Publication of "Encounters with the Russian Avant-garde"


Finally we can announce the publication of the book Encounters with the Russian Avant-garde which is now available on Amazon for purchase or download. Encounters with the Russian Avant-garde complements the series of six films made by Michael Craig and Copernicus Films about the Russian Avant-garde of the 1920s and 30s. It is not only an account or explanation but also an introduction or to be more specific an “encounter” with this exciting phenomenon. The title reflects an active relationship: firstly through the experience of living in Moscow for many years, plus a direct encounter with the buildings, the architecture and the very territory in which much of the avant-garde arose and to some extent still exists. Encounter suggests something more casual, unexpected and unstructured but also a sense of living in the avant-garde and being part of it. After all it was the intention of the Russian Avant-garde to connect with the real lived world and to ‘take art out of the galleries and onto the streets and squares of Moscow’

As always when a large project gets finished there is the inevitable feeling of disappointment and wanting to fill that vacuum with another book or project or a film. There is plenty to do and plenty to be getting on with and really I should not rest on my laurels. However it will take a bit of time to change gears and shift into another project.

Vakhtangov and the Russian Theater Premiere

Several days back from the UK after a successful screening and Premiere of Vakhtangov and the Russian Theatre. It took place on May 10th 2014 as part of the Vakhtangov study day at the Rose Bruford college of theatre and performance organised by The Stanislavsky Centre which is based at the centre. It was a privilege to be able to participate in the and share the podium with the Vakhtangov scholar and specialist Andrei Malaev Babel who has written two books about Vakhtangov ‘The Vakhtangov Sourcebook” and “Evgeny Vakhtangov – A Critical Portrait”. Also Graham Dixon of the Mikhail Chekhov Studio in the morning session which he participated in together with Andrie Malaev Babel The morning session was dived into three parts. A long introduction presented jointly by Andrie and Graham, then the film Vakhtangov and the Russian Avant-garde which I briefly introduced and then a question and answer session with Andrie Malaev Babel, Graham Dixon and myself.

Alexander Rodchenko: Revolution in Photography

Alexander Rodchenko: Revolution in Photography

5 Oct. 2013 – 12 Jan. 2014

Kjarvalsstaðir

In October a retrospective of the photographs of Alexander Rodchenko, one of the leading  Russian artists of the first half of the 20th century, will open at the Reykjavík Art Museum’s Kjarvalsstaðir site.

Born in St. Petersburg in 1891, Rodchenko worked in Moscow as an artist and designer from 1915. He used many different media in his art: he started out as a painter and sculptor, then moved into photography in 1925.  He was a pioneer in photography and graphic design, designing for instance book covers, posters and advertisements in collaboration with Varvara Stepanova, his wife and closest colleague. The posters are among Rodchenko’s best-known works, and remain inspiring nearly a century on.More information about the film Alexander Rodchenko and the Russian Theatre can be found here

Japan-Philosophical Landscapes "Gingaku ji-Landscapes and Sandscapes"

This section of the film focuses on the Silver Pavilion of Ginkaku ji. It suits my purposes over the more popular Golden Pavilion in Kyoto as it describes more directly the phenomenon of Philosophical landscapes. Most people are concerned with the Golden pavilion because of its obvious beauty, a striking golden temple set in the middle of a pond, its still golden reflection a mirrored upturned version of itself creating an uncanny sensation of a floating vision in mid air. 

However in some ways the Silver Pavilion, Ginkaku ji,  is no less beautiful despite its subdued  presence if compared to the Golden Pavilion. The addition of moss covered grounds and what I would call “sandscapes” – abstract images made with sand and grit give it a unique quality as a Zen temple. They do not represent the landscape or depict a particular landscape but communicate an essence or idea. The cone of sand in the garden resembles Mount Fuji however this is but a surface interpretation.  A mountain is seemingly a solid thing ostensibly made of hard rock. However mountains can fall or increase in size with volcanic eruptions. A miniature mountain of sand  conveys this state of flux or indeterminateness of things and life which Zen Buddhism teaches. The volume of sand shaped into a cone is held in a state of static but fluid tension which can change with a gust of wind or a heavy downpour of rain and then reconstituted anew. Similarly sand as waves convey the inter penetrability of things. This constant blurring of borders between materials conveys the solid but non materiality of an idea given expression in three dimensional space. The essence of Zen Buddhism.

