Shock & Awe Symposium – a review
RoseLee Goldberg, founder of PERFORMA, welcomed guests to the conference “Shock and Awe: The Troubling Legacy of the Futurist Cult of War” at Hunter on Wednesday, November 11, 2009, in the midst of several ongoing events she has organized around New York City for PERFORMA 09. Goldberg stressed the importance of this conference, aimed at a reassessment of Futurism, her longtime interest and objective, and has often been colored by notions regarding the movement’s complex relationship with Fascism.
The afternoon began with conference organizer Mimi Braun (Distinguished Professor, Hunter College) who discussed Futurist aeropainting, while bringing the discussion into the present moment with references to September 11th. Braun also introduced the topic of General Douhet and his “Command of the Air” treatise on Aerial war from 1921, while questioning the absence of depictions of the Army and Navy in Second Futurist art. Differing from other depictions of air power, the futurist art did not function merely as reportage, but rather was a modernist take on the subject. Braun concluded with images from archeological and military photographs, with their classical motifs – which she cleverly compared to Gerhard Richter’s Cityscape from 1970.
Next, Lynda Klich (Assistant Professor of Art History, Hunter College, CUNY) brought to our attention the topic of postcards as art and propaganda – focusing on those reflecting the Futurist and Fascist aesthetic – and how art and life converged in the postcard. The medium began in England in 1869 and would be used as propaganda in the 1890s as it grew in popularity only to experience a fall in popularity as factories were destroyed in the war and by the rise of the telephone. Klich used examples of Tato’s work in the 1920’s, created while politically supporting Mussolini, those depicting Mussolini as a heroic aviator, and those by Latini utilizing photomontage.
Lucia Re (Professor of Italian and Women’s Studies, UCLA) spoke of “The Futurist Cult of Speed Vs. Women’s Time and Space,” pointing out that Futurism replaced old symbols and rituals of Christianity and re-mapped space and time. Re also examined woman’s experience of time and it’s repositioning in light of industrial wartime jobs which women occupied.
In his discussion of Douhet, Marinetti, and “The Command of the Air,” David Lewis (The Graduate Center, CUNY) noted that it is possible that Marinetti and Douhet had met, as Marinetti had inscribed a book to Douhet. Lewis edified the audience about the military theory of Douhet and his premonition of air power as the sole means for military success while drawing comparisons based on the cultural framework of the time between the Futurist project and Douhet’s theories and works.
Maria Antonella Pelizzari (Associate Professor of Art History, Hunter College, CUNY) spoke about the art of Bruno Munari in relation to aviation and photomontage, looking at magazine imagery – sources included L’ala Italia and Campo Grafico – and advertising as a new language.
Ernest Ialongo (Assistant Professor of History, Hostos College, CUNY) posited “Marinetti’s Bombshell” as his declaration of war as the world’s sole hygiene.
This led nicely to Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s (Professor of Italian Studies and History, NYU) discussion of Roberto Rossellini’s Un Pilota Ritorna, of which she screened a few very interesting minutes demonstrating the repositioning of the human figure within the world of military flight.
On another note, Laura Beiles (Department of Education, The Museum of Modern Art) focused on “The Venice Biennale At War,” discussing the effects of Italian regionalism and war on the event. Her paper touched on Italo Balbo’s Royal Air Force as well as the military use of abandoned pavilions.
Next, Robert Lumley (Professor of Italian Cultural History, University College London) showed and discussed the films of Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, whose “signature style often involves the manipulation of rare footage through re-photographing, selectively hand-tinting, and altering film speed to produce a final work of a distinctly otherworldly quality. The stunning visuals Gianikian and Ricci Lucchi create—and often enhance with original music—unravel ideologies and conflicts in a given moment in history.” (MoMA)
The energetic Elihu Rose (Adjunct Associate Professor of History, NYU) capped the day with his discussion “A Brief History of Strategic Bombing,” delving into precision bombing, industrial web theory, and total war.
Overall, the symposium “Shock and Awe: The Troubling Legacy of the Futurist Cult of War,” organized by Mimi Braun, was full of enlightening talks regarding the theory and history of the Italian military and aeronautics, definitely fulfilling its goal of shedding new light on Futurism Studies.
– Jessica Palmieri