Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Beginning of the Series "The Russian Avant-garde"

Where did the series about the Russian Avant-garde begin, is a question I am asked from time to time. I had been working as a consultant for a documentary film company in Russia advising them about foreign distribution for their films. It was during this time especially that I learnt about making films in Russia. I had worked on feature films in Russia before, for instance "Grushko" in St Petersburg, and two other films in Moscow, ending with "The Stringer" Participating in these projects gave me some rich experiences and significant insights into film making in Russia. The work with the documentary film company, however, gave me some real hands on experience of working in Russian studios and some good contacts which encouraged me to start making my own films. I wasn't sure at first what to make films about, which subjects to tackle so to speak and then by chance I heard about an exhibition of the Costakis collection in Moscow. Costakis collected paintings and works of art from avant-garde artists of the 20s and 30s who largely left Russia and tried to eke out an existence in the various capitals of Europe. After the war Costakis travelled around Russia and Europe collecting these paintings, sometimes picking them up for 50 dollars or a bottle of wine or so legend would have it. In a word he singlehandedly rescued hundreds and hundreds of paintings to amass what became a priceless collection of avant-garde works which he donated to the Russian State.

In the beginning Costakis collected the Masters of the Dutch School of Landscape Painters but modernist works by Picasso and Matisse soon fell within his field of vision. In 1946 he came across three paintings in a Moscow studio by Olga Rozanova . He described how, in the dark days after the war these brightly coloured paintings of the lost Avant-Garde: "were signals to me. I did not care what it was... but nobody knew what anything was in those days".So struck by the powerful visual effect of the strong colour and bold geometric design which spoke directly to the senses, that he became determined to rediscover the Suprematist and Constructivist art which had been lost and forgotten in the attics, studios and basements of Moscow and Leningrad. He hunted for pictures which had been 'lost', some that were rolled up and covered with dust. He met Vladimir Tatlin and befriended Varvara Stepanova. He tracked down friends of Kasimir Malevich and bought works by Lubov Popova and Ivan Kliun. He particularly admired Anatoly Zverev, Russian expressionist whom he met in the 50's. Costakis said about Zverev "it was a source of great happiness for me to come into contact with this wonderful artist, and I believe him to be one of the most talented artists in Soviet Russia."

By the 1960 George Costakis' apartment in Moscow had become a place for international art collectors and art lovers in general to meet and exchange ideas and opinions, as some called it, Russia's unofficial Museum of Modern Art. The same year Costakis, with his family, left the Soviet Union and moved to Greece , but he agreed that he should leave 50 per cent of his collection in the State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow. In 1997 the Greek State bought the 1275 works and they are now part of the permanent collection of the State Museum of Contemporary Art, in Thessaloniki, Greece.

It was this story which first inspired me to make a film. The passionate quest of Costakis, I believed, would make an excellent documentary film. I became even more convinced after I saw the exhibition of his collection in Moscow some time in 1998. It seemed to me that there was something unique and intriguing in the geomtrical and abstract colours and shapes. They seemed to have a dynamism and energy which I had not encountered anywhere else or in any other artistic tradition. However the logistics for the film failed to gain any traction. All the same I still continued to research the subject of the Russian Avant-garde and as part of these researches I came across Alexander Rodchenko, the painter and photographer. People often asked me why in particular Rodchenko became the first film I made. “Why Rodchenko?” they would say. There were two basic reasons which attracted me to the idea of making a film about Rodchenko. Firstly Rodchenko abandoned painting altogether to take up photography. Easel painting is dead he maintained, only the camera can reflect the social and visual realities which were emerging at that time. It was this idea of a painter almost violently going against his own art which I thought would make a good film. The second reason is that Rodchenko’s experiments in art and photography helps establish a working visual grammar for anybody undertaking a film especially if it is ones first serious film. "The visually coherent "look" which the film has was already present in Rodchenko photographs. His understanding of the compositional values in any image, such as volume, contrast, depth, balance, proportion etc is a perfect introduction to any film maker. One other point which is worth making is that Rodchenko saw Moscow not as a place to live and work but as a territory for study, that is a space exploring new visual and aesthetic frontiers. He would walk around Moscow photographing the new buildings and objects appearing on the streets, finding new angles and perspectives to illuminate the mundane and make the spectacular commonplace. As I followed in his footsteps, literally, I got an excellent "feel" for the material. Moscow no longer remained a bleak, cold and alien environment I had experienced when I first arrived but a city with immense visual and creative possibilities.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Guggenheim on its 50th anniversary and Kandinsky Film


