[SYNAPSE ESSAY THE FIFTH]
Russian Avant-garde poet & painter artist Elena Guro
By Marilyn R. Rosenberg (original essay, 1992)
A bridge between Symbolism and Futurism. A contributor to and a participant in the creation of and champion of early Artists Books’ in the Russian Avant-Garde.
(Full name: Elenora Genrikhovna Guro. How this woman’s work is received by the historians is a wonderful aside. Some references note her as “poetess-painter” Mikhail Matiushin’s wife. A female writer includes Matiushin, and notes him as Elena Guro’s husband.)
Part 1 The Translations
Lost to us as English/American readers in 2019... is a great deal. Not only do we see only part of the content through the translator, we see at times only the translator with a new work, often wonderful work of art. Of the original inspiration, catalyst, or means in its original Russian visual/verbal poem/book we miss some aspect of both its original content and philosophy. Two analogies: hearing music over a 1930’s radio on a rainy night, or looking at a Fauve painting in a black and white miniature reproduction. We miss the way the words sit on the page, what is seen with the words, and like the Fauve painting we miss part of the content, since with the Fauvists the use of color and how it is used counts, also what counts is the type style and size and placement of all component which are part of the content of the poem/image. One excellent example is when the spelling was simplified and changed, orthographic reform, which had been discussed for a long time, and finally was initiated by the Bolshevik government just after the October revolution, some letters and letter shapes were eliminated and others added. Certainly the course of events of history is more complex. In Mayakovsky’s poem War and the World of 1916 (Voyna i mir), a pun is lost “when the graphic distinction on a word disappears a year after its first publication. It has lost part of its meaning as the visual aspect is eliminated. I have more to say on this.
Part 2 The Books and Artists’ Books
The visual look of the word expressed the tactility, the factura of the meaning more clearly than normal type can. The word as it lives in the space of the page, groups of words in the space of the poem, the book has a unique role in that original context. which is altered away from that context. There is a correlation between the look of it, and the meaning of it.
There are many creative books of the period many more than I will mention. These are often limited editions, often not more than 300 copies, and there are often differences from one copy to another within the edition. Agreement as to whether these items are actually books or not is a question asked by many even now. For this discussion I will call all of them books, at least, and many Artists’ Books. Many contain visual poetry.
The artists did communicate with each other and record their works and ideas in this form of publication, one example is The Word As Such . These book, like their counterparts in France and Italy, are a dramatic departure from most past books in the use of typography, layout, paper, and binding. They are of a different style and can not to be confused with deluxe fine print edition books, which were still being created in some quarters in France, Italy and continued in Russia until 1917. What I am talking about is closer to broadsides.
For the most, they are related to and depended on the means and methods of the woodcuts and hand colored booklets, both of which are called in Russia Lubok. = folk forms.The Russians extend this form, often refers to in the west as the Russian comic books because of the mixing together of word and image in crude unpolished form and format.
In regular books of course illustrations do accompany text, and text explains images. With the books I am discussing, something else is happening. Here with the avant-garde, the book is rough paper and crude with simple binding. The imagery and image and the word and letter play one of two roles
Role one: In many of the avant-garde books, the image is a component equal to the text. . The text can not function efficiently without its visual aspects. and the visual imagery is bare without its text, which together text and image cause cohesiveness.
In other instances, the words and images create strong disharmony or disjunction, one example is Troe, The Three, and as Bowlt says its images
“have no direct reference to the text and are to be viewed.. as visual accompaniments rather than illustrations in the conventional sense. Such prints may be ‘irrelevant’, but, then, ALOGICALITY was an active ingredient of avant-garde literature and art, and the deliberate insertion of the non sequitur constituted a direct affront to the reading public-nurtured on the Victorian cultural and social tradition of order, sequence and explicability”.
Often at the same time the text and the image is in direct alliance to the futuristic philosophy of the time, and that is so in Three. And I will discuss three in a minute. Deliberate and strong marriage or conflict between word and image is not new and we can find them in 18th and 19th broadsides, but not to this extent or with such great strength.
The Year of 1913 turns into one the productive years for publications, but many others were created after that. Surely the Books in which Elena Guro participated may not have been the most innovative as Artists’ Books, but information about the other folks contributions to this area is readily available; Guro’s contribution has often been overlooked.
