Futurism: Speed, Progress, Innovation
“Futurism was the absolutely overriding matrix of a “global” avant-garde idea, and not only “interdisciplinary”, which was to irradiate [….] custom, taste and lifestyle of a whole society…”
On 20 February 1909 in Paris, “Le Figaro” published the Futurism Manifesto, signed by the poet and author Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. In this programmatic text, Marinetti summarizes the guidelines of what is to become not only one of the most important artistic and cultural movements of the 20th century, but the first and only Italian avant-garde.
“We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and of temerity […] courage, audacity, rebellion […] aggressive motion, feverish insomnia, the running pace, the somersault, the slap and the punch […] We affirm that the magnificence of the world is enriched with a new beauty: the beauty of speed”.
Guided by the will to escape “the pensive immobility, contemplation and drowsiness” of that period, there are many exponents of the cultural world who support the founder of the movement.
Unlike in previous movements, futurists are not united among themselves by the presence of stylistic and technical affinity within their work, but rather through the common creative goal. Fuelled by the desire for powerful and immediate innovation in the name of speed and progress, these artists seek such elements in every expressive medium.
The vibrant and rapid lines of Boccioni’s “The Giant and the Pygmy” seem almost to wish to transform the horse into a modern vehicle and testify to an inexorable mechanization process, a characteristic also evident in the works of Balla, in Depero’s collages and in the Marinettian texts.
In 1912, Marinetti presented various futurist paintings in some of the major European capitals.The first exhibition was in Paris at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, from 5-14 February 1912, and among the artists present were Boccioni, Carrà and Severini.Two years previously, in 1910, the futurist manifestoes had been published in Milan. Umberto Boccioni was concerned mainly with plastic and synthetic dynamism, as well as going beyond cubism, while Giacomo Balla went from the study of luminous vibrations in the divisionist period to the synthetic representation of motion.
Among the signatories of the 1910 manifesto was also Gino Severini, who, after having collaborated in the organization of the Paris exhibition in 1912, participated in the movement’s other exhibitions in Europe and the United States.
In December 1913, Fortunato Depero (Vogue, 1929) became very much impressed by Umberto Boccioni’s exhibition in Rome, where he also met many of the artists he most admired, including Giacomo Balla and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Depero, a prominent figure of the second futurism, is very active in the publicity field. He declares, “The art of the future will be resoundingly advertising”.
Among the various Depero illustrations there are notable studies for Vogue magazine. In fact, these drawings are the only example of the artist’s giving way to the taste of art deco, absent in the rest of his production.
Another very active figure in the group was Francesco Cangiullo, who joined the movement after meeting Marinetti in Naples in 1910. Cangiullo was very interested in the theatre and took an active part in the futurists’ theatrical projects, both on a theoretical and an organizational level. While remaining friends with Marinetti, Cangiullo left the movement in 1924. In 1930, he published Futurist Evenings, a collection of his memories of the futurist experience, but the following year he decided to rejoin the movement.
The experience of this movement lasted for approximately forty years, divided in two main parts marked by the First World War. Spreading very rapidly beyond Italian borders, futurism will go on to influence the art of many countries, such as Russia, France, the United States and Asia.
Among the various merits attributable to Marinetti and the futurists is certainly that of having deeply shaken the foundations of communication, primarily through their magazines, manifestoes and words-in-freedom.
After that of 1909, various other manifestoes were published; Manifesto of Futurist Painting, 1910, by Boccioni, Carrà, Russolo, Balla and Severini, The Painting of Sounds, Noises and Odours, 1913, by Carrà, Manifesto of Futurist Literature, 1912, The Surprise Theatre, 1921, by Marinetti and Cangiullo, are but a few examples. In 1914, the Manifesto of Futurist Architecture was published, signed by Antonio Sant’Elia, a young architect from Como attracted by the philosophy of Marinetti.
Sant’Elia created perspective designs of splendid elevations of great visual impact, a kind of vision of the ideal futurist city, which would never be, as neither would its buildings ever be; numerous, in fact, are the designs and plans of projects that never reached the construction stage.
The proliferation of manifestoes is an indication of the intuition of futurism concerning the communicative and propagandistic force of this medium. A synthesis of remarkable ideological capacity, aggressive, cutting and lapidary, the manifestoes are the prime instrument with which to analyse and fully comprehend the futurist movement.
In 1915, Fortunato Depero and Giacomo Balla, two of the movement’s most versatile figures, wrote the “Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe”, a fundamental manifesto which was then to mark the divide between “heroic futurism” and “second futurism”.
This text foresees the new and more totalizing approach the futurists were to actuate as from the early post war period, eliminating all the surviving sectorial tendencies of the first decade of the century.
One of the greatest revolutions of futurism is that of having become truly interdisciplinary. A typical example of this achievement are the words-in-freedom, graphic poems where it is impossible to establish the literary rather than the figurative value.
The dissolution of linear models of writing and the “typographic revolution” put forward by the words-in-freedom go as far as questioning the traditional book form, therefore urging a radical transformation.
The futurist innovation of the book is multiform, the primary object being that of varying its usage.
Folded pages (Zang Tumb Tumb by Marinetti), dimensions more similar to those of a newspaper (Simultaneity and Lyrical Chemistry), or different colour pages to create a book of illustrations composed of humanized letters (Cafè-Concert Unexpected Alphabet by Cangiullo), are but a few of the new futurist literary expedients.
In the experience of this avant-garde, the transformation process of the material status of books develops, however, along two main lines: that of the “artists’ books” and that of the “object-books”.
The former consists in a handcrafted single or limited edition, so as to preserve the autographic nature of the work: an example of such an “artist’s book” is Paolo Buzzi’s “Conflagration. A Words-in-Freedom Epic”.
The futurist “object-books” are instead realized by mechanical means and with the use of industrial elements or materials that tend to replace the paper.
The first “object-book” to render an exemplary interpretation of the “mechanical art” poetic is the celebrated “Depero the Futurist”, otherwise known as “The Bolted Book”. This work by the painter from Rovereto is considered the most complete summation of the futurist “typographic revolution".