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  • From Moscow to SimferopolHow the Russian Cubo-Futurists Accessed the Provinces
  • Ryan Tvedt (bio)

With their famous 1912 manifesto, "A Slap in the Face of Public Taste," the Russian cubo-futurists challenged what they derisively called the "common sense" and "good taste" of their audience. No more would they politely defer to the classics; even names such as Pushkin and Tolstoy felt suffocating, and the time had come to throw these writers "overboard" from what they called the "ship of modernity."1 The following year, two signatories to this document made an ad hoc journey into the provinces, advocating for the principles laid out in their manifesto, in what became known as the futurist tour. For the next three months, leading artists of the cubo-futurist movement traveled provincial cities espousing their radically anti-bourgeois avant-garde aesthetic to audiences far removed from the cosmopolitan urban centers that had helped incubate their philosophical program. Their rejection of Russia's most distinguished artists and writers, often through insult and mockery, ensured that the group would meet with resistance.

Already accustomed to provoking backlash from audiences and city authorities alike in Moscow, the futurists would also antagonize provincial authorities and audiences in Imperial Russia who, at times, refused the group access to performance venues or reacted negatively to their provocations.2 In spite of this, Vladimir Mayakovsky and his cubo-futurist colleagues, representing changes in art and industry taking place in the cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, managеd to overcome both wary local authorities and audience resistance to the avant-garde, gaining access to theatres and lecture halls, generating [End Page 49] extensive press coverage, and engaging closely with audiences all along their 1913–1914 tour.3 The extent of the newspaper coverage conferred on the futurists a sense of legitimacy, while their close, if tense, relationship with local police and city officials amounted to tacit sanction of their project.

The cubo-futurist tour succeeded, against long odds, in gaining access to Russian provincial cities and their performance spaces even as its members carried out an avant-garde program of artistic rebellion that targeted the cultural tastes of the middlebrow public. Their association with the art and literary movements taking place in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, two cities that have traditionally dominated Russian cultural life, helped them overcome the negative consequences of their provocative and shocking tour. Audiences in the provinces associated Moscow and Saint Petersburg with the fascinating but as yet still poorly understood trend of futurity. Industrialization, mechanization, and cultural experimentation percolated in the two cultural capitals, and its artists and poets who traveled into the provinces came to personify the intriguing effects of these changes. The move from center to periphery, then, brought with it expectations of representing the latest technological and artistic developments in these two cities and enabled the futurists to overcome the disadvantages implicit in their challenge to the artistic standards established by their predecessors in the realms of literature, painting, and performance.

The traveling group that set off from Moscow in 1913 included the poet and playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky, tour organizer and painter David Burliuk, and Vasily Kamensky, one of Russia's first professional pilots. While still a boy, Mayakovsky moved to Moscow with his family after the premature death of his father. He spent a year or two on the streets handing out socialist leaflets before enrolling in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.4 His political leanings occasionally landed him in prison, where he nevertheless continued to write poetry. Mayakovsky joined the art group Hylaea in time for the group's release of the aforementioned manifesto "A Slap in the Face of Public Taste." David Burliuk, a poet and painter often credited with organizing the tour, was born in Kharkov and grew up on a large estate his father managed in southern Ukraine. The early futurist movement benefited from his ability to identify and bring people together from different spheres, including painting, poetry, and theatre. He and his brothers, Vladimir and Nikolai, at least initially, comprised the main part of Hylaea, which morphed into cubo-futurism. Kamensky, the third main member of the tour, had worked as a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-9953
Print ISSN
0733-2033
Pages
pp. 49-68
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-07
Open Access
No
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