This section of the film focuses on the Silver Pavilion of Ginkaku ji. It suits my purposes over the more popular Golden Pavilion in Kyoto as it describes more directly the phenomenon of Philosophical landscapes. Most people are concerned with the Golden pavilion because of its obvious beauty, a striking golden temple set in the middle of a pond, its still golden reflection a mirrored upturned version of itself creating an uncanny sensation of a floating vision in mid air.

 However in some ways the Silver Pavilion, Ginkaku ji,  is no less beautiful despite its subdued  presence if compared to the Golden Pavilion. The addition of moss covered grounds and what I would call “sandscapes” – abstract images made with sand and grit give it a unique quality as a Zen temple. They do not represent the landscape or depict a particular landscape but communicate an essence or idea. The cone of sand in the garden resembles Mount Fuji however this is but a surface interpretation.  A mountain is seemingly a solid thing ostensibly made of hard rock. However mountains can fall or increase in size with volcanic eruptions. A miniature mountain of sand  conveys this state of flux or indeterminateness of things and life which Zen Buddhism teaches. The volume of sand shaped into a cone is held in a state of static but fluid tension which can change with a gust of wind or a heavy downpour of rain and then reconstituted anew. Similarly sand as waves covey the inter penetrability of things. This constant blurring of borders between materials shows the solid but non materiality of an idea given expression in three dimensional space. The essence of Zen Buddhism.

New Rodchenko and Stepanova Exhibition in Japan

TAB Event – Aleksandr Rodchenko + Varvara Stepanova “Visions of Constructivism”

Starts in 4 days

At Utsunomiya Museum of Art

Media: GraphicsPainting

On display are 170 works by Aleksandr Rodchenko from the collection of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

[Image: Aleksandr Rodchenko (1924, 1965) collection of the Pushkin Museum]

Schedule

From 2010-09-19 To 2010-11-07

Website

http://u-moa.jp/ (Japanese) (venue’s website)

Fee

Adults ¥800, University & High School Students ¥600, Junior High and Elementary School Students ¥400

Venue Hours

From 9:30 To 17:00

Closed on Mondays

Note:On a Public Holiday Monday, the museum is open but closed on the following Tuesday.

Maps

Navitime (Japanese)

Yahoo (Japanese)

Access

25 minutes by bus from West exit at the JR Utsunomiya station or 20 minutes by taxi from the JR Utsunomiya station.

Address

1077 Nagaoka-cho, Utsunomiya-shi, Tochigi-ken 320-0004

Phone: 028-643-0100 Fax: 028-643-0895

When you visit, why not mention you found this event on Tokyo Art Beat?

Interview with Michael Craig guest speaker on Voice of Russia discussing the 32nd Moscow Film Festival

Guest Speaker → The best Moscow Film Festival ever, the 32nd

Estelle Winters

Click on picture or link below to listen
http://english.ruvr.ru/radio_broadcast/2249225/10595720/

On June 24th Michael Craig was interviewed,discussing the 32nd Moscow Film Festival on Radio Voice of Russia with Estelle Winters, as well as his own film, “Meyerhold Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde” which is being shown as part of the exhibition “100 Years of Performance” at the Garage gallery in Moscow.

Guggenheim on its 50th anniversary and Kandinsky Film


Kandinsky, a full-scale retrospective of the visionary artist, theorist, pioneer of abstract art, and seminal figure in the history of the Guggenheim Museum will be presented from September 18, 2009, to January 13, 2010. This exhibition is organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, in cooperation with the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich, and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. The film “Kandinsky and the Russian House” was released in 2007 and has featured as part of the Kandinsky exhibitions in Germany and at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. It gives me great pleasure that the film will be associated with the 50th anniversary of the Guggenheim especially as Kandinsky served as an inspiration for the foundation of this great museum. This retrospective will bring together more than 100 paintings drawn primarily from these three institutions, whose collections make up the three largest repositories of Kandinsky in the world, as well as from significant private and public collections. A DVD of “Kandinsky and the Russian House” will be on sale at the exhibition and can be purchased at the Guggenheim shop in New York

When I was in Germany filming “Kandinsky and the Russian House” I was invited by a director friend, Peter Goedel who lived in Munich, to the film festival which was going at the time of filming. I had met Peter at another film festival in Toronto a year or so earlier and this meeting was one reason why I decided to go ahead and make a film about Kandinsky. Peter’s superb film “Tangier -Legend of a City” won three awards at Toronto and it was he who invited me to Munich when he heard that I was thinking of making a film about Kandinsky.

