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Aleksei Kruchenykh (Russian, 1886–1969)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

(b Olevka, Kherson province, 1886; d Moscow, 1968). Russian poet and critic of Ukrainian birth. He is best known for his creation of Russian Futurist books between 1912 and 1916 in collaboration with the avant-garde artists Natal’ya Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, Kazimir Malevich and Ol’ga Rozanova. These books, some of which were written with Velimir Khlebnikov, are characterized by deliberate mistakes and misprints, bold handwriting or irregular typefaces and printed on differently textured paper or wallpaper. The accompanying illustrations were executed in a coarse and primitive style to match the harsh and dissonant tones of the poetry. The books include Igra v adu (‘A game in Hell’; Moscow, 1912 and 1914), Mirskontsa (‘The world backwards’; Moscow, 1912), Pomada (Moscow, 1913), Utinoye gnezdyshko…durnykh slov (‘A duck’s nest…of bad words’; St Petersburg, 1913), Te Li Le (St Petersburg, 1914), Zaumnaya kniga (‘Transrational book’; Moscow, 1915), Voyna (‘War’; Petrograd, 1915) and Vselenskaya voyna (‘Universal war’; Petrograd, 1916).

Together with Khlebnikov, Kruchonykh formulated the concept of zaum (‘transrational language’; literally ‘beyond sense’ or ‘beyond the mind’) in 1913. In the same year the Russian art critic Korney Chukovsky (1882–1969) referred to their work and that of other Russian poets as Cubo-futurism. The main principles of zaum were laid down in Kruchonykh’s article ‘Novye put slova’ and in Slovo kak takovoye and Deklaratsiya slova kak takovogo of 1913. Kruchonykh’s first transrational poem, ‘Dyr bul shchyl’, appeared in Pomada and consisted entirely of consonants in apparently unrelated combinations. The poem was prefaced by a statement declaring that the new zaum language ‘differs from other languages in that its words have no definite meaning’. Kruchonykh described the new logic of zaum as ‘broader than sense’, a logic that liberated words, letters and sounds from their ‘submission to meaning’ as defined by conventional three-dimensional logic. The individual components of the word themselves became autonomous elements, valued for their phonetic texture, and constituted the new content of Futurist zaum poetry. This concentration on the sound textures of individual word and letter combinations paralleled a similar concern by avant-garde artists with the actual working of material (the facture) in order to enhance its intrinsic qualities.

One of Kruchonykh’s most important collaborations on Futurist book design was with the artist Ol’ga Rozanova, whom he married in 1912. The dissonant rhythms created by the coloured paper planes of Rozanova’s abstract collage illustrations for Kruchonykh’s book Vselenskaya voyna act as a visual equivalent to the harsh, dissonant rhythms of the zaum poems and may be seen as examples of ‘transrational painting’, where the painterly ‘as-suchness’ of the collages corresponds to the ‘word as such’ in transrational poetry. The direct relation between Rozanova’s collages for Vselenskaya voyna and Kruchonykh’s zaum poems also demonstrates the close links between artists and poets in Russia at this time.

The ‘new content’ of zaum also lay at the basis of the collaborative Futurist opera Pobeda nad solntsem (‘Victory over the sun’), performed in St Petersburg in December 1913, with libretto by Kruchonykh, prologue by Khlebnikov, set and costume designs by Malevich and music by Mikhail Matyushin. Influenced by the ‘hyperspace’ philosophy of pyotr Uspensky, Pobeda nad solntsem was intended to shock the audience into a new consciousness by altering normal perception and providing visions of an alternative reality in a higher dimension, once the old world of three dimensions had been rejected.

Charlotte Humphreys
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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