Abstract for the lecture given on 12 March 2008
Focusing primarily on Italian artist Umberto Boccioni’s ‘Unique Forms of Continuity in Space’ (1913), this paper posits the Futurist vision of a new race of superman as an extension of the centuries-old scientific investigation of the animal body as a machine. It examines in particular the links between Futurist art and the work of Etienne-Jules Marey, a French physiologist whose work exerted a profound influence on artists at the beginning of the twentieth century. Marey’s experiments with chronophotography (photographs that capture the sequential phases of movement) were developed as a means of capturing the movements of the ‘animal mechanism’; the resulting images lent themselves to appropriation by the Futurists in their attempts to depict the beauty of speed, and the scientific discourse on which Marey’s chronophotography was based provided a template for their ideological rhetoric.
Natasha’s paper was followed by a lively discussion focussing on specific examples she had analysed. The question was raised if the materiality of Boccioni’s sculptures – they were never cast and thus retain a transitional, ephemeral quality – does not seem to contradict a reading as machines. Aspects of medium were brought up, since the appropriation of Marey’s photographs by the Futurists involved the transition from a two-dimensional medium to the three-dimensionality of sculpture. The discussion finished with a comparison between the sculptures of the Italian Futurists and Jacob Epstein’s contemporaneous monolithic ‘Rock Drill’ (1913-14), on view in the Against Nature exhibition.
A recording of this talk is available to listen to in the Institute library