Kandinsky, a full-scale retrospective of the visionary artist, theorist, pioneer of abstract art, and seminal figure in the history of the Guggenheim Museum will be presented from September 18, 2009, to January 13, 2010. This exhibition is organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, in cooperation with the St├Ądtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich, and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. The film "Kandinsky and the Russian House" was released in 2007 and has featured as part of the Kandinsky exhibitions in Germany and at the Pompidou centre in Paris. It gives me great pleasure that the film will be associated with the 50th anniversary of the Guggenheim especially as Kandinsky served as an inspiration for the foundation of this great museum. This retrospective will bring together more than 100 paintings drawn primarily from these three institutions, whose collections make up the three largest repositories of Kandinsky in the world, as well as from significant private and public collections. A DVD of "Kandinsky and the Russian House" will be on sale at the exhibition and can be purchased at the Guggenheim shop in New York

When I was in Germany filming "Kandinsky and the Russian House" I was invited by a director friend, Peter Goedel who lived in Munich, to the film festival which was going at the time of filming. I had met Peter at another film festival in Toronto a year or so earlier and this meeting was one reason why I decided to go ahead and make a film about Kandinsky. Peter's superb film "Tangier -Legend of a City" won three awards at Toronto and it was he who invited me to Munich when he heard that I was thinking of making a film about Kandinsky.

When I mentioned Kandinsky at the Munich Film Festival, people often talked about him as if he was a quasi European painter in the Matisse or impressionist mould and didn't seem enthusiastic about acknowledging that Kandinsky was Russian at all. However if you look at Kandinsky's work, the light that he found even in Southern Bavaria is very similar to a Russian light, the light of the Steppe. This is true I believe of even the most abstract of his paintings. Even as I look out of my window on a bright sunny Moscow morning I see Kandinsky's colours and light everywhere. Anybody who has spent a long period of time in Russia will, in my opinion recognise this. The Argentinian and Irish artist Carmen Casey, who lived in Moscow for more than six years, commented to me that one of the difficulties she found about working in Moscow when she first arrived, was the sheer intensity of the light (on a sunny day of course) which she wasn't used to and had never encountered befere. When I tried to explain this to people they would look at me blankly while I rambled on about my theories, especially the one that Kandinsky is the quintessential Russian painter. As he himself said, "Moscow is the tuning fork for all my painting". And that is despite the fact that Kandinsky spent many years in all the European centres of artistic excellence of that time; Munich, Paris and finally Berlin at the Bauhaus. He always, I believe, returned artistically to his Russian roots . Why did he leave Russia it might be asked. In some ways it doesn't make sense to ask such a question. Every artist must continuously expand their horizons and seek inspiration by travelling and through studying other cultures. Kandinsky came from a section of Russian society who would have been familiar with all the philosophical and cultural trends of Europe as well as Russia and would have been drawn to Europe as a result. However, the fact that Kandinsky no longer painted in Russia and had moved to Europe made him no more a European painter and no less a Russian painter.
Where ever artists find themselves they always see the world with their own eyes and interpret what they see from their own inner understanding.
An other factor here is the eastern influence in European painting which at that time was not such a strange thing as one might imagine. The collector of Central Asian Ikats or multi coloured robes,Tair Tairov, believes that the abstract patterns of these textiles and robes inspired a generation of artists in Europe. Picasso, Mattisse, Whistler and many others were all influnced one way or another by eastern art in particular Japanese art. It could be said that eastern art with its emphasis on the abstract was a componatnt part of the rise of abstract art in Europe and America. Kandinsky apparantely himself remarks how these multi-coloured robes infleunced his artistic development.

