A maverick poet, tireless playwright, catalyst for the Russian Futurist Movement – Velimir Khlebnikov was as elusive and far-reaching as the scope of his work. In addition to his numerous poems and dramas featuring wildly innovative and previously unimaginable linguistic experiments, Khlebnikov wrote futurological essays predicting the evolution of mass communication and transportation. In the final years of his life, Khlebnikov became engrossed with Slavic mythology and the Pythagorean Theorem – drawing up “Tables of Destiny” that use mathematical functions to chart out recurring historical events.
Patterns, recurrences, and the cyclicality of human actions were ideas central to Khlebnikov’s body of work. He would scrupulously detail dates and accentuate resembling parallels between different historical events. He once posited the idea that monumental terrestrial and naval battles continuously repeat every 317 years – a theme that inspired German artist Anselm Kiefer.
The oeuvre of contemporary artist Keifer is similarly shaped by a variety of intellectual fascinations, drawing on themes from history, mythology, and mysticism. After a trip to St. Petersburg in 2016, Kiefer was inspired to create an exhibition that would pay homage to one of his favorite, kindred artists. The exhibition is currently open at the State Hermitage Museum, in the city where Khlebnikov’s creative outpour flourished. It features a series of Kiefer’s own paintings that attempt to evoke the most somber ideas of Khlebnikov’s work – the fleeting quality of human aspirations, and the mercilessness of fate. The rusted vessels in the paintings are used as figures to demonstrate how relics of war that once seemed so terrifying become immovable objects degraded by the forces of nature.
“Anselm Kiefer, for Velimir Khlebnikov,” State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Till September 3.