When I mentioned Kandinsky at the Munich Film Festival, people often talked about him as if he was a quasi European painter in the Matisse or impressionist mould and didn’t seem enthusiastic about acknowledging that Kandinsky was Russian at all. However if you look at Kandinsky’s work, the light that he found even in Southern Bavaria is very similar to a Russian light, the light of the Steppe. This is true I believe of even the most abstract of his paintings. Even as I look out of my window on a bright sunny Moscow morning I see Kandinsky’s colours and light everywhere. Anybody who has spent a long period of time in Russia will, in my opinion recognise this. The Argentinian and Irish artist Carmen Casey, who lived in Moscow for more than six years, commented to me that one of the difficulties she found about working in Moscow when she first arrived, was the sheer intensity of the light (on a sunny day of course) which she wasn’t used to and had never encountered befere. When I tried to explain this to people they would look at me blankly while I rambled on about my theories, especially the one that Kandinsky is the quintessential Russian painter. As he himself said, “Moscow is the tuning fork for all my painting”. And that is despite the fact that Kandinsky spent many years in all the European centres of artistic excellence of that time; Munich, Paris and finally Berlin at the Bauhaus. He always, I believe, returned artistically to his Russian roots . Why did he leave Russia it might be asked. In some ways it doesn’t make sense to ask such a question. Every artist must continuously expand their horizons and seek inspiration by travelling and through studying other cultures. Kandinsky came from a section of Russian society who would have been familiar with all the philosophical and cultural trends of Europe as well as Russia and would have been drawn to Europe as a result. However, the fact that Kandinsky no longer painted in Russia and had moved to Europe made him no more a European painter and no less a Russian painter.
Where ever artists find themselves they always see the world with their own eyes and interpret what they see from their own inner understanding.
An other factor here is the eastern influence in European painting which at that time was not such a strange thing as one might imagine. The collector of Central Asian Ikats or multi coloured robes,Tair Tairov, believes that the abstract patterns of these textiles and robes inspired a generation of artists in Europe. Picasso, Mattisse, Whistler and many others were all influnced one way or another by eastern art in particular Japanese art. It could be said that eastern art with its emphasis on the abstract was a componatnt part of the rise of abstract art in Europe and America. Kandinsky apparantely himself remarks how these multi-coloured robes infleunced his artistic development.

The film “Kandinsky and the Russian House” was released in 2007 and is part of a series of 6 films about the Russian Avant-garde.

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.

Mayakovsky

Mayakovsky

Mayakovsky was probably the most problematical film to make from a number of points of view. Firstly Mayakovsky’s poetry is very specific and avant-garde although there are some very good translations in English. However I wanted to retain the original Russian to preserve the original rhythm of his poetry and this caused considerable problems. I had to understand the poetry myself in the first place before I could start working on the film. This is easier said than done when reading from the Russian. In addition to this I wanted to shoot in the The State Museum of Mayakovsky on Lubyanka and this required some delicate negotiations with the museum administration. In the end we agreed the terms under which I could film inside the museum but not without some restrictions. Also once again I had to find a new studio and also a new camera operator. In both these cases I was lucky. I found one of the most prominent documentary film cameramen in Russia, Slava Sachkov, who has long experience in the Russian film industry and is a director himself and a partner in the Film Company “Ostrov” in Moscow which made “Seven up” for the BBC and Granada TV, not to mention a host of award winning Russian documentary series. I don’t think I could have found anybody better and we immediately formed a good working relationship. We shot a lot of material around Moscow to start off with and then all the graphics, photographs and pictorial material from archives etc. On the agreed day we then went into the Mayakovsky Museum to film more material. Its one of the most original museums ever devised, designed in the a style of the Russian avant-garde of the 1920s and 30s, with sloping floors and iron girders poking out in different directions It’s a vast constructivist ensemble designed to house the collection of Mayakovsky’s work and life in a way that on the one hand arrests the viewers attention and on the other deconstructs their visual sensibilities. One of the good things about the museum is that it is like a film set albeit a little unconventional and so it made an ideal place to film, lending a specific emotional atmosphere to the film. Mayakovsky had a room in this building on the top floor in which he ostensibly shot himself in the heart. In the 1970s the entire building on Lubyanka was taken over and converted into a museum dedicated to Mayakovsky. With Slava’s professional camera work we were able to get some unusual shots which I was able to use in several sequences in the film. Slava managed to get exactly the right balance between light and shadow to give the film the edge and atmosphere which I was seeking.

