A comparison of “Tango with Cows” and “Zaumnaya Gniga” – G. Rishkus

“Tango with Cows” was published in 1914. It is the work of Vasiliy Kamenskiy, a man of many occupations, among them an actor, a pilot, and, last, but not least, a poet. He is a product of his time as much as is this book.

The book was a tour-de-force in contemporary typography for its time. All the different typefaces, in all sorts of shapes and sizes, occupy the page in meticulously planned order. Since it was way before the advent of personal computer, all of this probably took ages to map out. The resulting chaos resembles a printed snapshot of advertising signs on a central street, as seen by a man rushing through it at breakneck speed. So, one could claim it is a distilled experience of a big city in 1914, the time of Russia’s pre-war economic boom, where everything happens at the same time.

“Zaumnaya Gniga”, out only a year later feels old compared to this. Where “Tango with Cows” relentlessly pummels the reader with a variety of forms and subjects all screaming for attention, the “Gniga” does a gentle prod with a few words and a sewn-on button. It’s too home-made for the age of industrialized massacre in WW1 trenches. It is important to note, that Kruchenykh, one of the authors of “Zaumnaya Gniga”, considered “zaum” to be an attempt to reach to the proto-language of the Slavic people, so not only does the “Gniga” look to the beyond-the-mind future, but it also reaches for the past, referencing the “lubok” tradition.

“Tango with Cows” is a key achievement of futurism, transferring to the industriously printed page futurism’s fascination with movement and noise. “Zaumnaya Gniga” is a more home-grown affair,reflecting the Russian Futurists’ preoccupation with language. These books are a good example of how bold and diverse were the Russian Futurists. This is why I consider them as relevant today as they were in the beginning of the XX century.
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