Copernicus Films – Tokyo Filming


Several days of filming around Tokyo. Mostly general stuff but at the same time bearing in mind the archive footage I already have and how the archive footage might be integrated with contemporary scenes of Tokyo. This will hold true for the traditional film and the contemporary film both of which will make up the project. Filming and writing almost simultaneously which is a very new sensation. I have already done a considerable amount of research leading up to this trip but there is nothing like being in the field so to speak and seeing how things actually are on the ground and in reality. Have been spending time with Akira Suzuki who gave me a copy of his new translation of David Burliuk’s book about Siberia. Its about the fifth or sixth book he has translated of Burliuk’s work – its just a shame that I don’t read Japanese. Information about Akira Suzuki can be found on my web site as well as an interview with him in my “David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde” the fifth in the series “The Russian Avant-garde – Renaissance or Revolution”.
At the moment its the cherry blossom festival in Japan so I feel a bit dominated by it but at the same time I am looking at other things which are going on around Tokyo. In some sense I am still finding my feet and trying to get into some kind of rhythm. Kyoto was much easier because we had a short space of time in which to fit everything in and so we were quite focused. Here in Tokyo things are a little bit more open ended and so it requires more discipline. Some of the evening material looks interesting although I haven’t had a chance to look at it all.

Japan – Kyoto Filming

Arrived in Kyoto several days ago and have been working since our arrival. Shot a lot of footage already. 1000 tori gates of happiness, Arashiyama and a boat ride through mountain “rapids” down to Arashiyama, one of my favourite places in Kyoto. Some new footage but mostly picking up what I missed before and what has occurred to me after editing. One of the main advantages of our return is filling the gaps in my knowledge which I hope will make the script fuller and deeper.


These two films will be a completely new departure for Copernicus Films after recently completing the series “The Russian Avant-garde – Revolution or Renaissance”
However its fair to say that the two planned films are an offshot of the experience of the film David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde

We have now returned to Tokyo after a week in Kyoto. Plenty of new material already which will work well in both films, although this is really only the start. I was particularly pleased with the Heian Shrine material of which I really didn’t have enough of. Taking a breather for a day while we settle into Tokyo. Apartment is quite good and we feel pretty comfortable with it – central and in the same area we lived in before so we know where everything is located. We will spend the next day or so relaxing, seeing friends and planning the next few weeks. Natasha has some things he needs to do as part of her own programme. We have a pretty good idea of what we want to do and what I want but it requires working out the finer details. Still trying to get into some kind of rhythm but that is just a question of time. Natasha as always giving full support and keeping a full photographic record of everything as well as getting on with her own business. This evening we will meet with Akira Suzuki who I interviewed for the David Burliuk film.

Rodchenko and Popova at the Tate Modern

The Tate Modern is to host an exhibition of the graphic work of Alexander Rodchenko and Lubova Popova – “Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism” opening on 12th February 2009. 

 As part of the exhibition the DVD film “Alexander Rodchenko and the Russian Avant-garde” will be on sale in the gallery bookshop throughout the course of the exhibition where it can be purchased along side other films in the series “The Russian Avant-garde – Revolution or Renaissance” by Copernicus Films and directed by Michael Craig, (click on various links for more information) and include the titles “Meyerhold Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde”, “Mayakovsky” and “Architecture and the Russian Avant-garde”.

Rodchenko and Popova’s designs revolutionised the way art was conceived in its relation to advertising and society. Popova was active in the world of graphics but also spent a considerable amount of energy designing sets for the theatre. She designed a set for Meyerhold’s production of The Magnainimous Cuckold. The construction was a complete break from traditional concepts of theatre design and began a trend in constructivist set design in the Moscow theatre in the mid to late 1920s. 

Popova’s design of spinning wheels and raised platforms against a plain backdrop (see banner above) was the perfect way of fulfilling Meyerhold’s intention of combining the three dimensionality of the actors body and the two dimensionality of the stage design.
 The whole production showpieced Meyerhold’s new acting and performance techniques called biomechanics based on movement and dance. Popova’s work with Meyerhold is featured in the film “Meyerhold,Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde” which was filmed in Moscow and uses actors. The goal of the film was to understand the meaning of biomechanics as well as using archive footage and graphics to explore Meyerhold’s development as a director.

