria Velychko. So, without further ado, I’m happy to introduce our today’s speakers. First will be Oleh Ilnytskyi. Mister Ilnytskyi is a professor at The University of Alberta, and also he’s the author of the book “Ukrainian Futurism (1914 — 1930th)”. I’m happy to warmly welcome you to our discussion today. Our next participant is Doctor Przemysław Strączek. He is a representative of the Artistic Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences of Warsaw. Happy to welcome you. Out next guest speaker is Andriy Boyarov. He is a media artist, architect, supervisor, and explorer of Ukrainian and, in particularly, Lviv avant-garde. I am speaking currently from the old part of the Mystetskyi Arsenal building, which is the place where we usually hold such events. And our speakers are joining us from Warsaw, Lviv, and Canada. We will start with Professor Ilnytskyi since you are with no doubt a pioneer of this topic. You started discovering Ukrainian futurism as early as 1977. It was first your dissertation, and then it was published as a book in English, and it came out in Ukrainian in 2003. Nowadays a lot of people quote this book, they rely on the source of this book, so for me, it makes perfect sense that you will be the one to start our meeting. Maybe during this time, your point of view on some of the aspects of the topic has changed, and we will be delighted to hear about it. We are interested in how Oleh Ilnytskyi is perceiving the topic of Ukrainian futurism today. 

Professor Oleh Ilnytskyi: Well, I’m delighted to be here, among you, today. And thank you very much for inviting me in such an interesting roundtable. I’m contacting you today from Calgary town in Canada. It’s 8 AM here, and the sun is about to rise. I’m sincerely honored to take part in the project “Futuristic Delirium”. I like the name so much, and I believe that Semenko would be delighted to hear it. And I want to thank the supervisors Ihor and Victoria for inviting me here today. I believe that my part today is here rather modest. I will try to tell in a few words what I believe Ukrainian futurism is, based on my own publishings.

So, in my opinion, the project “Futuristic Delirium” in Ukraine right now shows us that the notion of Ukrainian futurism is being acknowledged by more and more people, so we should be happy about it. But as we know, during the Soviet terror, during decades it has been declined, its right to exist. It has been considered as a threat to culture. Even before the Soviet government Ukrainian intellectuals considered Ukrainian futurism not natural, not organic, but rather plagiarism of Italian and Russian futurism. They even considered it idiotic, and they thought it stood in the way of the development of Ukrainian culture. So it’s completely understandable why one of the founders of Ukrainian futurism, Mykhailo Semenko, in 1922 complained about it in one of his poems, and the poem goes like this: “It’s easier for three camels and a cow to go through the ear of the needle than for the Ukrainian futurist to get to his own people. I personally started discovering this phenomenon when I was a post-graduate in Harvard University in 1977, and what particularly interested me, why this phenomenon was so frowned upon in Ukrainian culture. My first publishing on this topic came out in 1978, and in March of ’89, I came to Ukraine, before that I wasn’t able to do so. So I came as a participant of the Kyiv International Conference. There I have read my paper, “Shevchenko and Futurists”. I remember that it has surprised and even astonished some of the critics that time. My book, as you have already mentioned, came out in English in 1997 and Ukrainian in 2003.

So let’s recall together that the first futurists were Italians, and they first came out to the world in 1909. They did so by publishing a manifest in French in the Parisian newspaper “Le Figaro”, publishing it beforehand in Italian. Their leader Filippo Marinetti was a first-class cultural promoter, entrepreneur, and in general a rich man. A bit later, the fascist movement put a long dark shadow on all the artistic achievements of futurists. He came to the Russian empire in January of 1914 in a very noticeable manner. He came there to promote himself and his movement. Interesting fact that a month later, in February in Kyiv, Mykhailo Semenko publishes his first futuristic work called “Daring”. This was his first stop in introducing a new branch of Ukrainian futurism, quaero-futurism. There is no doubt that Semenko was under the influence of Italian and Russian futurists, but let’s not exaggerate that fact, since very often it is done to undermine the original importance of the Ukrainian futurism movement. Semenko, out of principle, was moving Westward with his works and consciously wanted to be a part of the international avant-garde. Unlike some Ukrainians, for example, David Burliuk, he didn’t take part in Russian-speaking events of the Russian empire, and I consciously don’t call these events Russian culture. Semenko was striving to create national Ukrainian avant-garde. His goal was psychologically and artistically implement new ideas of the world culture in Ukraine of that time. It was a painful process for him in the first place because it was so hard to fight the old-fashioned way of thinking. And, of course, it was painful for the Ukrainian general public as well. Semenko ended all his contacts with his colleagues of futurists and symbolists, and he started to change the whole model of Ukrainian literature. Especially he wanted to fight the dominant cult of beauty and esthetics in the literature. The bright representative of that beauty cult domination aspect was Mykola Voronyi, and in one of his poems he stated: “I love beauty, and with each minute I create an illusion and disillusion I love and glorify. I love beauty as much as I love Ukraine itself”. And Semenko replaces that lyrical poetic and sometimes too melodramatic tone with the futuristic tone, which is sometimes a bit rough and ironic. In the places where before was the lyrical description of nature comes the rough description of the urbanistic landscape. For example, in his poems, when he describes Kyiv, the first thing he states is “…how acacia stinks in spring”. There is no place in Semenko’s heart for anything subtle. The gentleness of Semenko “…throws you under the bus”. He doesn’t want “…glory among his own kind, just for the bag of garbage”. He states: “I don’t really care about Kyiv and my relatives, when, really, the inhabitants of planet Mars should know about Semenko.” This is a very sincere work of his that was published in 1914.