The film "Kandinsky and the Russian House" was released in 2007 and is part of a series of 6 films about the Russian Avant-garde.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

What's been happening back in Moscow

Already a month since we have returned from Japan. The backlog of business was formidable even though I tried to deal with a much as I could while we were on the road in Japan. Reasonably successful dealing with most things but all the same the sheer volume of tasks was overwhelming once we arrived back in Moscow. I had made a conscious decision to try and hit the ground running and get straight back into editing as soon as possible and that more or less worked out. Just getting back into the rhythm of Moscow life is a task in itself but then I have plenty of experience.

Its time to really take stock of what was the outcome of the whole Japan trip. The first thing to say is that we achieved at least 95% of the goals we set our selves plus an extra 20% of other goals which were fulfilled through the chances and opportunities thrown up by simply being in Japan for such an extended period. Ultimately these things aren't quantifiable in any meaningful sense but it gives some idea of scale. For instance after visiting Oshima with Akira Suzuki and meeting the curator of the Island Museum in memory of Gomo Kimuro we decided to interview both of them and the connections they have with the Island and its culture.I hadn't really intended this, I really just wanted to look at the Island and film a bit especially as David Burliuk spent time there painting with his family. It unclear how to use this material but there are various possibilities which are worth pursuing.

As for the main task in hand, that is the two films about Japanese art which are in progress (One traditional one contemporary), the material which we have shot and coupled with the extensive research we were able to complete in Japan have broadened and given depth to a project which was already at a well developed stage. The situation as it stands now is that I have to extend the post production stage for a much longer period than I expected but in the long run it will be of over all benefit to the project.

At the moment its too early to reveal the substance of the films in question simply to say that they will concentrate on Japanese art seen from an unusual perspective and contemporary art in Japan. The films will be linked thematically so that from time to time there will be a seamless crossover from one film to the other but at the same time the two films will stand alone as separate entities and can be viewed as such. Editing is progressing at a slow but steady pace and unfortunately you can't rush these things, its laborious,time consuming but rewarding. Time will tell.

The Avant-garde series is selling well in most outlets. The Pompidou centre in Paris ordered more discs and negotiating with Guggenheim about Kandinsky film.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Winding Down




Just a few days left before we leave Tokyo. We extended our stay by ten days in order to fit everything in and even with that we wont get everything done. I have shot almost everything I wanted and research wise covered an immense amount of ground. However fatigue is setting in. Constantly on the move and organising each stage of our programme without any back up infrastructure takes its toll. Not that I'm complaining, that's how I wanted it. Even during my time working on feature films in Europe and Africa before becoming an independent film maker the sense of fatigue in yourself and others usually became apparent after about six weeks into a shoot. We were in Russia for four months in the early nineties so its possible to imagine how people felt after that length of time.The director shot the last few weeks from a wheelchair closely followed by the first assistant director. It was a disconcerting sight to see them both being wheeled around the set but working perfectly normally otherwise. This is different of course, when you are doing things for yourself you can set the pace that you want and the demands of being attached to a large crew with 20-30 actors at one time are a far cry from what I am doing now.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Hakone


After we got back from Nikko it was just a few days before gearing up for Hakone. In between times I did more filming in Tokyo as well as a unique park outside Tokyo. The evening before we were to go To Hakone we met with Akira Suzuki and I outlined an idea I have had for a supplementary film and discussed the idea of doing more interviews with him for this new film.

The next day w boarded a bus early in the morning which took us out to the Hakone region where Mount Fuji is located. I needed some good shots of this feature for the film. When I woke up and looked out the window torrential rain was falling and the forecast was that it would continue all day. Not a good start as this type of weather would insure that Mount Fuji would be hidden in cloud. We had decided to take a normal tour to the mountain which meant enduring a continual commentary from the guide, although I have to admit she was a good guide as far as it goes, its just we had different goals from a tourist who was in japan for the first time. I chose this method of traveling because there was no way we would get up Mount Fuji otherwise. Also I knew that the next day we would be free to wonder all over the Hakone area unhindered and the tour gave us some good deals on local transport plus as it turned out a first rate hotel with stunning views of the lake and mountains.

