i-ItalyNY - 5thBirthday Special Issue. The Best of i-Itay - page 18

18 |
i-Italy Magazine
| Special Issue | Winter 2017-2018
Steven Acunto
What was the future like in 1909?
The world had changed as never before, or
so it seemed. There were no precedents. Imagine,
if you can, the way the future looked to the best
minds in turn-of-the-century Europe. Imagine, if
you can, the sudden impact of the Industrial Revo-
lution of the 1880s. Imagine the heart-stopping,
world-changingmechanical inventions at the time,
just like our world-changing inventions today.
What did the future look like to Filippo Tom-
masoMarinetti in 1909Paris?What did it look like
for the Italian artists, poets, architects, cooks and
expats in Paris, Milan and Turin? Yes, the world
had changed as never before, or so it seemed.
There were no precedents, no paradigms to study.
The past was slow and teary-eyed; the present, an
electric jolt.
They were troubling and confusing times. You
could look backward and embrace the sweet and
melancholy 1800s, the 1879 of Vienna, or the Ro-
mantic world of the early and mid 19th century.
You could be swayed by the rhyme of sentimental
poetry, swept up in the insistently rich orchestra-
tions of Brahms or return to relive Beethoven’s
peasants dancing in a ring far from the city as a
storm approaches. Or you could return to the in-
evitably tragic view of love embodied by Goethe’s
Werther or theplight of Byron’s prisoner of Chillon.
Or, you could accept the noise, the sound, the
friction and the dynamism of a new century, of a
post-industrial revolution world, screeching nois-
es, the palpable friction of steel running on rails,
the persistent smoke puffing from a chimney 75
feet tall, or the thrill of commanding a horseless
carriage at 25miles per hour with a foot pedal. You
could accept it and embrace it, let it permeate your
new20th century sensibility as you rode off with a
bang, not a whimper.
You could open your soul andmake it one with
the newmechanistic order of things. You could see
a future for expression that matched the future of
life in the new interdependent, fast, steely, two-
lanes-ahead world.
A revaluation of all values
Into this milieu came a movement that declared
itself a revaluation of values. In the 1880s no less
a figure thanNietzsche, living between Italy, Swit-
zerland and Germany, called for exactly that: a re-
valuation of all values. Other philosophers, poets
andartists followed suit, as the antique drumfaded
and a new sound emerged. And the Italians were,
as usual, among the first to champion a new order
in art, a “now” movement that wholly embraced
the shimmering body of the industrial revolution.
Marinetti and his followers cried,
Make war!
ult in bombs. Turn the impersonality of this world
into a structure for art, architecture, music, food
and every part of life. They looked ahead to the
inevitable remaking of society and its worldview.
Futurism was born as a modus vivendi, a way
of living and seeing and hearing. The art hang-
ing on the walls of the museums seemed “lifeless”
to them, vague and sentimental relics. Futurists
found master works self-indulgent, decadent, un-
responsive to the evolving new order—the same
way, I suppose, a young person today might see
newspapers or printed books or sea voyaging in
the age of the Concorde.
Industry and conflict, war and speed
Think of it. In 1909 an art of speed, beautiful ma-
chinery, the combustion and friction of life in cit-
ies, endless smoke and unprecedented noise was
engulfing artists looking at their easels or blank
pages trying to divine a form or message. Italian
Futuristsmanaged to swim in the unexplored cur-
rent, not drowning, but paddling toward the new
shore of the real.
Italian Futurists managed to swim in
the unexplored current, not drowning,
but paddling toward the new shore of
the real. The art hanging on the walls
of themuseums seemed “lifeless” to
them, vague and sentimental relics.
They would find this article boring
because it contains no noise, no
surprise blasts, no color, no violence.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome Back to the Future
To Futurists, the
present does not simply
reject the past. It
embraces the inevitable
future, the technology
that they believed would
transform the world.
And has.
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