As we see, Semenko officially demonstrates his alienation from his modern Ukrainian culture. Ironically though, his all artistic works are dedicated to it. He was shot in 1937 for being claimed as a Ukrainian nationalist. After the revolution, Semenko positions himself as a poet and literature movement representative. He also positions himself as a person of left political views, but not a communist. He looks at the leaders of the Communist Party with scepticism. He doesn’t consider them as leaders, not in the cultural branch, anyway. Since, according to Semenko, Marxism couldn’t cope with the ideas of literature, he introduces his idea of pan-futurism. He says it as a way out, out of the cultural deadlock. He consciously denies the attempts to restore old fashioned realism as a method to recreate a new form of society. Pan-futurism was a various and multi-dimensional theory. Pan-futurism is the theory that Semenko and his colleagues Slisarenko, Poltoratskyi, Leonid Skrypnyk were working on during the 1920s, but as a base of this theory was the notion of pan-avant-garde. In other words, pan-futurism of that time had no other choice but to take on from European and Soviet avant-garde movements. Also, we can say that futurists did both destructive and constructive decisions. They destroyed the whole notion and vision of the old artistic ways and discovered, and opened, and introduced new ones. We also need to remind ourselves that in the first half of the 1920s there were literature organizations such as “Pluh” (“Плуг”), and futurists tried to intervene and be in collaboration with village inhabitants and workers. For instance, they tried to bypass the general stereotype that futurists are a group of elite and intellectual people who don’t really care about the destiny of the general public. So there was a short period of time in the history of futurism when these organizations started to spread their avant-garde ideas among the general public and started to invite as many as possible people to their organizations. Due to a number of complicated external and internal reasons, futurism as an organized movement ceased to exist in 1925. During the next two years Semenko and his two friends Mykola Bazhan and Yurii Yanovskyi project their artistic minds towards the art of cinema, at that time the youngest and the most revolutionary oriented art form, as they thought at that time. They’re also friends with Olexander Dovzhenko. Semenko becomes the head of the scriptwriters’ department in the All-Ukrainian Photo-Cinema Administration in Odesa. In general, the contribution of futurists and those who were around them was very significant for Ukrainian cinema, especially as we take a look at the critics of the 1920s. Here we can mention Leonid Skrypnyk and his sequence of publishings about photo and cinema or, for example, Oleksiy Poltoratskyi, who published his book “Etudes on theory of cinema” in the 1930s. Also in this row are Dmytro Buzko, Mykhailo Bazhan, Favst Lopatynskyi, Geo Shkurupii. They all unravel different aspects of cinema in their works, and sometimes they directly took part in the movie-making process as scriptwriters.

In 1927 the political situation changes. At that time, Mykola Skrypnyk becomes the head of the Education Ministry, and he supports the free competitiveness of different art forms. Semenko at that time manages to reinvent his avant-garde movement. He launches and publishes his magazine “The New Generation”. It was without any doubt a high peak of Ukrainian futurism at that time. The magazine existed without any breaks for three years, and it encountered as many as 80 collaborators, but in fact, the real authors were certainly shorter amount. Among those authors were truly futurists, but also authors who were seeking a place to publish their literature experiments. The magazine covered the whole spectrum of avant-garde branches starting from paintings, theatre, cinema, architecture, and of course, obviously, literature. “The New Generation” informed regularly about the artistic events in Europe. It had its headlines and sub-headlines in English, French, German, and even Esperanto. From the moment Ukrainian futurism appeared in 1914, it went hand in hand with artists, and in the aspect of publishing books, they strived not just to surprise the reader with the text, but also to astonish him with the visual aspect of the books. During the first stage of that process Vasyl Semenko, the brother of Mykhailo Semenko, and Pavlo Kovzhun were helping in that particular aspect. Thr next personalities of this epoch were Nina Henke-Meller and her husband Vadym Meller who was particularly responsible for the design of the first publishings of “The New Generation” magazine. Later on that job, Anatoliy Petrytskyi came to substitute Vadym Meller, and also the photographer Dan Sotnyk came as well. “The New Generation” magazine till this day remains one of the most remarkable examples of a bold combination of content and visual arrangements.

The futuristic movement recognizes the Italian movement as a breaking point in the history of arts. Ukrainian futurists openly connected the origin of their formal activity with the Italian movement, steadily sticking to the name and definition of futurism. At the same time, the Ukrainian futuristic moment decisively separated themselves from the political and ideological side of their Italian colleagues. Still, Ukrainian futurists never consider themselves as a derivative movement, they viewed themselves as a history-oriented group that reacted accordingly not only to a rapidly changing art development process, but additionally to its own very specific social and cultural surroundings, in both of which they were obliged to fight inertia. They defended pan-avant-garde orientation and perceived new changes in Europe and the Soviet Union sensitively. Artistic movements as dada, expressionism and Soviet constructivism made a huge impact on Ukrainian futurism, which, although still made some forced references towards socially mandatory topics, always favored destruction as a precondition to a truly new phase of art. Thanks a lot for your attention!

Mr Ihor Oksametnyi: Thank you, Mr Ilnytskyi! You were referring to this particular quote about three camels. Georgiy Kovalenko, a famous art historian, wrote about the organic addition of futurism to the existing Ukrainian culture. For instance, here is a direct quote of his: “Futurism of Ukrainian culture oddly seemed very natural. It seems as if Ukrainian culture has been waiting for it and accepted it as something that goes in effortlessly.” Without saying, it is obvious that in the first case in 1922 Semenko is talking about the camels, he’s referring to the resistance of his peers and surroundings. I guess the similar process was in every country, and Kovalenko, in his turn, is mentioning the general need of culture in a new wave that he is reflecting on nowadays. Please share your personal opinion on the matter. Do you think futurism was an organic phenomenon for Ukrainian culture?