David Burliuk and Gauguin in Film

In 2008 Bob Duggen reviewed the film “David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde on artblogbybob. His comments about the section which referred to Gauguin in the film led to a reassessment of the way the whole series of documentary films called The Russian Avant-garde – Revolution or Renaissance. was constituted, of which “David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde” is a part and was produced by Michael Craig and  Copernicus Films in 2007. On his site, as well as commenting on the quality of the photography in the film, Duggen explained that he was especially interested in the part of the film about David Burliuk and his trip to Ogasawara, a small Japanese island in the Pacific ocean about a thousand kilometres south of Tokyo.   David Burliuk admired and drew inspiration from Gauguin. In 1920, after several successful exhibitions in Japan, Burliuk traveled to the Ogasawara islands  to recuperate after his gruelling journey through Siberia  and paint in the manner of Gauguin who also traveled to the island of Tahiti in the early 1890s in order to develop what he believed would be a new art for a new era. Gauguin was himself also strongly influenced by Japanese art and this overlapping of interest in the film was of particular interest to Duggen.

When this section was included in the film, not only did it have implications for the structure of the film, in so far that Burliuk was interested in Gauguin and wanted to emulate Gauguin, it also had implications for the entire series. Gauguin was a precursor of the Russian Avant-garde and strongly influenced this unique artistic event in the history of world art. In this sense the episode devoted to Gauguin did not simply draw together strands of the Burliuk film but also drew the strands of the entire series together, connecting the sometimes disparate and amorphous phenomena which is known as the Russian Avant-garde. The Russian avant-garde incorporates movements from  neo-primitivism, rayonism,constructivism and lasted roughly through a period from the 1880s until the early 1930s. This section of the film about Burliuk, gave the series a prisim though which all the various themes of the series could be viewed even if the structure is somewhat imposed on the material. Self evidently any structure which is applied to the history of the Russian avant-garde is not a true reflection of its development but merely a method of organising material into a coherent and accessible form for digestion by the public or viewer. The most important thing while preparing such a film is to be aware of this framework as something which is imposed and try not allow it to dominate an understanding of the material. In this way the viewer can reach their own conclusions or can be stimulated to discover the subject further for themselves. An example of the problems which arise for instance is associated  with the whole project of presenting  artists as if they were individuals working in isolation of the world around them. I will try to explain this in more detail.

In the west we privilege the individual over and above the collective and this is a result of our liberal humanist tradition derived form Christian-Judaeo concepts of the individuals place and role in the world. The development and progress of western culture is presented  as a parade of past individual geniuses who serve as pillars or supports upon which society rests and in the present a further group of lone  geniuses which will propel it into the future. For many Russian avant-garde artists and writers this obsession (or what they considered an obsession) with individual genius was in their eyes an obstacle to artistic progress and a false assessment of the contribution by artists to the overall development of society. As Alexander Rodchenko commented in the 1920s that in the modern era, in the age of the machine and industrialisation …”there will never be a unique airplane or car” ..therefore  …”we need artist workers, not geniuses”. This belief was further underlined by Osip Brik, the futurist thinker who announced in a clear attack on the notion of authorship and its connotations of genius, that if Pushkin had not written Eugene Onegin somebody else would have sooner or later. This brings me back to the documentary arts series: The Russian Avant-garde – Revolution or Renaissance. Nearly all the films where about individuals “Rodchenko and The Russian Avant-garde”, “Meyerhold, Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde”, “Kandinsky and the Russian House”, “Mayakovsky” and of course “David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde”. Only one film in the series “Architecture and the Russian Avant-garde” has a more general thematic structure, however even in this film I concentrated on three main figures – Malevich, Tatlin and Constantine Melnikov. It was very difficult to wriggle out of such a thematic straight jacket but nonetheless in each film a concerted attempt was made to relate the individual accomplishments of each artist to the wider concerns of the period and not portray them as lone geniuses working in isolation of each other but part of an artistic movement which had deep roots  in the social and political events of the early part of the 20th century. Artists like Gauguin, Kandinsky, Burliuk and Rodchenko were grappling with some of the same artistic problems of their age, albeit exploring different solutions depending on the context in which they found themselves.  The film  “David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde”, with its reference to Gauguin’s influence on the work of the Russian avant-garde artists of the era, presented an opportunity to draw together many of the threads which constituted this artistic epoch without forcing a preordained framework on the series. Instead the viewer could make up their own mind as to how the phenomena of the Russian avant-garde developed and influenced art in Russia before and after the revolution.

