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White Gray Black

Velimir Khlebnikov (Russian, 1885–1922)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

(b Tundutov, Astrakhan, 9 Nov 1885; d Santalovo, Novgorod province, 28 June 1922). Russian poet. He studied mathematics, biology and philology at Kazan’ University before devoting himself to literature. He became a member of the Hylaea circle of Futurist poets grouped around the artist David Burlyuk, which was responsible for the production of a large number of Russian Futurist books between c. 1912 and 1916. Khlebnikov’s theory of a transrational language (zaum), formulated in 1913 with his fellow poet Aleksey Kruchonykh, had a profound influence on the work of avant-garde artists, especially Kazimir Malevich, Jean Pougny (Ivan Puni), Pavel Filonov, Vladimir Tatlin and Pyotr Miturich. Literally ‘beyond the mind’ or ‘beyond sense’, zaum was used by Khlebnikov to signify the rejection of a conventional logic that defines words in terms of a specific meaning. It involved the ‘liberation’ of words, of parts of words and of individual letters and sounds from their accepted meaning, so that they could take on new meanings within a higher system of logic that literally transcends reason. Khlebnikov’s theories for a universal, transnational language were expounded in several articles written between c. 1915 and 1920. By deliberately turning the narrative upside down and introducing alien sounds and letters, Khlebnikov focused attention on the liberated ‘sound textures’ of the poem and created possibilities for new meanings. A similar ‘displacement’ (Rus. sdvig) of conventional links between objects is found in the ‘Alogist’ canvases of Malevich, Pougny and Ol’ga Rozanova of c. 1914–15. ‘Alogism’ was a style of painting directly related to the linguistic concept of zaum.

One of the central tenets of Khlebnikov’s zaum language was the transformation of reality into a new spatial dimension, the source for which lay in the ‘hyperspace’ philosophy of Pyotr Uspensky. Khlebnikov’s writings make frequent analogies with the cosmos and the constellations to describe the new spatial dimension of his ‘transrational language’, as well as containing mystical and symbolic overtones. His ‘liberation’ of the word and his use of cosmological terminology may be compared to concerns, expressed in Malevich’s Suprematist paintings and in Pougny’s non-objective reliefs of 1915 to 1919, with the ‘cosmic consciousness’ of a new spatial dimension and with the ‘liberation’ of the forms of painting from their association with accepted objects and their meaning.

Khlebnikov also wrote about architecture and his poetic notes on the city of the future as ‘a plant of the highest order’, combining the biomorphism of its general structure with the free, transformative nature of its constituent elements (My i doma [Houses and us], 1915; Utyos iz budushchego [Rock from the future], 1921–2), anticipated the innovative town-planning concepts of the third quarter of the 20th century—the Metabolism of Kenzo Tange, the ideas of Paolo Soleri and so on.

Khlebnikov was a vociferous opponent of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and the Italian Futurists and used his own neologisms budetlyanin (‘Man of the future’) and budetlyanstvo (‘Will-be-ness’) instead of the Russian futurizm in order to distinguish the Hylaea group from the Italian movement. Throughout his life, Khlebnikov was preoccupied with discovering mathematical laws to measure time.

Charlotte Humphreys
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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