Professor Oleh Ilnytskyi: Hmm… Quite an interesting question. The first answer that came to my mind was, “No, I believe it is an exaggeration”. As we know from the texts of that period, that unacceptance of futurism by the general public was very strong; it was perceived as something foreign. Modernism and symbolism, those were the art branches that were organic for Ukraine of that period. Pavlo Tychyna and Olexander Oles, for example, were positively accepted by their peers, although Semenko and his supporters – not so much. So I believe that futurism was such a new phenomenon that it kind of shocked socially privileged intellectuals of the time. And the Ukrainian intellectual elites that were making art in the context of Ukrainian culture and during that period (we should not forget the history of Russian empire though: banning of anything Ukrainian, Russian chauvinism at the beginning of the twentieth century), in this context such statements of Semenko: “I am burning my “Kobzar””, “Shevchenko is under my feet”, those shocked the Ukrainian society of that time maybe even more than Italians could shock their surroundings when they declared that they would burn museums. So I would not say that the implementation of Ukrainian futurism was an organic process, however, it is clear that with time and effort futurists put in, a lot has changed. And I think even already starting from the second half of the twenties century, futurism became much more organic, but yet again, it took some effort of young Ukrainian intellectuals, representatives of avant-garde, to change people’s attitudes towards it in particular and towards the new art forms in general.

Mr Ihor Oksametnyi: Thank you, Mr Ilnytskyi. We are proceeding with our discussion, but I promise we will be back to the topic of Leonid Skrypnyk. Right now, I want to give the floor to Przemysław Strączek, who is the explorer of Polish and Italian futurism. And also, I wanted to state that we have enough information sources on the relationships between Ukrainian and Russian, Ukrainian and Italian futurism but, at the same time, we’re missing some important pieces of information on how these processes were unfolding in neighboring countries such as Poland, Czech Republic, and Austro-Hungarian empire. And with that particular context, I believe Mr Strączek will help us out. So, without further ado, let’s hear about the futurism movement history in Poland.

Dr. hab. Przemysław Strozek: Since Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published his Manifesto of Futurism in 1909 the very term ‘Futurism’ was initially known in Poland from translations of literary and artistic manifestos and a few poems, scattered throughout a variety of Polish cultural magazines and daily press. It was Ignacy Grabowski, who was among its first translators on the pages of the Warsaw cultural magazine Świat. What caught his attention and later the attention of some other Polish journalists was Marinetti’s scandalous advertising techniques and the fact that the term ‘Futurism’ was gaining enormous popularity in other European countries not only as Italian, but also an international modern art movement. The spreading use of this term in Poland with connection to early 1910s artistic experiments caused thus misunderstandings. This was most notably apparent in June 1913, when an exhibition entitled Futurists, Cubists and Expressionists opened in Lwów, but it only included works by Czech, Russian and German Expressionists. The critics, who reviewed the show, used these three modern art terms interchangeably, causing terminological confusion and thus reinforcing the notion of ‘Futurism’ as a term not strictly defined and attributed to artistic practice far beyond Marinetti’s group.

1914 saw in Poland more analytical articles on Italian Futurism to outline a more detailed definition of the Futurist movement. These included among others an essay by Maria Sławińska, who summarized Futurist concepts and ideas in painting, sculpture, theatre, music and literature. The reviewer underlined, that even if Italian Futurism was an eccentric movement, one can not dismiss its future importance for art. Her article appered in Kłosy Ukraińskie (1914-1917), an illustrated magazine published in Polish language in Kiev, which was edited by Jan Ursyn Zamarajew and wchich was focused on the Polish heritage and Polish contemporary culture in Ukraine. Iit is important to underline, that in 1915 Kłosy Ukraińskie published debut poems by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (1864-1980), a famous Polish poet born in Kalnik, who was aware of Futurist literature and even translated Giovanni Papini, a moderate poet from Marinetti’s group.
In the second half of the 1910s Iwaszkiewicz was a co-founder of the Skamander moderate literary group in Warsaw and later on will maintain in contact with Warsaw Futurists. While he never regarded himself a Futurist poet, and never praised this movement in his literary criticism, there was Julian Tuwim (1894-1953), another co-founder of Skamander, who was the first Polish author to characterize himself as “Futurist”: “I will be the first ever Futurist in Poland / Although this does not mean that I become a fool … And it does not mean that I will spit on the past…” he expressed in his early poem-manifesto, Poezja (Poetry), dated between 1914-1916 and published in his debut volume of poetry, Czyhanie na Boga (On the Look-Out for God). Tuwim was well familiar with the work of Italian Futurists and even in 1915 gave a lecture in Łódź on their artistic and literary objectives. It was entitled “Apostles of a Brutal Tomorrow” and opposed Marinetti’s views on how to achieve a renewal of poetry and art. He wanted to create his own variety of Futurism, largely derived from Walt Whitman, that would not stand in opposition to tradition but was firmly rooted in it. Even if later on he will translate Vladimir Mayakovsky’s volume Obłok w spodniach (A Cloud in Trouses) he rejected strict Futurist literary avant-garde and its poetic radicalism.

Despite his provocative call to be the first Polish Futurist Tuwim was never regarded as such. This pioneering role is credited to Jerzy Jankowski (1887-1941). Still in 1914 he published Futurist-like poems, including Spłon Lotnika (Pilot’s Ignition), which featured the heroic death of a pilot who transcends time and space by perishing with his burning aeroplane. Jankowski published his first Futurist poetry volume as Yeży Yankowsky Tram wpopszek ulicy (A Tram Akross the Street) by October 1919 in Wydawnictwo Futuryzm Polski (Polish Futurist Press).The bizzare spelling of his name and the title, which rejected ortographic rules, as well as innovative approach to typographic layout was adopted later by the Polish Futurist group, which will be formed the same year. Bruno Jasieński (1901-1939), the informal leader of the group, would call Jankowski “St John the Baptist of Polish Futurism” and “the first Polish Futurist in an Italian sense”. However, Jankowski was not able to join the newly formed group due to psychical illness.
First stage of Polish Futurism (1919 – June 1921).