David Burliuk and Gauguin in Film

In 2008 Bob Duggan reviewed the film “David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde on artblogbybob. His comments about the section which referred to Gauguin in the film led to a reassessment of the way the whole series of documentary films called The Russian Avant-garde – Revolution or Renaissance. was constituted, of which “David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde” is a part and was produced by Michael Craig and Copernicus Films in 2007. On his site, as well as commenting on the quality of the photography in the film, Duggan explained that he was especially interested in the part of the film about David Burliuk and his trip to Ogasawara, a small Japanese island in the Pacific ocean about a thousand kilometres south of Tokyo. David Burliuk admired and drew inspiration from Gauguin. In 1920, after several successful exhibitions in Japan, Burliuk traveled to the Ogasawara islands to recuperate after his gruelling journey through Siberia and paint in the manner of Gauguin who also traveled to the island of Tahiti in the early 1890s in order to develop what he believed would be a new art for a new era. Gauguin was himself also strongly influenced by Japanese art and this overlapping of interest in the film was of particular interest to Duggan.

When this section was included in the film, not only did it have implications for the structure of the film, in so far that Burliuk was interested in Gauguin and wanted to emulate Gauguin, it also had implications for the entire series. Gauguin was a precursor of the Russian Avant-garde and strongly influenced this unique artistic event in the history of world art. In this sense the episode devoted to Gauguin did not simply draw together strands of the Burliuk film but also drew the strands of the entire series together, connecting the sometimes disparate and amorphous phenomena which is known as the Russian Avant-garde. The Russian avant-garde incorporates movements from neo-primitivism, rayonism,constructivism and lasted roughly through a period from the 1880s until the early 1930s. This section of the film about Burliuk, gave the series a prisim though which all the various themes of the series could be viewed even if the structure is somewhat imposed on the material. Self evidently any structure which is applied to the history of the Russian avant-garde is not a true reflection of its development but merely a method of organising material into a coherent and accessible form for digestion by the public or viewer. The most important thing while preparing such a film is to be aware of this framework as something which is imposed and try not allow it to dominate an understanding of the material. In this way the viewer can reach their own conclusions or can be stimulated to discover the subject further for themselves. An example of the problems which arise for instance is associated with the whole project of presenting artists as if they were individuals working in isolation of the world around them. I will try to explain this in more detail.

In the west we privilege the individual over and above the collective and this is a result of our liberal humanist tradition derived form Christian-Judaeo concepts of the individuals place and role in the world. The development and progress of western culture is presented as a parade of past individual geniuses who serve as pillars or supports upon which society rests and in the present a further group of lone geniuses which will propel it into the future. For many Russian avant-garde artists and writers this obsession (or what they considered an obsession) with individual genius was in their eyes an obstacle to artistic progress and a false assessment of the contribution by artists to the overall development of society. As Alexander Rodchenko commented in the 1920s that in the modern era, in the age of the machine and industrialisation …”there will never be a unique airplane or car” ..therefore …”we need artist workers, not geniuses”. This belief was further underlined by Osip Brik, the futurist thinker who announced in a clear attack on the notion of authorship and its connotations of genius, that if Pushkin had not written Eugene Onegin somebody else would have sooner or later. This brings me back to the documentary arts series: The Russian Avant-garde – Revolution or Renaissance. Nearly all the films where about individuals “Rodchenko and The Russian Avant-garde”, “Meyerhold, Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde”, “Kandinsky and the Russian House”, “Mayakovsky” and of course “David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde”. Only one film in the series “Architecture and the Russian Avant-garde” has a more general thematic structure, however even in this film I concentrated on three main figures – Malevich, Tatlin and Constantine Melnikov. It was very difficult to wriggle out of such a thematic straight jacket but nonetheless in each film a concerted attempt was made to relate the individual accomplishments of each artist to the wider concerns of the period and not portray them as lone geniuses working in isolation of each other but part of an artistic movement which had deep roots in the social and political events of the early part of the 20th century. Artists like Gauguin, Kandinsky, Burliuk and Rodchenko were grappling with some of the same artistic problems of their age, albeit exploring different solutions depending on the context in which they found themselves. The film “David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde”, with its reference to Gauguin’s influence on the work of the Russian avant-garde artists of the era, presented an opportunity to draw together many of the threads which constituted this artistic epoch without forcing a preordained framework on the series. Instead the viewer could make up their own mind as to how the phenomena of the Russian avant-garde developed and influenced art in Russia before and after the revolution.