“We rang for room service and the year 1913 answered: it gave Planet Earth a
valiant new people, the heroic Futurians.” – Velimir Khlebnikov
Futurism is a movement that originated in Italy and was led by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Futurists announced their existence in 1909 with the publication of Marinetti’s ‘The Futurist Manifesto,’ in the Paris newspaper La Figaro. No other previous group of artists had so aggressively and provocatively spoken out against tradition. In the Futurist Manifesto Marinetti called for the destruction of museums and libraries, the glorification of anarchism and the enrichment of, “the unfathomable reservoirs of the Absurd.” He wanted a complete break with tradition and history. He wanted no association with any art that had come before him and the other Futurists.
Today the Italian Futurists are often remembered only for their fascist political leanings, their paintings and sculptures and their fascination with movement and speed but what is so often ignored are their performances. Their performances are what set them apart from past artistic movements. Early Futurist performances consisted of readings of their manifestoes and poetry. There would also be Futurist painters who would carry their paintings out on stage to display to the audience and short plays performed. This combination of acting, painting and poetry set up in one venue would set the stage for Dada and Fluxus. However the truly revolutionary element of Futurist performance was the breaking down of the “fourth wall” to seek an involvement from the audience.
Marinetti wrote of ways to provoke the audience into action in his Variety Theatre Manifesto of 1913. Some of his suggestions included gluing people to their seats, selling the same ticket to ten different people and the offering of free tickets to, “gentlemen or ladies who are notoriously unbalanced, irritable or eccentric and likely to provoke uproars with obscene gestures, pinching women or other freakishness.” The involvement of the audience would be especially influential to Happenings and Fluxus artists and to Ray Johnson.
The Futurists did more than just rebel against tradition and history. They rebelled against acceptable aesthetics and even aesthetics in general. They rebelled against the established art world and all of its institutions. In a new and bold push towards the future they combined areas of arts in a way that had not truly been done before. They conceived of performance art in the way that we know it today. Their use of the audience in their performances not only broke down the fourth wall, it broke down all conceptions of what art was up until that point in time. The Futurists did what Courbet had done to the Salon, they made a break in the art world of the avant-garde. This break would lead to the attitude we have today of ‘anything goes’ in art.
1 David Britt, ed. Modern Art: Impressionism to Post-Modernism, (New York: Thames and Hudson Ltd. 1999) 177.
2 Michael Kirby, Futurist Performance, (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc. 1971) 10.
3 Ibid. 16.
4 Ibid. 184.