While the infulences of Futurist aethetics in Poland are to be traced still before 1919 the very term Polish Futurists (Futuryści Polscy) is related to activity of a group of five poets: Bruno Jasieński, Tytus Czyżewski (1880-1945), Stanisław Młodożeniec (1895-1959) from Kraków, and Anatol Stern (1899-1968) with Aleksander Wat (1900-1967) from Warsaaw, who operated under this label between 1919 and 1923. They opted primarly for revolution in Polish literature and interconnected simultaneously with other artistic groups in Poland, such as the Formists (1917/1919-1922) and Zwrotnica (Railway Switch) circle lead by Tadeusz Peiper (1891-1969).
Czyżewski, who was almost twenty years older than his colleagues, and the only painter in the group, was also a leading member of the Formist group in Kraków. Polish Formists drew their inspirations in painting and sculpture from Polish folklore and the European avant-garde. They focused on the common factors that characterized Futurism, Cubism and Expressionism, namely a new approach to the questions of form, thereby subsuming all new art movements under the umbrella of a single term. Czyżewski’s ‘multiplanar pictures’ made of polychrome wood and cardboard resembled the assemblage-like works called complessi plastici (Plastic Aggregations) by the Italian Futurist Giacomo Balla, another Formist associate, Leon Chwistek explored by 1919-1920 notions of dynamism in his paintings called Szermierka (Fencing) and Salamandry (Salamanders), and sought to represent the vibrant life in the modern metropolis, as in Miasto fabryczne (Factory City).

Czyżewski and Chwistek, the most radical of the painterly group, established the magazine Formiści (The Formists, 1919–1921), which featured reproductions of works made by the members of the group, translations of avant-garde texts, including Italian and Russian Futurists and introduced the work of young Polish poets. From the second issue onwards (April 1920) Jasieński and Młodożeniec, who had just returned from Russia and were influenced by the Russian Futurist circles, began to cooperate with the magazine. They met Czyżewski already in 1919 and formed a Kraków-based Futurist club, Pod Katarynką (At the Hurdy-gurdy). To spread their conceptions of a new Polish Futurist poetry, they organized recitation evenings that recalled the Brodiachaia Sobaka (Stray Dog) cabaret in Russia and the Italian Futurist evenings (serate).

From 1919 onwards, the label ‘Futurism’ started to spread in literary circles of independent Poland. It was used not only in Kraków by Czyżewski, Jasieński, Młodożeniec, but also simultaneously in Warsaw by Stern and Wat. The latter two poets issued the first ‘poem-manifesto’ of Polish Futurists, a leaflet called Tak (Yes) dated around January 1919. A month later, Stern and Wat organized the first reading of their Futurist poetry entitled Wieczór podtropikalny urządzony przez białych Murzynów (Subtropical Evening Organized by White Negroes). By the end of 1919, they had issued their first Futurist poetry volumes and performed together at the newly established Futurist Club in Warsaw. The evenings at this venue were frequented by Jankowski, who lived in Warsaw that time.
In December 1920, Stern and Wat signed the manifesto Prymitywiści do nardów świata i do Polski (Primitivists to the Nations of the World and to Poland), which appeared in the volume Gga: Pierwszy polski almanach poezji futurystycznej (Gga: The First Polish Almanac of Futurist Poetry). Manifesto begun with a denunciation of all tradition and a direct call that civilization and culture should be dumped into a junkpile. Its nihilistic overtone had in fact more in common with Dada than with Futurism and was not received well in Kraków. Jasieński deemed it anachronistic and Czyżewski accused the two authors of plagiarizing the concepts of Italian Futurism. It is important therefore to underline that from the outset Futurists from Warsaw and Kraków did not formulate a single coherent style or aesthetic but instead drew inspiration from multifaceted avant-garde experiments. Jasieński and Młodożeniec, who lived in Moscow during the First World War, published their debut poetry volumes in 1921 and were exposed to Russian rather than Italian Futurism. Młodożeniec was simultaneously attached to Polish folklore, as was Czyżewski. But Czyżewski’s visual poems, such as Mechaniczny Ogród (Mechanical Garden, 1921) echoed also modern typographical experiments Guillaume Appolinaire’s calligrammes and Marinetti’s parole in liberta’. Some of Stern’s poetry works resembled Dadaist optophonetics, and Wat’s so-called namopaniks were aligned with the theory and practice of Velimir Khlebnikov’s zaum.

Despite obvious differences in their literary practice, both Kraków and Warsaw Futurists joined their forces in March 1921, when they started to perform together Futurist poetry evenings tour throughout Poland.The police and the audience often interrupted these legendary soirées. The most memorable and scandalous evening occurred in Zakopane in August 1921, when a member of moderate Skamander group, Jan Lechoń (1899–1956), demonstrated his contempt for Futurist poetry by slapping Stern in the face. The performance ended with fisticuffs, the throwing of eggs and stones, and more fighting in the street.
In June 1921, the first joint collection of manifestos of the group of five Polish Futurists, Jednodńuwka futurystuw (Leaflet of the Futurists), was released in Kraków. It contained four theoretical manifestos related to “immediate futurization of life”, Futurist poetry, art criticism and phonetic spelling. These were written by Jasieński, who became an unofficial leader of the group. The adoption of the label ‘Futurism’ forced Jasieński to clarify his attitude towards Marinetti’s movement. To avoid any charges of plagiarism, he decreed that ‘Futurism’ in Poland is a term that does not go hand-in-glove with the poetic revolution that had taken place in Italy after 1909:
“Cubism, Expressionism, Primitivism, Dadaism have outdone all other -isms (…) Instead of creating a new trademark, let us flag up the name of that group, who one and a half decades ago first issued the slogans of the battle we are now concluding, and once again, let’s call ourselves – Futurists. (…) We do not intend to repeat in 1921 what has already been done in 1908 (…) What in their [i.e. the Italian Futurists’] case was only a premonition, a rapid succession of new perspectives – must for us become a concerted, conscious and creative effort. (…) It is forbidden in 1921 for anyone to create and construct in a manner that has already been used before”.