When we got to mount Fuji, the rain had in fact stopped but as i expected the whole mountain was shrouded in mist. Occasionally there would be break here and there but it wasn't working at all. Nonetheless the feeling of being halfway up sch a magnificent natural feature was palpable and I we felt the full force of the incredible sight of the snow peaked volcanic mountain. Beautifully formed, if the weather had been better it might have felt like just a illusory few short steps to the top. Even though we were surrounded by snow at the fifth station, as its called it didn't feel cold. A half an hour was all we got and then it was back on the bus and down the mountain for lunch. Then out to Hakone. It took about another hour and a half to get to the lake which is in fact a collapsed volcano crater.Everyone was bundled into a cable car at the foot of some mountain and we started an assent. Suddenly there it was. The weather had cleared and mount Fuji appeared in all its glory as if floating like and island in a sea of clouds. I knew the next day was going to be clear and sunny so I would get some good footage anyway but the emotional intensity of the view was worth the wait.

We descended to the lake again and we thankfully parted company with our guide and the rest of the group and were taken by a shuttle to the hotel was a couple minutes drive away on the shores of the lake. The hotel was a real find, quite luxurious but not expensive. We had a meal in the restaurant overlooking the lake and then went for an on-sen (volcanic hot spring bath). The on-sen was divided into too sections one for men and one for women. Both were outside bit only the men's section had a view of the lake. As I sat alone in the steaming pool and gazed out across the lake lit by a stunning full moon I began to feel I was gaining some gradual insight into what the medieval Japanese painters and poets were getting at. A peaceful end to a dramatic day.

The next morning we were up early and straight to the on-sen again to set us up for breakfast. Breakfast was an extensive layout of everything from fruit, salads, bacon eggs, rice soup etc, and good coffee. We didn't really want to move from the great view of the lake and the fantastic food but we weren't here just for our health and a days work was beckoning.

The first stop was the Hakone Botanical Garden which Natasha wanted to see. A long hot walk to the bus station and 15 minutes later we were at the cable car to take us up to the volcanic hot spring area. This is an area of Hakone which is still active with hot steam rising out of the water which boils on the surface. The main source of income is boiling eggs in the pools and selling them to visitors. The eggs turn black from the sulfur in the water. More shots of mount Fuji and then further and further up the mountain by cable car to the top and down the other side.



With each stop there is something interesting to look at, either a museum or art gallery or some strange natural feature. It seems to work on the secularised principle of a pilgrimage sites on a set route which were once the mainstay of the Buddhist religion in Japan.



By late evening it was already time to make our way back on the mountain railway branch line to Odawara and then on the Shikensen back to Tokyo.

The next morning we were up early for the local kanda matsuri festival of carrying shrines around the streets where our apartment is located. Noisy and hot all day but we followed it for most of the time. So much so that when the locals stopped for a break for cold drinks they offered us a drink as well.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Oshima



We arrived on Oshima slightly the worse for wear after a musical evening with some friends of Akira Suzuki the night before where we consumed large quantities of Japanese food and drink. I slept for most of the time on the hi speed boat which took us out there. We were met by the curator of the Goro Mikura memorial Museum of Traditional Peasant and Folk Art, Mr Fuji and he took us straight to the museum to do some quick filming and for to get acquainted. Mr Fuji's father was an artist who kept alive a unique folk tradition of wood sculpture indigenous to the island of Oshima(more about this later). Then we went up to Mount Mihara to film the volcano. We didn't seem to be getting as close as I wanted(Its not active - last eruption was in 1983 and Mr Fuji was part of the team of fire-fighters and rescuers drawn from the local population). We drove around for bit more and then Mr Fuji turned off the road and onto a black lava dust trial which opened up into an enormous expanse of lava dust stretching for miles all around us. We spent an hour or more here and then roamed around the island looking at various things of interest and finally returned to the museum around 6 o'clock. Then we walked a short distance to our hotel which was a typical family Japanese hotel with Japanese style rooms and incredible views of the mountains and volcano.