One of the things I wanted to do in the film was to use an actor to read Mayakovsky’s poetry. I thought this would be an easy thing to do but I interviewed actor after actor. Sometimes they had the right kind of voice a deep velvety bass but they were unable to catch the rhythms of Mayakovsky’s complicated imagery. Also Mayakovsky had a very specific timbre, powerful and rich, as he said of his own voice it could hammer rivets into steel plates. Mayakovsky’s live performances were notorious and nobody could better him in live debates and the futurist evenings at the Polytechnic Museum where the read out their declarations and manifesto’s. At first I couldn’t understand what the problem was with these actors until someone explained to me that in this new era, i.e. since perestroika many of these skills are being lost and younger actors no longer need or wanted to study the necessary skills for this type of reading. I decided the next best thing would be to actually find recordings of Mayakovsky himself reading his poems. I went to the All Russian audio archive in Moscow. They had some recordings of Mayakovsky but also other recordings of actors from the 30s,40s and 50s reading Mayakovsky’s work. Some of it was excellent and just what I was looking for and I selected about ten large fragments from Mayakovsky’s larger poems plus several complete poems such as “Could you not”. I wanted to include a fragment from the poem “Lenin” but there was no recording of this work at the audio archive. In the end I found an older actor called and got him to do some reading. He had a perfect voice and actually knew most of “Lenin”off by heart. He knew exactly how to use his voice and tailoring his intonation and vocal stylistics to great effect. The recordings where Mayakovsky is reading himself are not in good condition but the power of his voice and personality come through and the recordings stand in the same way as visual archive footage, which although sometimes in poor condition have a dynamism and authentic amplitude.

The film took a great deal of time and effort especially as I decided to make a Russian version as well as an English version. I felt this was necessary and I hoped to show the film to Russian audiences.

As with all these films about the avant-garde one film almost seamlessly leads into another and because Mayakovsky wrote many plays as well as poetry and was championed by the Theatre director Meyerhold, as a new Aristophanes, it was natural that the next film in this series would be about Meyerhold. Mayakovsky wrote several plays for Meyerhold, The Bathhouse, The Bedbug and Mystery Bouffe and while Meyerhold liked to have complete control of his productions he permitted to Mayakovsky to be present at rehearsals at all times and valued Mayakovsky’s contributions and observations at all levels of the production process

David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde ( About the film)

David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde


“David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde” was released on DVD in the autumn of 2007. The film charts the work of the Russian futurist David Burliuk in Japan. After he left Russia during the Russian civil war, David Burliuk spent two years in Japan and put on exhibitions in Tokyo, Kyoto and Yokohama. His influence on the growing Japanese futurist movement was immeasurable where he worked with Japanese artists such as Kinoshita and Murayama. The film features locations in Moscow, Tokyo, Kyoto and a small Island called Ogasawara in the Pacific Ocean which Burliuk visited in the manner of Gauguin. Japanese art was was gradually transformed in the Meiji period of the late 19th century and early 20th century after the Meiji restoration which heralded Japan’s entry onto the global stage.

Perceptions of Japan as a closed and traditional society changed in the aftermath of the Meiji restoration. There was a Rush to modernize and industrialize Japanese society. Some artists were beginning to recognize the hegemony of industrial society and its profound implications for art and culture. It spawned a counter culture in Japan with a tendency to rebellion by those who saw in modernism a progressive opportunity but also its tendency for alienation. However it was Burliuk who translated to Japanese audiences developments in Russian art .