Twenty-year-old Jasieński wanted to make Polish Futurism look like a more mature, a more eccentric, and a more creative literary movement than Italian Futurism had been. In 1921, twelve years after the publication of Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurism, the new Polish poetry had to adjust to the new avant-garde developments. However, despite such intentions, Jasieński’s new poetic and cultural programme could not escape Marinetti’s influence. The manifestos of Polish Futurists repeated many ideas originally proposed in Italy. When Marinetti in 1909 called for freeing Italy “from the endless number of museums that everywhere cover her like countless graveyards” and claimed that “a roaring motorcar is more beautiful than the Winged Victory of Samothrace”, Jasieński copied his postulates. He re-phrased them claiming that Poland “for too long has been a nation reminiscent of a museum of curiosities, producing nothing but mummies and relics” and claimed that “The telegraphic apparatus of Morse is a masterpiece a thousand times greater than Byron’s Don Juan” The stance against Italian Futurism will be later repeated in a second leaflet, called Nuż w bżuhu: 2 jednodńuwka futurystuw (A Nife in Stomak: Second Leaflet of the Futurists) signed on 13 November 1921, with a slogan “Marinetti is foreign to us”. But although the Polish Futurists intended to reject several of the aesthetic tenets and ideological principles of Italian Futurism, they nevertheless incorporated many of Marinetti’s key concepts in their own theoretical writings. As a result, Jasieński’s declarations against Italian Futurism were rather contradictory in nature.

Second stage of Polish Futurism (November 1921 – 1923/1924).

The 2nd Futurist Leaflet A Nife in Stomak was a huge poster-size provocative publication, shocking to bourgeois tastes and convention, as well as both to right-wing and leftist political groups in Poland. It was published simultaneously in Warsaw and Kraków and soon confiscated by the police. On the front page Polish Futurists announced: “democrats display banners with the words of our swiss friends: we want to piss in all colours”. In these two sentences they referred to the famous Dada evening of 14 July 1916, when Tzara called for urination in all colours. In one of the subsequent texts published in Nife in Stomak, the Polish Futurists clearly pointed to the supra-national accord of their own actions with those of Dadaist groups outside of Poland by stressing: “we shake hand with france and switzerland.” The call for international cooperation between avant-garde poets was made even more clear in a poem-manifesto by Stern, published in November 1921 and entitled Skaczące reflektory świata (Jumping reflectors of the world). The Polish Futurist wrote: “come come to me friend / and you cocteau and you mayakowsky / boccioni arp tzara / and you and they / futurists dadaists there is no difference / all / we need to strangle the citizen / today!”

Stern’s poem was published in the first issue of Nowa Sztuka (New Art, 1921-1922), a new literary and artistic journal he established in Warsaw as an overview of the literary international avant-garde. This strangling of the citizen which he was calling for referred to the battle with the Polish bourgeoisie as well as with the literary and artistic establishment, as in the turmoil stirred by the publication and confiscation of the second Futurist publications by the authorities. The names of Russian and Italian Futurists, as well as German, Swiss, and French Dadaists, were mentioned in his poem with a hope to establish a Futurist-Dadaist “International” against traditional literary establishment. Stern emphasized thus the lack of a difference between Futurism and Dadaism, since, as with both avant-garde movements, the aforementioned artists and the Polish Futurists, their primary goal was to create engaged art by challenging bourgeoise, traditionalists, critics, and the authorities. Although Nowa Sztuka did not support any particular political party, it alienated Polish right-wing groups who detected religious ‘blasphemy’ or an ‘off ence to the feeling of beauty’ in the work of the Polish Futurist poets. After one of the Futurist evenings Stern was even arrested because conservative critics detected an attack on the Virgin Mary in the poem ‘Uśmiech Primavery’ (The Smile of Primavera). Nowa Sztuka informed how Polish poets, including even those associated with moderate Skamander, were fighting for the right to an absolute artistic freedom. The magazine edited primarly by Stern become a perfect forum for Polish Futurists for their poetic experiments and calls for literary renewal in Poland.

When Nowa Sztuka ceased publication in 1922, Futurists and Formists contributed to the Kraków-based review Zwrotnica (Railway Switch, first series, 1922-1923), edited by Tadeusz Peiper. Zwrotnica resembled a synthesis of previous Polish avant-garde publications, such as Formiści and Nowa Sztuka, despite the fact that Peiper’s aesthetic ideals were closer to Purism and Constructivism than to Futurism. Similarities could be explained by the fact that Peiper knew that, without the support of Formists and Futurists, his attempts at launching a new artistic and literary movement in Poland would be destined to failure. Between 1922 and 1923 the Polish Futurists employed Zwrotnica as a medium for promoting their own agenda, which led many readers to see Peiper’s magazine as a magazine of Polish Futurism. In December 1922 Peiper and Jasieński organized a joint poetry evening in Lwów to promote Futurism. But soon, in October 1923, the sixth and final issue of the first series of Zwrotnica settled the matter: Jasieński and Czyżewski took stock of their Futurist activities and proclaimed the imminent death of Polish Futurism. Jasieński outlined the history of the movement till 1923 and simultaneously wrote memoirs from his Futurist period in Introduction to his novel Nogi Izoldy Morgan (The Legs of Isolde Morgan, 1923) published in Lwów.