The next day we were up early and headed out for some more locations in and around the main town including the hotel or at least the site of the hotel in which David Burliuk stayed in 1920 when he came to Oshima. A lot has obviously changed since then but it is still a unique feeling that you are following in the footsteps of one of the great artists of the 20th century and featured in the film "David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde", which we filmed in 2004/5. David Burliuk wrote a book about his time on the island simply called "Oshima" which Akira Suzuki has translated into Japanese. After lunch we filmed an interview with Mr Fuji along with Akira Suzuki. We left Oshima about 3 PM on the Jet Foil and got back to Tokyo early evening where we had a good meal to finish off the trip.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Organising Next Locations

Finally getting somewhere with some of the more complicated locations that need to be organised, namely Nikko, Oshima and Atami. Akira suzuki with whom I worked on the film "David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde" has invited us to go with him to the island of Oshima. Its one of the first Islands Burliuk visited when he came to Japan. Akira Suzuki wll introdcuce us to the curator of the island museum and I will film as much as possible. It takes a few hours by boat to get there so we will stay overnight and come back the next day. We have also finally got the trip to Nikko settled as well. Nikko is a small town at the entrance to Nikko National Park. It also has one reputably of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. All the same everything depends on the weather.

We have been meeting with old friends the last few days as well which takes up quite a bit of time and Now that the Sakura(Cherry blossom) period is over its worth reflecting on a few ideas

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Tokyo Shinjuku Filming

Today in Shinjuku was one of those days were you start to understand what you are doing how it will work and things will fit together. Its a rare experience which perhaps has something to do with the weather and wont last long but its a good feeling all the same. We spent almost the entire day filming in Shinjuku Goen park. Spectacular sight of cherry blossom in full blaze. Its very difficult to escape at the moment but all the same its an incredible sight. I'm not usually one for the postcard visions of a country but experiencing the cherry blossom in Japan is an unexpected delight and goes well beyond the cliches of cherry blossom romantic vision of Japan. There is a genuinely spiritual meaning to the festival in that the fleeting appearance and disappearance of the blossoms represents or embodies the fleeting character of life itself. Most of the footage I am getting at the moment will fill in gaps which will have a qualitative effect on the over all direction of the first film which is centred around traditional Japanese art. In many ways at the moment there is nothing new coming in just a building up of layers and shades to add depth to the film. When engaged with any film or any project for that matter, when you start, it takes some time to reach an understanding of the outer parameters. In other words the limits within which the film will be formed. These limits are never actually reached as any creative project is forever in the stage of formation but at some point you do get a sense of what that territory will be. With these two films I don't think I have reached that point. As I film and collect material here in Japan those limits and that territory is still in a significant state of flux.

The same thing was true of the series The Russian Avant-garde - Renaissance or Revolution whereby I was never really sure with each film and the series itself whether I was coming to the end or beginning a new phase of the series. It was only after the six films were completed that I felt as if the outer parameters of the project had been reached.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Copernicus Films - Tokyo Filming


Several days of filming around Tokyo. Mostly general stuff but at the same time bearing in mind the archive footage I already have and how the archive footage might be integrated with contemporary scenes of Tokyo. This will hold true for the traditional film and the contemporary film both of which will make up the project. Filming and writing almost simultaneously which is a very new sensation. I have already done a considerable amount of research leading up to this trip but there is nothing like being in the field so to speak and seeing how things actually are on the ground and in reality. Have been spending time with Akira Suzuki who gave me a copy of his new translation of David Burliuk's book about Siberia. Its about the fifth or sixth book he has translated of Burliuk's work - its just a shame that I don't read Japanese. Information about Akira Suzuki can be found on my web site as well as an interview with him in my "David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde" the fifth in the series "The Russian Avant-garde - Renaissance or Revolution".
At the moment its the cherry blossom festival in Japan so I feel a bit dominated by it but at the same time I am looking at other things which are going on around Tokyo. In some sense I am still finding my feet and trying to get into some kind of rhythm. Kyoto was much easier because we had a short space of time in which to fit everything in and so we were quite focused. Here in Tokyo things are a little bit more open ended and so it requires more discipline. Some of the evening material looks interesting although I haven't had a chance to look at it all.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Japan - Kyoto Filming