After just two weeks in Japan he had organised an exhibition in Tokyo entitled “The first Exhibition of Russian Paintings in Japan” which opened on Oct 14th at the Hoshi pharmaceutical head quarters in Kyoboshi. There are few records left of this exhibition but reviews described astonishing works of dangling socks and matchboxes attached to paintings and painting rendered on cardboard.

Part of the film involved visiting an island called Ogasawara which is situated in the Pacific Ocean about 1000 kilometres south of Tokyo. The Journey takes around 26 hours and can only be reached by ship. Burliuk visited the island and spent about three months there painting and relaxing after his mammoth journey through Siberia and onto Japan and the various exhibitions in Tokyo and Kyoto. It made a warm change from the icy blasts of a siberian winter. I had already decided that I would follow Burliuk’s journey to this island as well as film in Tokyo and Kyoto. I had already completed half the journey, albeit on a comfortable flight from Moscow to Tokyo. Now it was time to go all the way, as far as Burliuk himself went.

Burliuk was a keen student of Japanese culture and much like his idol Gauguin he immersed himself in Japanese culture and art. Interestingly enough Burliuk’s Journey to Ogasawara began when he left by ship from a point not far from where Basho started his travels in old Edo the former capital of Japan which became Tokyo. Basho was another wanderer poet much like Burliuk who was destined to travel throughout the world seeking new inspiration for his art and life.

I wasn’t sure how the Ogasawara material would relate to the rest of the film. In fact sometimes I doubted the wisdom of going there at all. This all changed after my interview with Akira Suzuki. A friend of a friend recomended me to interview him as a Japanese expert of Burliuk’s time in Japan in general. He writes about Burliuk’s work and art and translates his books from Russian into Japanes He as published several translations of Burliuk’s writings from Russian into Japanese as well as a number of books about Burliuk and Fialev, the Czech artist who traveled to Japan and Ogasawara with Burliuk. (Follow this link for more information about Akira Suzuki’s work).
Akira Suzuki turned out to have a wide knowledge of Burliuk’s life and work in Japan, which very few people would have known if any at all. This inside knowledge and understanding proved invaluable for the film. This was especially true when he explained how Burliuk wanted to visit a south sea island and spend time painting there much like Guaguin. This was the reason he visited Ogasawara. Suddenly many things fell into place and I understood why Ogasawara would be important to the film and indeed the series about the Russian avant-garde overall. Burliuk was the Father of Russian futurism and was heavily influenced by Guaguin as was much of the Russian avant-garde itself either through Burliuk’s influence or generally through other artists.

Guaguin himself when searching for a new form of art drew upon Japanese art as a way of discovering a new style or a new direction in art. As he said himself “artists have lost, ……all their instincts, one might say their imgaination and so they have wandered down every kind of path in order to find the productive elements they hadn’t the strength to create”. Gauguin was the first European artist who consciously sought to synthesis the expressive means of various epochs and peoples with European artistic techniques, in particular the Japanese, opening up new possibilities for painting and art.

Burliuk also was forever seeking new rhythmical structures and innovations in his work, simple solutions for expressing new ideas and phenomena. In this the Japanese artistic values of the ornamental organisation of the surface of the canvas would provide him with ample material for study.

Akira Suzuki explained how Burliuk not only organised exhibitions and gave lectures, he thoroughly familiarized himself with Japanese life. He took care to understand a complicated culture full of diverse subtleties and nuances. Burliuk tried to penetrate the meaning that lies embedded in the aesthetic life of Japanese culture and art much like his idol Gauguin.

The importance of Gauguin for Burliuk cannot be underestimated. Gauguin was a precurser of the 20th cnetury avant-garde movementas a whole. His independent and bold search for a new form of art had an enormous influence on the development of the decorative principles of the Russian avant-garde. Far from the turmoil of civil war and revolution Burliuk believed he could live and work in an environment of relative safety.

All at once, talking with Akira Suzuki, the themes of the Russian avant-garde, David Bulriuk, Guaguin, Japan, Japanese futurism and a south sea island merged into something concrete and understandable in the context of a film and in particular a film about Burliuk and his relation to Russian and Japanese futurism.

From his writings we can imagine Burliuk’s thoughts as in the early morning light the ship approached Ogasawara. Coming out on deck he could gaze on the fantastic sight of an island he had never seen before.

