Aleksandar Bošković: Photopoetry and the Bioscopic Book: Russian and Czech Avant-Garde Experiments of the 1920s (2013)

12 August 2015, dusan

The extraordinary junction between poetry, photography and photomontage — photopoetry — flourished in avant-garde books and journals throughout Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. The new genre aspired to appropriate the products of technological culture in creating poetry more alert to the mass sensibility of a rapidly changing mechanical age. As a new hybrid form that combines poetic text and photographic images, it was ripe for poetic experimentation and production of optical provocations.

This dissertation focuses on three avant-garde photo-poetry books — Mayakovsky and Rodchenko’s About This (1923), Nezval and Teige’s Alphabet (1926), and Mayakovsky and Rozhkov’s unpublished and little known To the Workers of Kursk (1924-7) — examining them from the angle of the bioscopic book, a concept envisaged in a programmatic manner by El Lissitzky in 1923. (from the Abstract)

Dissertation
Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Michigan, 2013
309 pages

Publisher

PDF (9 MB)

See also Mayakovsky and Rozhkov’s book in PDF (3 MB, via vk.com).

Vítězslav Nezval: Abeceda (1926)

2 August 2014, dusan

“In Nezval’s Abeceda, a cycle of rhymes based on the shapes of letters, I tried to create a ‘typofoto’ of a purely abstract and poetic nature, setting into graphic poetry what Nezval set into verbal poetry in his verse, both being poems evoking the magic signs of the alphabet.” – Karel Teige

The 1926 book Abeceda [Alphabet] is a landmark work of the artists’ collective Devětsil, active in Prague and Brno in the 1920s.

“The composition of Abeceda took place in three stages. Vítězslav Nezval wrote the poem in 1922 along the line of the grade-school syllabary, matching each letter of the alphabet with a single rhyming quatrain. Nearly every verse takes its lead from the visual aspect of its letter and proceeds as a sequence of fanciful associations: “A / let us call you a simple hut / Transport your tropics to the Moldau, o palms / A snail has its simple home with feelers sticking up / while people don’t know where to lay their heads.” For a celebratory Nezval evening in 1926 at the Liberated Theater in Prague, Milča Mayerová contributed a choreographed alphabet that complemented each quatrain with a sequence of poses. The composition concluded with Karel Teige’s addition of photo-montages that join photographs of Mayerová’s embodied alphabet with his own geometric letterforms.

Nezval’s verses follow from his conviction that poetry, as a game of language played at the level of its rudiments, provided a means of transforming the world directly. The photos of Mayerová illustrate in concrete terms this intimacy between language and reality; the poses have her almost trying the alphabet on for size. Teige’s photomontages organize that alphabetized figure with geometric letters according to the structure of the grid, which the artist regarded as an emblem of rational order. In setting Mayerová’s figure in gridded relation to the alphabet, Teige seemed to be insisting that readers consider the realities of life in relation to letters whose shapes they not only determine, but that in turn determine them.” (Source)

Abeceda. Taneční komposice Milči Mayerové
Publisher J. Otto, Prague, 1926
Illustrated with 25 black and white photomontages
57 pages
via V&A

Video adaptation (8 min, 2000, made at the Wolfsonian-FIU, Miami)

PDF (with Nezval’s poems in Czech, low resolution)
PDF (images only, low resolution)

Roger Shattuck: The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France, 1885 to World War I., Rev. ed. (1955/1968)

8 April 2014, dusan

In this book Roger Shattuck portrays the cultural bohemia of turn-of-the-century Paris who carried the arts into a period of renewal and accomplishment, and laid the ground-work for Dada and Surrealism.

“…Then came the idea–a kind of gambler’s hunch–that the trio Rousseau-Satie-Apollinaire represented several significant aspects of the period and could reveal them better than any single figure. The idea would not die. [..] Jarry had forced his way into the group and established himself close to the center of things. He helped clarify my underlying subject: how the fluid state known as bohemia, a cultural underground smacking of failure and fraud, crystallized for a few decades into a self-conscious avant-garde that carried the arts into a period of astonishingly varied renewal and accomplishment. [..] An enormous amount has been written on this era and these men since the first edition of this book in 1958. I have taken account of some of it by changing those passages where new facts have come to light.” (from the Preface to this edition)

First published in 1955
Publisher Vintage Books, 1968
397 pages

Review (Alfred Kazin, The Reporter, 1958)
Review (Sidney Tillim, College Art Journal, 1959)
Review (Justin O’Brien, The Saturday Review, 1958)

PDF (115 MB, no OCR)