Arrived in Kyoto several days ago and have been working since our arrival. Shot a lot of footage already. 1000 tori gates of happiness, Arashiyama and a boat ride through mountain "rapids" down to Arashiyama, one of my favourite places in Kyoto. Some new footage but mostly picking up what I missed before and what has occurred to me after editing. One of the main advantages of our return is filling the gaps in my knowledge which I hope will make the script fuller and deeper.


These two films will be a completely new departure for Copernicus Films after recently completing the series "The Russian Avant-garde - Revolution or Renaissance"
However its fair to say that the two planned films are an offshot of the experience of the film David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde



We have now returned to Tokyo after a week in Kyoto. Plenty of new material already which will work well in both films, although this is really only the start. I was particularly pleased with the Heian Shrine material of which I really didn't have enough of. Taking a breather for a day while we settle into Tokyo. Apartment is quite good and we feel pretty comfortable with it - central and in the same area we lived in before so we know where everything is located. We will spend the next day or so relaxing, seeing friends and planning the next few weeks. Natasha has some things he needs to do as part of her own programme. We have a pretty good idea of what we want to do and what I want but it requires working out the finer details. Still trying to get into some kind of rhythm but that is just a question of time. Natasha as always giving full support and keeping a full photographic record of everything as well as getting on with her own business. This evening we will meet with Akira Suzuki who I interviewed for the David Burliuk film.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Rodchenko and Popova at the Tate Modern

The Tate Modern is to host an exhibition of the graphic work of Alexander Rodchenko and Lubova Popova - "Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism" opening on 12th February 2009. 

 As part of the exhibition the DVD film "Alexander Rodchenko and the Russian Avant-garde" will be on sale in the gallery bookshop throughout the course of the exhibition where it can be purchased along side other films in the series "The Russian Avant-garde - Revolution or Renaissance" by Copernicus Films and directed by Michael Craig, (click on various links for more information) and include the titles "Meyerhold Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde", "Mayakovsky" and "Architecture and the Russian Avant-garde".

Rodchenko and Popova's designs revolutionised the way art was conceived in its relation to advertising and society. Popova was active in the world of graphics but also spent a considerable amount of energy designing sets for the theatre. She designed a set for Meyerhold's production of The Magnainimous Cuckold. The construction was a complete break from traditional concepts of theatre design and began a trend in constructivist set design in the Moscow theatre in the mid to late 1920s. 
Popova's design of spinning wheels and raised platforms against a plain backdrop (see banner above) was the perfect way of fulfilling Meyerhold's intention of combining the three dimensionality of the actors body and the two dimensionality of the stage design.
 The whole production showpieced Meyerhold's new acting and performance techniques called biomechanics based on movement and dance. Popova's work with Meyerhold is featured in the film "Meyerhold,Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde" which was filmed in Moscow and uses actors. The goal of the film was to understand the meaning of biomechanics as well as using archive footage and graphics to explore Meyerhold's development as a director.


