Why write and make films about the Russian avant-garde. Basically I was inspired by the artists of the avant-garde. David Burliuk, the father of Russian futurism, for example inspired a film and whole new journey both physically and inwardly.The film David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde took us to an unknown island in the Pacific Ocean, opened up new intellectual, cultural, visual and even spiritual frontiers. It led to the writing of the book ‘Journey to Ogasawara”.
The book follows Burliuk’s tradition as well as other artists who have visited the island of recording their impressions either in painting or in text. Why is travel so important and what does it mean. A simple answer was given by Rodchenko who used to travel around Moscow photographing all that was new in the fast changing world of Post revolutionary Moscow. He said “Moscow for me is not a place to live it is a territory for study”. I often come back to this quote and have used it elsewhere. The same could be said not just of Moscow but the world itself. However getting back to Moscow, it was not that the revolution which caused change but that society had changed completely. These new artists represented and embraced the new world of machines and speed and called themselves futurists. They are recognisable to us to this day and their contemporariness is our contemporariness.
It is difficult for us to imaging these changes now and what a dividing line existed between the old world and the new modern world with all its physical and social changes which are now so familiar to us. There is one photograph which always strikes me with Mayakovsky,Shklovsky,Lily Brik and Stepanova (the photograph is taken by Rodchenko I think) sitting at a table during the day in an apartment with a bottle of wine in the middle of the table. The look is so modern, so contemporary and recognisable to us to this day that we can almost imagine sitting at the table with them discussing and chatting about the things that are going on in our surrounding world They are more like us in the way they dress, the way they carry themselves in the world than their and in some ways our immediate predecessors. I could imagine myself asking them questions, conversing with them and sharing my own concerns. In some way we can relate to them in a way that we cannot relate to the previous generation before say 1900 or even 1910. By the 1920s the world had changed irrevocably. Horse drawn carriages were gone, replaced by cars and motorised vehicles. Electric lights dominated the urban environment and the humming wires of the telegraph was replaced by the ubiquitous telephone. everywhere was speed and a deafening noise.
In the film “Stanislavsky and the Russian Theatre” this was my starting point, the dividing line between two epochs and this approach was confirmed by my reading of Stanislavsky’s biographical work “My Life in Art” The first lines of the first paragraph state this dilemma and phenomena where Stanislavsky says ‘I was born at the juncture of two epochs. It personified his dilemma for creating a new theatre and my own in making a film about that dilemma. With the futurists I could easily imagine myself sitting in a cafe somewhere in Moscow talking about art and culture or joking over a cup of coffee because they are people from my epoch an egalitarian more or less democratic (with a small d) world. This would not be possible with Stanislavsky who was from a world of patrician deference of hierarchies and due respect.
The futurists like Burliuk, Mayakovsky and Khlebnikov wanted to do away with this world and create a world of new human beings and new social relations and new relationship to the physical material environment. Human beings would no longer be such autonomous individual entities but would be in tune to the rhythm of a man made manufactured world, where the human being is tuned to the movement of machines, factories and the urban requirements of cities and towns.
In some ways I share their world, the world of the Russian avant-garde. In some sense I have to in order to begin to understand what they did how they felt what they aspired to and what inspired them.by