The activity of the Polish Futurist group oficially ended by 1923. Jasieński, however, was still promoting Futurist literary experimentation. Now based in Lwów he organized joint events of “słowo-plastyka” (“word-plastics”) together with Helena Buczyńska and later on a Futurist evening Rumak Uśmiechnięty (A Smiling Steed) with Marian Hemar in 1924. As for his links with former Polish Futurists he still did not stop to collaborate with Stern. By 1924 they both contributed to a new avant-garde literary magazine F24 (1924-25) edited by Stefan Kordian Gacki in Warsaw, and contributed their poems to Nowa Kultura (New Culture, 1923-24), a political magazine edited by a member of Polish Communist Party, Jan Hempel. Their shift towards radical leftist politics started to be more and more evident when, Stern and Jasieński published a single issue of the magazine Awangarda (Avant-garde, 1924) and started to collaborate with a visual artist, Mieczysław Szczuka, on the socially engaged poetry volume Ziemia na Lewo (Earth to the Left, 1924). The cover designed by Szczuka was the first ever example in Poland of artistic photomontage in line with Constructivist aesthetics. It was by 1924, that Polish Constructivist group lead by Szczuka was established in Warsaw and opened a totally new chapter in Polish interwar avant-garde by the time Polish Futurism was no longer existent.

Mr Ihor Oksametnyi: Thank you, Mr Strączek. And before giving the floor to Andriy Boyarov, I would like to come back to some questions from the audience that are addressed to Mr Ilnytskyi. Let’s go with the first one. In your opinion, what impact had the futurism period on the course of nowadays art, and why is it important to realize it today? Mr Ilnytskyi, it seems your mic is off again.

Professor Oleh Ilnytskyi: Well, I think it is quite an interesting question. I believe that the most significant impact of Ukrainian futurism is formalistic. Idealistic moments that were dominant during that time are long gone, but the form and the accent on the experimental part, ability to be open to the new art forms in general – this is probably the biggest influence Ukrainian futurism had on nowadays. I think we can see it in the early ‘90s in Ukraine when “Bu-Ba-Bu” and other examples of young and fresh Ukrainian poetry appears. It is not accidental that they come back to Ukrainian futurism, they take over this formalistic literature experiments and, based on those, they go even further.

Mr Ihor Oksametnyi: Mr Ilnytskyi, another question to you from the audience. What do you think, helped Ukrainian futurism to become unique and original?

Professor Oleh Ilnytskyi: I believe, it’s Ukraine itself, the society of that time.
I also want to underline the fact that, even though Ukrainian futurism was very open to the world in general and to the West culture in particular, it still was based on what was happening in Ukraine at that time. Semenko, for instance, was very conscious about his surroundings and culture, and these surroundings affected a lot the process of development of Ukrainian futurism. It is rather obvious in the political aspect, for example. The policies of the Soviet Union and Communist Party influenced it a lot. Let’s take a look at the debate between futurists and Mykola Khvylovyi, or literature organization VAPLITE. So the surroundings played a huge part and formed and changed Ukrainian futurism.

Mr Ihor Oksametnyi: Thank you, Mr. Ilnytskyi. And we also have received two questions to Mr Strączek, both of them, of course, concerned the Polish movement, and the first one is, what Polish futuristic painters do you consider to be the most interesting?
Thank you, Mr Strączek! Just a second, I will check for some more questions. For now, it seems that no new questions have appeared. So I am giving the floor to Andriy Boyarov, and we will be delighted to hear his opinion on Ukrainian futurism and avant-garde in general in the context of the political process. To my mind, it is pointless to discuss art omitting its existence in the particular historical and political setting, and Andriy has his point of view particularly connected to the state formation. “Avant-Garde and the Process of Creation of Ukrainian State”, that would be the name of your report. Andriy, please.

Andriy Boyarov: Thank you and Victoria for inviting me, thank you for organizing this panel, and I separately thank a lot to Mr Ilnytskyi and Mr Strączek not only for being here today, but my interest, to be honest, in this topic is very much inspired by their works, publications, and our meetings. Unlike them, I’m not a historian of arts or literature, I am an artist myself, but during the last years, I have also worked as an art supervisor, and both Mr Ilnytskyi and Mr Strączek have a huge influence on me. Also, it would be much easier for me to talk after their presentations. Since some topics have already been mentioned, I will try to explore those a bit deeper and from other perspectives. So, I am joining you today from Lviv. And during the historical period in-between the two World Wars, Lviv was at the intersection of Polish and Ukrainian modernism, or even, I should say, avant-garde, it was in-between the mutual impact of these two movements, so I would call it an ideal balance. On one hand, we can’t say that Lviv is a city of avant-garde or futurism, but at the same time events, that took place here were so climatic that no other part of the region can compete. I don’t know any other city where the already mentioned by Mr Strączek exhibition could take place in 1913. Starting from the 1920s Pavlo Kovzhun has been a resident of the city, Bruno Jasieński, which Przemysław has already mentioned as well, also was active here. Leon Chwistek appeared after the 1930s, and the list goes on. And of course, we can’t forget the visit of Marinetti himself. All these events are very important, but as I already stated, they are at the intersection of Polish and Ukrainian movements, or I would even say, in our mutual field.