Part 3 Background
Reminder in the visual art world- France, Cubism 1907-14, Italian Futurism 1909-15 , German Expressionism 1910-22. Mallarme will use the page as space in the most dynamic way using its visual space as part of the verbal, Appollinaire will create pattern poems that alter the reading of the work. But these man have not yet published their works in Guro’s time.
In Russia, some of these who were writers or poets themselves, keeping in mind that as yet the Moscow and Petersburg groups are not united, are listed here.
David Burliuk (Moscow) and Vladimir Burliuk (St Petersburg), Natalia Goncharova, Vasilii Knadinsky, Mikhail Larionov, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, Olga Rozanova (St Petersburg), Varvard Stepanova, Vladimir Tatlin, were visual artists. They were also involved in either book design or illustration in addition to their painting or sculpting concerns. They come in contact with the poets, some of which were also visual artists or. had spent time in art school, many came to poetry from painting. A few were Elena Guro ( St Petersburg), Velimir Khlebnikov (St Petersburg), Alexei Kruchenykh (Moscow) and Vladimir Mayakovsky. David Burliuk, Kruchenykh, Guro, & Matushin “exhibited regularly with Malevich Moscow and Tatlin.
(Livshits is from Moscow)
Later many of the visual and verbal artists will work in groups to publish a vast amount of books and Artists Books. However the physical format the book structure will never burst forth out of the traditional signature and bound format.
Part 4 About Guro.
Elena Genrikhovna Guro (pseudonym of Elonora von Notenberg), b. in St Petersburg 1877. Died at 36 years April 1913 of TB in her summer house in the Finnish village of Uusikrikko. She was both artist and poet all of her life, often combining the two disciplines, the visual and verbal. Guro attended the school of the society for the Encouragement of the arts. Then she met Minkail Vasilievich Matiushin when she studied with a well know painter of her time Later Matiushin will be her husband. After 3 years she and Matushin let the studio to study with another artist. At this point, 1904 she is a professional painter and she illustrate and edition ow work by George Sand Her father, from a noble French family who had escaped the 1793 Revolution left to Guro both a pension and the daca (summer house) in Finland.
The hand book of Russian Literature tell us
“Guro’s Literary works present impressionist, symbolist, and futurist traits. Her poetic world includes the harmonious order of nature and the tragic reality of city life. Guro’s urbanism is expressed in an impressionist manner. However, it shows many features typical of Mayakovsky’s poetry and Natalya Goncharova’s painting. Her sensitivity to the ‘word’ as a poetic fact, and her skillful play with neologisms show her kinship with the futurist practitioners of ‘transrational poetry’(zaum’). Guro’s neologisms are often derived from children’s language, and the child as a poetic persona often appears in her works. Guro’s all pervading theme is love for all creatures and things, and a maternal concern for the rejected, the weak, and the defenseless.”
Camilla Gray tells us that typically used by Guro, Mayakovsky, Kruchenikh, KLhlebnikov and the Brother Burlicks during 1912 and 13 was the use of “epithet, street language, out of context and jumbled words, or eroticism and infantile language, archaic language and breaking down words until nothing is left but sound”.
Perloff believes that The Word as Such, which begins “As if it were written and read in the twinkling of an eye! (singing, splash, dance, throwing down of clumsy structures, forgetting unlearning).’ was the method of Khlebnikov, Kruchenykh and Guro. The second statement in the word ‘2. As if it were written with difficulty and read with difficulty, more uncomfortable than blacked boots or a truck in a drawing room’ was the method of David and Vladimir Burlick, of B. Livshits and Mayakovsky. Both methods are “valuable” and sides of the “same coin” Add more for paper from 124
O’Brien points out which poems are written with male and which female. I agree with him that those in the female voice may be her own voice since many are feminist, maternal, humanist, confessional and or diaristic. Other works are clearly about conservation, ecology. and environment.
O’Brien also believes that the males in her poems are the sons she did not have and that they are the little camels.
Jindrich Chalupecky, describes Guro’s painting in the collection of a futurist scholar. ‘they are on the boarderline between Impressionism and fauvism - the vision with its clear pure colours is impressionist, the structure of the paintings and broad brush strokes are fauvist.’. ( A meaningless and non informative description) Her drawings are in her books, simple line, some “vignettes”. Later the line is rougher and the work is moody and stylized. Yes I agree, in addition, the have an oriental feel to them, a simplicity, yet her hand is more shaky, not sure, but at times ?
Part 5 Chronology of Events and Poems
Guro publishes a short story “Early Spring” in a lesser known publication, An Anthology of New Writers. The piece contains two ideas which will emerge again later: - the point of view of a “child’s approach to the world” and “departure from the city and the rural scene”.
1908, in St Petersburg, Milner says “Khlebnikov was studying Sanskrit, Slavic studies and biology at the University of St Petersburg. He was also becoming closely involved with writers and painters there. The poet Vassily Kamensky” begins to publish Khlebnikov verbal pieces in his journal Vesna (Spring), and he also introduces Khlebnikov to the painter Nilolai Kublin; and the couple, one the publisher, musician and painter Mikhail Matyusin and the other the poet and painter Elena Guro.
Camilla Grey tell us the ‘The Impressionist’ Exhibition, is where simpatico artists met in 1909. The exhibition in St Petersburg, consisted primarily of landscapes, and was not memorable, and certainly was not an Avant-garde event. But there Guro and Matiusin, a friend of Malevich, Kruchenikh, still a practicing painter, and others had a chance to meet. Also in 1909 Guro’s first book is self-published, The Hurdy Gurdy (Sharmanka).Five of the drawings from the book were exhibited in that show. But neither the visual nor the verbal critics pay any attention to her works. The unsold consigned books, almost all of them, are finally returned to her and she donates them to sanatorium libraries. The book consists of prose, poetry and plays. There is ‘Gothic Miniature’, ‘From the Middle Ages’, ‘Songs of the City”, ‘That’s Life’., The Concert’ and ‘Moonlight’ all city themes. There is ‘Early Spring’.written from a child’s viewpoint of departure. Although a critic friend has negative things to say about the work (some friend) others appreciate it (Block, Remizov, Sestov). She has one foot in the Symbolist camp. But her home is the center for the gathering of the younger futurists. They discuss a project.
Her other foot is in the futurist camp. The two will soon go to war. Guro tries to remain neutral. I suspect that the few years she is not heard from later, she will not publically show allegiance to either, while keeping the respect of all. For now, in April 1910 Guro collaborates with Klebnikov, the Burlyuk brothers, Kamensky in a publication she subsidizes. It is a combination of early Cubo-futuristic poems and images printed on wallpaper pages, which is “crude and unorthodox” and has a “starling homemade” look, A Trap for Judges.one (Sadok suedej) it can also be translated as The Hatchery of Judges one. Milner describes the work:The materials employed are “extraordinarily noticeable and important..an answer to the elegant and lavish publications” of the more conventional artists and deluxe editions. David Burlyuk is a “prime force in its emergence” but the title is Khlebnikov’s, the book is “prepared in Kamensy’s St Petersburg apartment...” The book is a “seminal object for the movement” soon know as Russian Futurism.. so Milner says. Perloff says -It is 130 pages, with the title label glued to a wallpaper cover. It includes “Khlebnikov’s ‘Zverinets (Zoo)’ and ‘Zhuravl (The Crane)’” and “a dozen poems by each of the Burlick brothers and as many again by Elena Guro.” However the bill to the printer is unpaid, so very few copies leave the shop, and there are very few reviews.
Also in 1909 or 10, Guro forms the Venok (Wreath), with V. Komensky and D. and V. Burlyuk. Small groups like this one from Moscow, Petersburg, Odessa and Kiev start to gather in unity with each other, linking together. Complex and numerous exhibitions are held in a variety of town during 1910, culminating in the Moscow ‘Knave of Diamonds’ exhibition of December. Here the entire crowd of the avant-garde is united for the first time.. “Many of the poets that we later find in the cubo-futurist group can be found in publications around 1910 under labels like ‘impressionists’ and ‘Hylaea’ ...Elena Guro stands out as the only urbanist poet among David and Nikola Burljuk and V. Xlebnikov.” But, there is some references to urban life in Judges one. Guro “stopped writing about the city after 1910”
In March the newly formed Petersburg society called the ‘Union of Youth’ holds an exhibition, the first of many of this name.
But, “the close-knit cooperation” does not last long; in 1911 until the war and 1914, factions grow, independent groups come and go. But the Union of Youth and the Russian futurist bookworks continue.
Khlebnikov writes to Guro. His letters of April 1911 and Jan. 12, 1913 speaks of Don Quixote.
Guro’s second book with poetry, prose, and a play is published: Autumnal Dream (Osennii son.)in 1912. The only poem is ‘“The Grasshoppers (Kuzneciki)”. The elaborated phrase and its sound is repeated through the play and has onomatopoeic elements.The play has symbolic elements, such as the red rose as a symbol of love and white rose(with blood) as the symbol of death. Included are fairy tale features. The symbolist poet Vyacheslaw Ivanov’s review of the work is positive. By now the young futurists group no longer gathers around Guro. “Alexsanr Blok mentions Guro in several places in his diaries and notebook from 1911-12. They met through their mutual friends, E. A. and A. P Ivanov..
In 1912, 13 and 14. Russian futurist and Union of Youth books proliferate, with “originality and independent daring and .nothing like them existed in the West.” Milner tells us. Malivich, Tatlin, Rozanova, Larionov, David Burlyuk and many others worked closely with the poets Kruchenikh, Khlebnikov, Kamensky, Guro, and Mayakovsky. Together the painters and poets develop artistic approach and philosophy.
In 1913 prose and poetry is included in A Trap for Judges 2, published by Matjushin under his publishing name ZHURAVL and with Livshits, and Nikolai Burlick. Also included is a new manifesto signed by many of the Slap in the Face Crowd. It uses the modernized orthography. New to the publication were Mayakovsky a frequent visitor to Guro’s house, and Kruchenykh and Livsic. Guro was still the only women in this crowd. She also took part in the futurist notorious March meeting..
The Manifesto is the only one which Guro ever signs and it
“contains the first major statements about
the visual level in literature. among the ‘new principles of creativity’ are ‘1. We have stopped considering word formation and word pronunciation according to grammatical rules, having come to see in letters only what guides speech’..2. We have come to ascribe content to words according to their graphic phonetic characteristics...It is noteworthy that the graphic determine content”.
There are a total of nine laws of poetic practices for the new literature.
“These are publishing handwritten books, unitial-rhyme and internal rhyme, the distortion of rhythm, the new concept of vowels as time and space, consonants as colors, sound and smell.The signing of the manifesto was more the signing of an agreement to stand as a group in protest against the literary establishment.”
She has two small prose pieces ready for The Union of Youth III. One contains these words by Guro:
“But we, if we die, die with complete faith in the immortality of the body and in the openspace! And our death is only a mistake, a failure of the incapable- for we are the inheritors of inertia.”
In the same year, 1913, after her death, two small prose pieces are in The Union of Youth. Khlebnikov’s letter to Guro’s husband says of her late works: ‘Here the cloak of mercy falls on the entire animal world, and people merit compassion, like the ‘little camels of the sky’” Some poems are in The Three (Troe),published in her memory, by Matiushin, with the help of Malevich, Kruchenykh and Khlebnikovin It is possible that Guro herself works on the Artists’ Book, with them, just before her death. Matiushin dedicates the bookwork to her..
Discussion of The Three (Troe): (a shame I can not read it and don’t know where to find it in one piece).. So here are parts of analysis which I use as description, without my evaluation.
Milner thinks that The Three “united new spatial concepts with the new study of words.” Quote from the unsigned introduction in The Three.
‘The days are not far when the conquered phantoms of three-dimensional space, of illusory drop-shaped time and of cowardly causality...will reveal before everyone what they have always been in reality - the annoying bars of a cage in which the human spirit is imprisoned’.
The cover and images are by Malevich and dedicated to Guro. Compton believes that Malevich’s image possibly titled ’Pilot’ which appears opposite p. 82 in The Three, is “most elaborate and original, shows an aviator set among the parts of his aeroplane” As she thinks it shares its “ingredients from literature, full-stops, commas hurling through an instant in cosmic space” with Guro, capturing a line from the poem on its facing page.
‘the visionary who has been set on fire with such terrible sonorous light’.
At the same time, she believes this drawing is “close in spirit to lines written by Kruchenyk in Act II of Victory over the Sun: ‘
‘liberated from the weight of earth’s gravitation we whimsically arrange our belongings as if a rich kingdom were moving’”
Perloff sees Three as an “example of the interaction of modes, genres and media within the covers of a single Futurist book....”
Troe brings together at least six generic forms characteristic of this period. There is, notably, not a single sort lyric in the volume. Rather, we find (1) manifesto (Matyushin’s preface, Kruchenykh’s ... ‘New Ways of the Word’); (2) topographical poem.(Khlebnikov’s ‘Khadzi-Tarkan’; (3) prose poem (Guro’s ‘The Secret or Picasso’s Violin’); (4) digressive short story or what we might call ‘the short story written as a poem’ (Khlebnikov’s ‘Hunter Usa-gali’ and ‘Nikolai’; (5) free prose improvisation (Kruchenykh’s ‘From Sahara to America’ and (6) satiric portrait (Kruchenykh’s ‘Of Contemporaries’)”
Also four drawings by Malevich and “a reproduction of the opening bars of Matyushin’s Victory over the Sun with the text by Kruchenykh. She discussed more in her essay. Another account says that there is an entire section for Guro, with many pieces, none of which were published before, a few of which will be included in Camels. The poems may be inspired by Finland and her house in the countryside. One is Picasso’s Violin others are play with neologisms such as ‘Words of Love and Warmth’ and two prose works. One describes her relation to the futurist friends, and that she watched over them as a mother. The other prose piece is “very passionate address to writer, artist and other dreamers to remain faithful to their dreams and ideals:
The dream - you have given it life - and the dream lives; what we have created no longer belongs to us, as ourselves no longer belong to ourselves.
Both Guro’s poem “The City” and Krucenyx ’s ‘To the Memory of Elena Guro. From the notebook of A. Krucenyx” are published in 1914, in purely Cubo-futurist publication Roaring Parnassus.
Some of Guro’s pieces from Judges and others never published, are included in (Nebesnye verblyuzhata) Baby or Little Camels of the Sky, in 1914.
Her works and those of another dead woman artist, Olga Rozanova are exhibited with a large group of artists living both in and out of the country in the 1927 touring exhibition of cities in Russian cities.
Russian critics and historians take a brief interest in Elena Guro. Her name is mentioned here and there. But she has not ever had the attention she would have hoped for.
A Prose/poetry-(some may say short story). “An Impulse” Translated by Milica Benjanin, The Ardis Anthology of Russian Futurism. Ellendea and Carl R. Proffer eds. Ann Arbor: 1980. pp. 139-142
Some of the poems and the cover of “Little Camels in the Sky.”
The Ardis Anthology... pp. 114-132.
AND Elena Guro Little Camels in the Sky.. published by Ardis same translator 1983 But more poems and her images I do not know if all of these were in the original, nor if the reproduced poems in the Anthology are the original number.
Stephanie Barron and Maurice Tuchman The Avant-Garde in Russia, 1910-1930: New Perspectives.LA County Museum Exhibition Cat. LA: 1980.
John E. Bowlt. “A slap in the Face of Public Taste: The Art of the Book and the Russian Avant-Garde” in Russian Samizdat Art, Ed. Charles Doria , NY: 1986.
Susan P. Compton. The World Backwards: Russian Futurist Books 1912-16. London, 1978.
Camilla Gray.The Russian Experiment in Art : 1863-1922. NY: 1970 from 1962 format London
Elena Guro. Elena Guro.:The Little Camels of the Sky. Kevin O’brien Translator, Ardis Ann Arbor:1983
Gerald Janecek. The Look of Russian Literature: Avant-Garde Visual Experiments, 1900-1930. Princeton, 1984.
Kjeld Bjornager Jensen. Russian futurism, Urbanism and Elena Guro. Arkon Denmark:1977
.John Milner,Vladimir Tatlin and the Russian Avant-Garde.New Haven and London: 1983.
Ellendea and Carl Proffer eds. The Ardis Anthology. of Russian Futurism. Ann Arbor: 1980
Marjorie Perloff. The Futurist Moment: Avant-Garde, Avant Guerre, and the Language of Rupture. Chicago: 1986.
Victor Terrios ed.Handbook of Russian Literature, New Haven and London:1985.