Akira Suzuki was a knowledgable and relaxed interviewee. The thing I liked most about him on screen is his easy and friendly delivery. I had the choice of interviwing him in English or Japanese. In the end I went for the Japanese with English subtitles as his enthusiam and excitement for the subject comes through when speaking in his own language. This was exactly the mood I wished to create in the film and in this Akira Suzuki helped me a great deal. The things he knew about Burliuk had a personal quaility about it, one could feel that he had a strong attachment towards Burliuk and a feel for the subject as well as having engaged in the research. His anecdotes and stories about Burliuk in Japan could only have come from sources close to the Japanese.

On a later visit to Japan Akira Suzuki took myself and my wife Natalia to the very place where Burliuk boarded ship to Ogasawara. It is a quiet stretch of water in the heart of Tokyo. Later the same day he took us to a nearby region where the Hakia poet Basho lived and composed his poetry and from where he set off on his journeys around Japan seeking inspiration and enlightenment. I couldn’t help thinking of Burliuk who set off not very far from the spot where Basho undertook his spiritual journeys around Japan and wondering if Burliuk felt any connection with the great poet of Japanese literature given that Burliuk was as much of a poet as he was a painter.

A few days later Akira had another surprise waiting for us. He asked me would I like to see an original painting of David Burliuk which a friend of his had in his possession. Of course we jumped at the chance. The next day we arranged to meet and we all travelled by metro to Ikejiri-Ohashi.

A short walk from the station was a small modest shop-front gallery overshadowed by one of those giant exressways which are raised above the city on tall thick columns and criss cross Tokyo. We went inside and were introduced to a gentle mannered man in his late 50s who owned the gallery. After some tea and getting to know each other he brought out a cardboard carton and gradually took off the wrapping to reveal a beautiful unframed canvas of a village on Oshima in 1920 which Burliuk painted on one of his visits to the island. For the first time I realised why some people want to collect or horde great works of art. The magic of being close to something or someone through their work was literally breathtaking, especially somebody who I had been researching for so many months. It felt like small currents of electricty running through my spine. I thought I had come to know Burliuk quite well but gazing at a work of art which had been painted in Japan and which I could pick up and look and touch and feel, was a very different experience from seeing something in an art gallery and moreover by an artist of such stature in the Russian avant-garde. When I turned the painting round to look at the back, there in faded Russian and Japanese, was written, that the painting had been exhibited in the “First Exhibition of Russian Painting in Japan”. I and Natasha examined the painting for maybe half an hour. It was an experience that I didn’t really expect, in so far as looking at a painting can be such an energising event. It is something which is difficult to put into words

The second half of the film is about Burliuk’s influence on the Japanese avant-garde itself which was considerable. After he emigrated finally to America with his family the legacy of his time in Japan continued to live on and influence Japanese futurist artists like Kinoshito and Murayama who had a strong influence in all areas of Japanese cultural life – literature, architecture, the visual arts, design and to a large extent theatre.

The explosion of passions was reflected in the two exhibitions оf the Sanka association, in the second half of September 1925. Because “Sanka in the Theater” attracted wide attention, the exhibition was crowded with more visitors than the organizers had expected. Augmented by an extra 122 works, this exhibition was the largest оf the avant-garde movement. Disparate media and subjects scandalized the public: а Dadaist assemblage of two ropes entitled Lumpen Proletariat А апd B was executed by Toki Okamoto who had come to the gallery and made it on the spot; the entrance tо the gallery was decorated by а large, three-dimensional hybrid assemblage; apart from these Dadaist pieces, some pure geometric works were also shown.

The exhibition was an experiment, a scandal and a social event.


The Japanese avant-garde attempted to cut across two opposing trends in Japanese art. The national traditionalist approach in art and the westernization of art which had gripped Japanese culture. Informed by Burliuk’s experiments and their own innovations they searched for new art forms which would liberate them from the confines of these two trends. Burliuk conceived elements of surface plain, texture and colour as tangible elements in painting asserting the two dimensionality of the picture surface. Such bold experiments in painting were readily taken up by Japanese futurism and the avant-garde in general giving the innovations of Japanese artists a global outlook and focus at a time when Japan was still emerging from a period of isolation and coming to grips with industrialization and its social consequences.