But also the previous question I find interesting, the first question addressed to Przemek about the short existence of Polish futurism. It subtly introduces the topic that I want to touch – how this social commitment continued Ukrainian futurism since the political situation in Poland was quite different than in Ukraine. Artists in Poland could realize their social engagement both on a social and governmental level through their art. It spread not only futurism, but the artists from other branches also borrowed some ideas and strategies from avant-garde and futurism, and this, in my opinion, is the most important difference between Poland and Ukraine of that time period. That’s why I wanted to state that maybe the facts and thoughts are similar in my research, Mr Ilnytskyi’s research and Mr Strączek’s, but I approach those from a slightly another perspective. As we know, the beginning of the avant-garde movement started in 1910 and evolved through the ‘20s and ‘30s of the 20th century. It was a non-governmental issue consciously. In the 1930s, however, everyone concentrated on their separate countries and the problems of those countries. The biggest Ukrainian problem at that time probably was that independence lasted too short here. But while these art movements were created in the 1920s and 1930s, different concepts of governmental state appeared, starting from nationalistic ideas to the proletarian government state, even to the extent of anarchism ideas. Mykhailo Semenko, to my mind, is more a performer and activist than a writer. I called him the Front Man of futurism. Probably, he combined all of those elements in himself: he was anarchist in the beginning, then a nationalist, and also proletarian later. As we know, the first group appeared with his brother Vasyl and Pavlo Kovzhun in 1913. This group he calls “Quaero” (“Кверо”). First, their manifest was published in 1914. We need to remind ourselves that they were using the Latin alphabet in their texts. Because of that, they wanted to spread more widely in the world, but at the same time, it was their offer to the government. Later, in 1926, there was a suggestion to implement the Latin alphabet at the governmental levels. As you remember, only thanks to a small number of votes, that was missing to create a majority, in Kharkiv this idea didn’t reach its goal. This was one of the first and the most fundamental influences of futurists in general and Semenko in particular.

And as Mr Ilnytskyi has already stated, Ukrainian futurists separated themselves constantly from Italian and Soviet futurists. At the same time, Semenko stated that “…art cannot belong to Ukraine or to any other nation; if it does belong to any nation, it shows how primitive it is”. But at the same time, as we know, he practiced and contributed only to the Ukrainian culture and arts. But to quote Semenko one more time, he stated: “Let the previous generation of our parents (who didn’t give us anything at all), enjoy and indulge our “national” art and go to grave hand-in-hand with it. We, the youth, will not give them a hand of help; we’re chasing modern day”. This also was the reason why Semenko separated from Ukrainian modernists. His biggest achievement is considered to be that he threw Shevchenko from his pedestal, and he already did that in his first collection of poems called “Daring”. “I can not glorify Shevchenko when I see that he’s under my feet. I am burning the Kobzar book”. His activity was noticed not only in publishing, but he also contributed to the visual aspects of arts during that time. Already in his first collection of publishing he uses a visual poetical approach. As for me, it is as if he’s using posters for his poems. As for me, this poetical visual approach is similar to the concept of Karel Teige and the group “Nine Forces”. They had so-called “Manifest of Poetics”, and about that Karl Srpcan probably tell about that better in his texts. First and foremost, they also were working on the text experiments in their group. Another famous piece of futuristic art was the manifest of Bruno Jasieński about political spelling. And Polish manifest also uses that political spelling. And also, I wanted to state that these similarities that we can observe in-between Polish and Ukrainian movements probably come at the beginning from the roots of Italian futurism. Quaero-futurists at the stage of anarchy had a huge plan of activities ahead of them – futuristic drama, futuristic music, futuristic visual approaches, and the philosophy of Quaero-futurism, – but unfortunately the first World War stopped all of those anarchists’ endeavors. Everyone was enlisted in the army, and as we know, Vasyl Semenko died in this World War. Michaylo was serving in the Far East, and Pavlo Kovzhun was serving in the Carpathians, which later became the reason why he lived in Lviv. But this time was a turning point in Ukrainian modernism and led to the next phase. As Semenko stated later in the magazine “Semaphore of the Future” (“Semafor u majbutne”): “We have chased the day of today”. He believed they caught up themselves with modern time.

After the war, Semenko came back to his village in the Poltava region, that was at the end of 1917. At the same time, on November 7th in Kyiv, the Ukrainian People’s Republic was declared. Already on December 22nd happened the inauguration of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts together with the opening of exhibitions of its professors. It is hard to call the professors of this academy futuristic or avant-garde artists, but the strategies they used resembled the avant-garde ones. Among those professors were Anatoliy Boichuk, Vasyl Krychevskyi, Fedir Krychevskyi, Mykhailo Zhuk, Olexander Murashko, Georgiy Narbut, Abram Manevych. This engagement in social-governmental issues and events gives them the status of avant-garde artists since we see how much engaged they were. The creation of the Academy of Arts itself was connected with the competition for independence and was very important at that time. The committee that created this Academy was supported by the Central Council of Ukraine, the main governmental body of that time. And the future president of that time Mykhailo Hrushevskyi was supervising it all the way. Both his wife and his brother were in the operating group. The compound and regulations of the Academy were declared by the Central Council of Ukraine. Let’s remind ourselves that Academy was located in the same building as the Central Council, which I found very symbolic. Academy was composed out of five branches: painting, sculpture, architecture, graphics, and artistic craft. Already in 1918 Krychevskyi designed small and big coats of arms, small and big governmental stamps, vignette of documents and governmental credit papers. All in all 20 artists were engaged in a so-called governmental expedition of Ukrainian documents. Those were Boichuk, his wife, Olexandr Bohomazov, Narbut, brothers Krychevski – all of them created a new identity of the Ukrainian state at that time. But they didn’t just stop on the visual part, they dig deeper to create the whole style, ruling, and communication with the people of the Ukrainian state. So, esthetic questions gradually turned into ethical questions. This work covered all the branches of social and governmental structures, starting from state symbols, proceeding with the design of uniforms, trademarks, new fonts of the books and publishings, design of playing cards, and even kids toys.

