Conference to celebrate Futurism centennial

“We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap,” proclaimed Filippo Marinetti in his groundbreaking 1909 Futurist Manifesto.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the manifesto’s publication, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the departments of Italian and Slavic Languages and Literatures, and the Film Studies Program are organizing a conference this weekend titled “Futurismo/Futurizm: The Futurist Avant-Garde in Italy and Russia.” The conference will highlight futurism’s widespread influence in literature, cultural politics, the visual arts and performance art in Italy and Russia during the time of its inception and development, as well as recognize the continued role futurism plays in shaping modern perceptions.

Futurism — an international artistic, political, and social movement launched in Italy by the publication Marinetti’s manifesto — broke radically from the past and highlighted the role of technology and war in its definition of the modern spirit, said Millicent Marcus, chairwoman of the Italian Department. Scholars consider Marinetti’s manifesto the foundational text of 20th century avant-garde literature.

“Futurism defined what the modern moment is in a very extreme, provocative way, and in many regards, futurism is the basis for our own sense of the contemporary moment,” she said. “Marinetti defined it as a moment of violent rupture with the past and a rushing into the future. The past was disparaged — something absolutely to be despised.”

In advocating violent separation with the previous century, futurism viewed war as a purging element that cleaned up the debris of the past, Marcus said. She added that futurism’s emphasis on force, energy and rapid movement into the future serves as a model for other avant-garde movements of the 20th century.

Futurism has also helped shape our current conception of the modern world, said Brian Kane, an assistant professor of music theory whose seminar “Noise” dedicates one session to “Futurism. The Art of Noise. Dada.”

The exaltation of machines and technology was a core component of the futurist movement. Marinetti said in his manifesto that the automobile is more beautiful than the “Winged Victory of Samothrace” sculpture at the Louvrein Paris.

This devotion to the power and products of industrialization remains an ideological component of the current era, Kane said.

“In modern society, we fetishize technology and the machine aesthetic,” he said. “Everything is about speed and power.”

Futurist artists, such as Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni and Kazimir Malevich, sought to visually represent their response to modernity. Breaking from the past in both subject matter and style, their work represented a world in constant movement, characterized by the decomposition of motion into successive sequences, the use of bright colors and pronounced angularity.

“Their art emphasizes time, motion and the destructuring of the static field,” said Jennifer Gross, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Yale University Art Gallery. “[Futurist artists] were valued for their exuberance, impulsive spirit in response to the world and their passion — all in stark contrast to the art of the 19th century.”

But futurism was not solely an artistic movement. Marcus said it pervaded many aspects of life — poetry, advertising, theater, cinema, cooking — and called it “a vast, multifaceted and very complex movement.”

An exhibition of futurist paintings, sketches and prints will be on display at the Beinecke library until Dec. 19.

Cyndi Chen contributed reporting.

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