Thursday, 8 January 2009

David Burliuk and Gauguin in Film

In 2008 Bob Duggan reviewed the film "David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde on artblogbybob. His comments about the section which referred to Gauguin in the film led to a reassessment of the way the whole series of documentary films called The Russian Avant-garde - Revolution or Renaissance. was constituted, of which "David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde" is a part and was produced by Michael Craig and Copernicus Films in 2007. On his site, as well as commenting on the quality of the photography in the film, Duggan explained that he was especially interested in the part of the film about David Burliuk and his trip to Ogasawara, a small Japanese island in the Pacific ocean about a thousand kilometres south of Tokyo. David Burliuk admired and drew inspiration from Gauguin. In 1920, after several successful exhibitions in Japan, Burliuk traveled to the Ogasawara islands to recuperate after his gruelling journey through Siberia and paint in the manner of Gauguin who also traveled to the island of Tahiti in the early 1890s in order to develop what he believed would be a new art for a new era. Gauguin was himself also strongly influenced by Japanese art and this overlapping of interest in the film was of particular interest to Duggan.

When this section was included in the film, not only did it have implications for the structure of the film, in so far that Burliuk was interested in Gauguin and wanted to emulate Gauguin, it also had implications for the entire series. Gauguin was a precursor of the Russian Avant-garde and strongly influenced this unique artistic event in the history of world art. In this sense the episode devoted to Gauguin did not simply draw together strands of the Burliuk film but also drew the strands of the entire series together, connecting the sometimes disparate and amorphous phenomena which is known as the Russian Avant-garde. The Russian avant-garde incorporates movements from neo-primitivism, rayonism,constructivism and lasted roughly through a period from the 1880s until the early 1930s. This section of the film about Burliuk, gave the series a prisim though which all the various themes of the series could be viewed even if the structure is somewhat imposed on the material. Self evidently any structure which is applied to the history of the Russian avant-garde is not a true reflection of its development but merely a method of organising material into a coherent and accessible form for digestion by the public or viewer. The most important thing while preparing such a film is to be aware of this framework as something which is imposed and try not allow it to dominate an understanding of the material. In this way the viewer can reach their own conclusions or can be stimulated to discover the subject further for themselves. An example of the problems which arise for instance is associated with the whole project of presenting artists as if they were individuals working in isolation of the world around them. I will try to explain this in more detail.

In the west we privilege the individual over and above the collective and this is a result of our liberal humanist tradition derived form Christian-Judaeo concepts of the individuals place and role in the world. The development and progress of western culture is presented as a parade of past individual geniuses who serve as pillars or supports upon which society rests and in the present a further group of lone geniuses which will propel it into the future. For many Russian avant-garde artists and writers this obsession (or what they considered an obsession) with individual genius was in their eyes an obstacle to artistic progress and a false assessment of the contribution by artists to the overall development of society. As Alexander Rodchenko commented in the 1920s that in the modern era, in the age of the machine and industrialisation ..."there will never be a unique airplane or car" ..therefore ..."we need artist workers, not geniuses". This belief was further underlined by Osip Brik, the futurist thinker who announced in a clear attack on the notion of authorship and its connotations of genius, that if Pushkin had not written Eugene Onegin somebody else would have sooner or later. This brings me back to the documentary arts series: The Russian Avant-garde - Revolution or Renaissance. Nearly all the films where about individuals "Rodchenko and The Russian Avant-garde", "Meyerhold, Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde", "Kandinsky and the Russian House", "Mayakovsky" and of course "David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde". Only one film in the series "Architecture and the Russian Avant-garde" has a more general thematic structure, however even in this film I concentrated on three main figures - Malevich, Tatlin and Constantine Melnikov. It was very difficult to wriggle out of such a thematic straight jacket but nonetheless in each film a concerted attempt was made to relate the individual accomplishments of each artist to the wider concerns of the period and not portray them as lone geniuses working in isolation of each other but part of an artistic movement which had deep roots in the social and political events of the early part of the 20th century. Artists like Gauguin, Kandinsky, Burliuk and Rodchenko were grappling with some of the same artistic problems of their age, albeit exploring different solutions depending on the context in which they found themselves. The film "David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde", with its reference to Gauguin's influence on the work of the Russian avant-garde artists of the era, presented an opportunity to draw together many of the threads which constituted this artistic epoch without forcing a preordained framework on the series. Instead the viewer could make up their own mind as to how the phenomena of the Russian avant-garde developed and influenced art in Russia before and after the revolution.