Narbut probably started all of this earlier than everyone else, he started in 1917. When he came to St Petersburg after Munich, he started designing new Ukrainian fonts and alphabet together with ABC books. And later, at the opening of the academy exhibition, his fonts were a sensation. All this enthusiastic story doesn’t last long, since in the 1920s it is the last time when Ukrainian army with its Polish departments comes to Kyiv for the last time. And later, next two years, Academy acts independently. In 1922 National Guard gradually turns into an art institute. But we need to state that at this time Murashko was already killed, Narbut was poisoned, Manevych moved to Warsaw and later to New York. But at the same time in 1922 appears the new group of professors of the avant-garde such as Vadym Meller, Bohomazov, and at the end of the 1920s Tatlin and Malevych. Semenko, whom we left aside for a bit, comes back to Kyiv in 1918, at the same time of hetman Skoropadskyi’s rule. He holds himself in opposition to the artistic society of the capital city. He has his openly declared position against modernists who stayed at the key governmental positions, but in 1919 he organizes the new group called “Flamingo” and starts to cooperate with Georgiy Narbut. When Semenko becomes the director of the magazine “Art”, Narbut is the one who designs covers and visual design. In 1926 Semenko works with Vasyl Krychevskyi on the shooting of the movie “Shevchenko”, even though we remember his attitude towards Shevchenko. Magazine “Art” for a certain amount of time continues the policy of Ukrainization, but probably at that time when futurism just ended in Poland, the most productive period starts in Ukraine, when pan-futurism appears.

Pan-futurism is the branch of futurism the main goal of which was to unite all the other branches, and here I will quote Semenko: “I see futurism as a form of destruction of everything that it sees on its way, before the previous art as we know it ceases to exist”. Here futurists hold their grounds to try to realize their dreams in the state that is going to the future. And during that time, during the second half of the 1920s, Semenko organizes the publishings of his magazine “The New Generation”. He immerses himself fully in the building of the new Soviet Ukraine. They discussed new possibilities and social projects, new forms in cinema, theater, and photography, and also they possessed wide international connections. Although it lasted shortly, from 1927 to 1930, I believe the import of the development of avant-garde is underestimated. We cannot forget Semenko’s friend Pavlo Kovzhun who started living in Lviv, and there he played a principal role in that surrounding. It is hard to call him an avant-garde artist, but he had a trait that to my mind is typical for all futurists in general – he was hyperactive, just like Marinetti and Semenko, and Bruno Jasieński. The amount of things he managed to achieve in Lviv is unbelievable, one of which was creating a Ukrainian organization “ANUM” (“АНУМ”) the main goal of which was to see Ukrainian artists all together as a whole, doesn’t matter where they come from – Soviet Ukraine, Western Ukraine, Poland, Paris, Berlin. He and his colleagues perceived Ukraine as one country and saw a powerful wholesome together-united government. And of course, as we know, the end of “The New Generation” was the fall of the Ukrainian avant-garde movement and physical end of all the participants who didn’t have time to move from Lviv, or even those who moved, for instance, brothers Krychevski, died in Kharkiv instead. So in that, I see a huge difference between Ukraine and Poland – in horrible repressions that cut it all down right at the very dawn of the 1930s. In short, that’s what I wanted to describe, the vision of those artists at that time.

Mr Ihor Oksametnyi: Thank you, Andriy, and right away we have a question for you from the audience. Can you please tell if any of the political forces used futurists in their manipulations? Were futurists apolitical or involved in some political forces?

Andriy Boyarov: There’s no way that there is no connection with politics. There is a whole separate article about the visit of Marinetti to Lviv, how it was perceived then. And he was a part of a fascist government, after all. The majority of Polish futurists ignored his arrival or criticized it. Let’s remember that Ukrainian newspapers criticized his ideas and found them not appropriate. Of course, Soviet Ukraine used futurists, but I believe it was a mutual process since futurists also found their way to realize themselves.
If we talk about Leon Chwistek, who switched to the Marxist views in the 1930s, and it was a complicated situation at that time, the conflict between Ukrainian and Polish right movements, there was ghetto and killings. Chwistek was against, but he alone could not make a huge difference.

Mr Ihor Oksametnyi: Andriy, one more question. How Ukraine would look like today, according to futuristic visions?

Andriy Boyarov: I would remember here not futurists themselves but the heritage of the Ukrainian National Republic, which to my mind was too short. I think this project was so interesting, just the fact that on the money bills of that time we can see Polish, Yiddish, Ukrainian, Russian languages, and that already says a lot to us. It’s not just the visual aspect, it has a social subtext. That bill shows the idea of a state. Even the Academy was a phenomenon as well. I wouldn’t call it Kyiv Bauhaus, but the ideas were similar. Social influence was huge as well, and I’m deeply sorry that we didn’t continue that culture.

Mr Ihor Oksametnyi: One more question, Andriy. To you as an artist, what is more important – construction or destruction?

Andriy Boyarov: I believe they are mutually connected, one goes before the other. First, you need to have construction to destroy. Semenko is an important part of it all, and I believe there is not enough of avant-garde influence on Ukraine. For instance, we can call Malevich ours since there was simply not enough time to adopt his ideas. What to do with it? I have no idea.

Mr Ihor Oksametnyi: Thank you, Andriy! Unfortunately, the time of our discussion runs out. I also wanted to announce that we meet here tomorrow at 5:00 PM by Kyiv time. Our participants will be Hanna Veselovska, PhD in the History of Arts, professor of Ukrainian Art Institute, author of the book “Ukrainian theater avant-garde”; Peter Ripson, professor of Polish-Japanese Academy of Computer Science, supervisor of Jewish Institute of History; and Yaryna Tsymbal, candidate of literature sciences and historian, author of the project “Our 20’s Movement”. And we will talk tomorrow about separate aspects and names of Ukrainian futurism. Thank you again very much for your attention, and I remind you that our project is sponsored by Ukrainian Cultural Fund, and our exhibition runs until January 29th of 2022. Thanks again, and see you tomorrow at 5:00 PM by Kyiv time.

The two-day roundtable took place within the framework of the Futuromarennia exhibition with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation.