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Futurism 803 Walsh 1

Running Head: FUTURISM 803 WALSH

Tracing Information Transfer in Futurism

Maura Walsh

Emporia State University
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Abstract

Futurism was an art movement that embraced of the machine age in a series of

manifestos that tried to change the social and economic status quo of the early twentieth

century. Although it soon became entwined with other art movements, and is generally seen as

having ended with the First World War, its influence has been one of the most far reaching. It

may be the best documented art movement in the twentieth century. Here the creation,

dissemination, organization, diffusion, utilization and preservation of the information

generated by that movement will be examined as components of information transfer.
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Tracing Information Transfer in Futurism

Introduction

“Set fire to the library shelves….flood the museums”. These bombastic words are an

example of the inflammatory tone that was sprung on the world in Filippo Tommaso

Marinetti’s Manifeste du Futurisme on the front page of Le Figaro on the 20th of February in

1909 (Doyle, 2007). This manifesto of Futurism was the beginning of a movement that was

conceived and written about before it was actually represented in fact. Furthermore, the

movement was rather short lived, but its impact can be traced from this newspaper article, or

even shortly before, through today.

Creation

The Futurism Manifesto was published as a call to arms for intellectuals and artists in

all disciplines. Marinetti’s artistic philosophy was possibly first published as a broadsheet in

Milan in 1908 (Golding, 1969, p.388) and it caused uproar all over Europe during the first

years after its publication in Paris. In the manifesto he called for the overturn of the

established, sedate and socially accepted order and a new dedication to speed, machines and

anarchy.

This first manifesto was quickly followed by others on cinema, architecture; syntax;

war, painting, gastronomy and lust. The original manifesto and its successors may be

considered an innovation: “an idea, practice or object that is perceived as new” (Rogers,

1983,p. 11) All were elaborated as part of the same futurism philosophy. Authors of some of

the latter manifestos include Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrí and Giacomo Balla as well as

Marinettti himself. The knowledge about the movement was essentially created before the

movement, with the first futurist art exhibition not opening in Milan until 1910 (Hutchinson
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2004), underscoring this movement’s rather unique birth as much more political than strictly

artistic. Marinetti was a spin doctor at the dawning of the century long before the term had

been coined. He generated manifestos and materials and “It is believed that two thirds of the

books, magazines and broadsheets that the futurists published were distributed free of charge

as ‘propaganda’ material” (Lanham, 2006). He wanted to connect with his audience

immediately and directly.

Malchup (1980) argues that Art can be either application or communication, and in the

latter case “the artist creates knowledge in the minds of his readers” (p. 92). This is perhaps one of

the best possible examples then of art as communication according to this definition because the

art being created was such a thorough break from what had come before. It was certainly an

example communicating or creating fresh knowledge. The recipient was confronted with a totally

new concept of writing, painting, music, etc.

Dissemination

“Dissemination refers to the intended transfer of knowledge – by means of speech or some

such record as a written or printed page, from the minds of those who generated it, or who

learned it from them or from intermediaries – to other minds, which have not hitherto

possessed it.” (Machlup, 1980, p. 173-4)

Dissemination was rapid. There were countless articles and letters published in the

European magazines that were written and read by the artists and intellectual elite of the day

like Der Sturm, La Voce, Prometeo, The Burlington Magazine, Lacerba, Blast, and Marinetti’s

own Poesia. There were also numerous letters among the creators of the day, many of which

survive in collections like Yale’s Beinecke Library where there are 941 web pages of scanned
items that include letters and notes as well as other documents that date from the beginnings of

the movement.

The first exhibit was swiftly re-presented in Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Paris and Vienna

(Hutchinson, 2004). The Futurists did not wait for dissemination to follow what had been the

normal channels up until then. They “held meetings, gave speeches, boycotted and employed many
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other types of demonstration…” causing their ideas to spread “….faster than one could read it”

(Camil, 2007). This premeditated movement was bold and aggressive.

From 1913 on, these Futurist soirées were the precursor of the «Synthetic Theatre.»

Performances usually included music or a performance of Russolo's «Intonarumori» or

noise machines, improvised speeches (usually by Marinetti), presentations of

paintings, literary and poetic readings and short dramatic plays called sintesi or

syntheses. In literature, following on from his early experiments with 'free verse', he

introduced the concept of 'free words', eschewing syntax and punctuation while

revolutionizing typography (Medienkunstnetz, 2004).

Sometimes the exhibitions ended with injuries and arrests (McLaughlin, 2000).

This meant more press coverage and more dissemination. It was an orchestrated, deliberate

dissemination in an era that was not accustomed to such extravagant displays.

It is difficult to encounter an art history text today that does not give some consideration to

Futurism as a movement. It is often mentioned in passing when referring to other movements of

the early twentieth century; not only art movements, but social and political as well. It is therefore

possible to easily encounter articles about Futurism in peer reviewed journals in the fields of art,

architecture, art history, history, cinema, political science, music, and sociology that continue the

dissemination.

The Centro Internazionale di Studi sul Futurismo (CISF) in Roverteo, Italy promotes

the awareness of Italian Futurism on a national and international scale. It was founded with a

bequest from the Futurist architect, Angiolo Mazzoni and has documentary archives and

works by Carrà, Balla, Prampolini, Severini, Crali and other artists. It published the

Dictionary of Futurism in 2001. Sometime this year the center will be launching a website

that will allow users to access information from the center’s databases and digitized

documents as well as links to other institutions and databases. The CISF is also dedicated to

the publication of previously unpublished Futurist works, collections of writings, and artists’
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dossiers.

Organization

The organization of information on futurism relies mainly upon those libraries that

Marinetti would have burned. Achleitner describes this organization as “a systematic

arranging of data, information and knowledge to facilitate identification, access and retrieval.

(Achleitner, 2007) Using the Dewey decimal classification system books specifically about

different aspects of Futurism can be found listed under numbers 704, Special topics; 709.2,

709.04, 759.06, 759.5, Historical, areas, persons, treatment; 720, Architecture; 781.6, General

principles & musical forms; 809.4, 850.9 and 891.709 among others. The Library of

Congress call numbers for different volumes are mostly in NX600. The main subject heading

is Futurism (art) and there are numerous others for the different aspects like architecture and

music. The CISF also maintains an extensive bibliography of Futurist studies. The Beinecke

archives contain a large collection of Marinetti’s personal papers, carefully guarded by his

widow before they were given to Yale.

Diffusion

Rogers (1983) states that “Opinion Leadership is the degree to which an individual is

able to influence…attitudes or overt behavior … (an) Opinion leader play(s) an important role

in activating diffusion networks.” (p. 307). This seems wholly applicable to Marinetti’s role in

Futurism. He was the central figure and driving force (Camil, 2007). His colleagues quickly

endorsed the first manifesto and added more of their own making in different categories

which seems to prove the theory that “An individual is more likely to adopt an innovation if

more of the other individuals in his or her personal network have adopted it previously”

(Rogers and Kincaid, 1981). The structure of this social system definitely facilitated the rapid
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diffusion of the tenets of Futurism. In this case the S curve within this group would have been

especially steep.

There are numerous examples of the diffusion of Futurism. It is widely considered to

be the first art movement that preceded the creation of the art itself. Some believe that ever

since, art has responded more to criticism than not; or in other words, that modern innovations

in art are actually largely dependent upon the prior diffusion of theory and criticism.

An important exhibition called Futurism & Futurisms opened the Palazzo Grassi in

Venice in 1986, which would have seemed ironic to the original Futurists because “no city

stood higher on their hit list than Venice” (Hughes, 1986, p.1)This important exhibition

attracted international collaboration from hundreds of museums, galleries, private collections

and scholars.

In 2003 the Centro Internazionale di Studi sul Futurismo organized an international

conference "Futurismo. Dall'avanguardia alla memoria" in conjunction with the

aforementioned Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, which holds

the Marinetti archive. They held workshops and special seminars for over 100 researchers.

The Getty Research Institute at the Getty Centre in California is currently holding an

exhibition titled “A Tumultuous Assembly: Visual Poems of the Italian Futurists”. It

concentrates on the visual poetry of the movement called parole in libertà and the installation

is “allowing readers unprecedented access to poems vertically and horizontally, visually and

verbally, iconographically and analogically” (Getty, 2006) by their physical display and the

written and acoustic translations provided.

Utilization

The utilization of Futurism is enormous and encompasses a large variety of things
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from Poster art in the twenties to Punk rock in the eighties. Much of this utilization may not

be apparent because it has become so widespread and commonplace today. Two areas of

particular interest are music and book making.

Futurist music was largely about the incorporation of noise. Luigi Russolo and

Francesco Pratella wrote the manifesto entitled The Art of Noises and The Technical Manifest

of Futurist Music (Goldsmith, 2004) wherein they concluded that the next logical step in the

development of music was the incorporation of noise. Russolo and another Futurist named

Piatti then designed instruments called “Intonarumori” (Camil, 2007). They were large box

like contraptions with cranks used in Futurist concerts around Europe. These were the

predecessors of synthesized and electronic music. Many of the compositions inspired by the

earliest Futurists continue to be performed today and are a continuing springboard for musical

innovation.

Modern books also owe a lot to Futurism. Conventional typography was based on

economy of space and simplicity. Basically only two typefaces were used by printers prior to

Futurism. Marinetti and his colleagues wanted books and print to be more representative of

modernity and so there was a sudden explosion in fonts, papers, colors layout and book

covers. Some of this was more suitable to craft than commercial production, but there is a

direct legacy in modern printing and book design.

Preservation

Fortunately there are several consummate institutions dedicated to the preservation of

Futurist material. These include the Getty Research Institute, the Beinecke Library at Yale and

the CISF museum in Italy. Other museums like the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New

York, The Fine Arts Museum in Philadelphia and The Museum of Contemporary Arts in São

Paulo are leading institutions in the field.
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Certainly the conservation of these unique works is a main concern in all these centers,

as is amplifying the existing collections and making digital reproductions of the holdings. The

digitization has been a top priority at the CISF and Beinecke and has the added advantage of
providing wide access as well as better preserving the original material. Of course the problems of

technological obsolescence and the ability to migrate as technology evolves, as Yakel so deftly

pointed out, are ongoing concerns that must be addressed continuously. But never before have

scholars been better able to study and learn and understand the applications and influences of a

movement like Futurism.

Conclusion

Perhaps the stars aligned and those revolutionaries really were able to see what the future

held. Many of their ideas have proven to be harbingers of change and have enriched our culture.

Certainly their processes of information transfer – direct, deliberate and excessive – have become

much more the norm in our society a hundred years later. And many of their innovations have lent

themselves to being utilized on modern terms and with modern technology. Luckily it did not prove

necessary to pillage museums and torch libraries.

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