Nikolai Fedorov: The Struggle Against Gravity

Konstantin Yuon, New Planet, 1921

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Russian poets and painters were deeply interested in a new issue in the theory of art, and this was reflected in a series of terms often used by the Avant-Garde: the ‘struggle against gravity’ (Petrov-Vodkin), the ‘distribution of weight in the system of weightlessness’ (Malevich), the ‘transformation of weight in weightlessness’ (Yudin). The idea of the struggle against gravity (‘visual weightlessness’) became one of the dominant artistic principles at the beginning of the century. The artists began to understand that a work of art is an independent world, whose essence is both spiritual and moral. This autonomous world, like any authentic work of art, acquired its specific characteristics at the beginning of the 20th century. Organized like the Universe, this world belonged entirely and equally to this universe, not only limited to the earth and its particular laws. These views were based on the philosophical system of Nikolai Fedorov. Fedorov wrote in one of his articles: ‘When the earth was considered as the center, we could be tranquil spectators who take appearance for reality, for the authentic; but as soon as this conviction disappeared, the central position of the thinking human being became the goal, the project.’  According to Fedorov, one of the principal objectives of this ‘project’ was to take mankind out into the space of the world and organise systems opposed to the ‘falling forces’ on a cosmic scale. He considered the cosmic space and the planetary and astral worlds as a sphere for organising the activity of mankind, creating new ‘architectonics of the sky’ that would contribute to and ‘liberate all worlds from the chains of gravitation and the blind force of attraction.’  Then Man will cease to be a ‘lazy passenger’ of Earth. He will become the ‘crew of this […] vessel that is the globe, put into motion by a force still unknown.’

Fedorov’s futurological ‘project’ proved to be much more radical than the fantasies of the most audacious Futurists; the globe, governed by human willpower, moves freely in space like a gigantic spaceship. The philosophical concept of Fedorov led him to an original understanding of the nature of art. For the first time in the history of aesthetic theories, he saw the essence of all artistic creation in the resistance to gravity.

Well ahead of their time, the ideas of Fedorov, the grand vision he gave of the titanic struggle against fall/attraction, of the incursion of man into the cosmos, of interplanetary flights, exercised a great influence on the minds and imagination of the generation that succeeded him. There are invisible links between Fedorov and a number of phenomena in Russian artistic culture at the beginning of the 20th century. After the Revolution, Malevich returned several times to these ideas of surpassing attraction. In 1922, he published a booklet in Vitebsk entitled God Is Not Cast Down: Art, Church, Factory. One of his strongest ideas is the distribution of heaviness within the system of weightlessness, the creation of a visual structure in which gravitation, i.e., that form depends on the conditions and logic of terrestrial relationships, is absent. Another publication by Malevich in Vitebsk, Suprematism,  drawings is also linked to the idea of visual weightlessness, the work of art being interpreted as an independent planetary world. In this booklet, the painter describes the incursion of man into the cosmos. Malevich was the first to use the term Sputnik (artificial satellite from Earth) to describe an interplanetary spacecraft. What is important is that Malevich’s idea was not just a fantasy, but a conclusion based on the visual principles of Suprematism.

                           – from Evgueny Kovtun, Russian Avante-Garde



1. Russian Avante-Garde. Text: Evgueny Kovtun Translation: Nick Cowling and Marie-Noëllle Dumaz
Layout: Baseline Co. Ltd. 127-129A Nguyen Hue Fiditourist, 3rd floor District 1, Ho Chi Minh-City Vietnam

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