Escape from Utopia : The Metamorphoses of Utopian Dreams in the Russian Avant-Garde in Exile (Il’ya Zdanevich, Boris Poplavskii)
The early years of Soviet rule signaled the arrival of a new Utopian era where it seemed as if even the most outlandish avant-garde projects might be realized. Many avant-garde artists contributed to the construction of this brave new world which quickly degenerated into a nightmarish dystopia. Ironically, many avant-garde poets and painters emigrated from the soviet Russia in the early twenties just at a time when the range of possibilities still seemed enticing. Among the artists who turned their backs on such seeming opportunity was Ilia Zdanevich (Iliazd), Alexander Guinger, Boris Poplavsky, and Serge Charchoune. Thus was born, mainly in Paris, the Russian avant-garde art in exile, a phenomenon which allows the present day observer a fascinating analytical perspective in which the concept of Utopia may be placed at the very centre of our reflections. For if the avant-garde longed for a radical transformation of life, society and art, did it make sense to continue or even to start (as in the case of Poplavsky) such avant-garde developments so far removed from the country where these transformations were supposedly taking place? For example, the invention of transrational language was purely a utopian project, but why print this new language in the Cyrillic alphabet (as Iliazd did in 1923) rendering it inaccessible to the French Dadaists unless read aloud? Kruchenykh declared that Zaum could provide “a universal poetic language born organically”, but this very language produced in a foreign linguistic environment couldn’t help but loose its utopian aura, leaving it at best a pure artifice. The abrupt end of the “heroic times” of Russian avant-garde poetry in Paris demonstrates that the young émigrés had yet to elaborate their own alternatives, both to the art of their Russian predecessors as well to the new leftist ideology of art.