In 1909, F.T Marinetti launched the Futurist movement though the ‘The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism’. Against the past and traditionalism, but advocating provocation, violence and destruction, his manifesto called for a re-evaluation of politics and culture. Rejecting the sentimentalised art hanging in museums – places that Marinetti deemed to be ‘absurd abattoirs’ and ‘graveyards’ – the manifesto begs for ‘canals to flood the museums’.
Umberto Boccioni: The Charge of the Lancers (1915)
A year later, ‘Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto’ was written by Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo, Giacoma Balla and Gino Severini. Outlining a new type of painting that sought to capture the ‘dynamic sensation’ – the movement of the subject – rather than a ‘fixed moment’; the manifesto rejected imitation of art from the past. Lines became both angular and floaty, colours blurred into one another, swirling shapes converged and wedges of light beamed outwards.
Umberto Boccioni: States of Mind I: Those Who Leave (1911)
On walking into the recent exhibition by Californian artist Alexis M Teplin ‘sss T!!’ at the Hayward Gallery, I certainly found myself thinking back to futurism and these manifestos. In a white, medium-sized room, four roughly plastered white sculptures flecked with greens, yellows, pinks and browns are strewn across the floor representing the dismembered body, whilst four colourful, billowing appliquéd paintings sit on the three walls.
Alexis M Teplin: E (2012) – Southbank Centre exhibition poster
Just as Boccioni et al. write of capturing movement in paint, Teplin explains how ‘in my work I try to negotiate the relationship between rhythm, colour and movement.’ And we do see this in her paintings: jagged letters are camouflaged to form the exhibition name ‘sss T !!’. The angular letters not only fragment the paintings, mirroring an interruptive movement, but they give the paintings a verbal power. By juxtaposing glossy paint with more subdued matte finishes, we feel that we are viewing the paintings in different lights as they move. The irregular ripples of the vintage French fabric that the paint sits on looks like a ships sails billowing in the wind.
Alexis M Tepplin: sss (2012)
There is even a hint of motion in the inanimate sculptures: the footless leg, handless arm and mangled torso all have an air of movement about them, the leg anatomically detailed. The drippy plaster captures motion; could it slip off the sculpture at any moment?
Alexis M Teplin: H of the H (2012)
Not only this, but when Boccioni et al. note that the ‘human face is yellow, red, green, blue violet’, we see this bombardment of colour in Teplin’s paintings. There are blood reds, pumpkin oranges, golden yellows, lurid blues, turquoises, velvet purples and dusty pinks. The bright hues overlap, deepening this patchwork of colour: in sss (2012) red dribbles into dark green, whilst blue becomes red in T (2012). This installation is typical of Teplin’s abstract style, using colour to challenge our emotions and provoke a personal response.
Alexis M Teplin: Untitled (2012)
But within this futurist-esque art we see a harking back to the past, the very thing that Boccioni et al. sought to avoid. Enclosed within the paint in sss (2012) and T (2012) are Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s sexual and shocking play Salomé. These illustrations torn from the pages of Salomé are licked by paint, with the angular black and white avant-garde illustrations in antithesis to the colour surrounding them. Similarly, on the leg sculpture, H of the H (2012), there is an intricate tattoo of André Derain’s illustration for Salomé. And in La, La, La, a page ripped from the printed Salomé script sits. This reworking of old art rather undermines the innovative nature of Teplin’s work – is it only posing as innovation? Nonetheless, I do think that Teplin would quite happily accept the cutting up of her work and its reincorporation into another’s art. Perhaps this is the most futurist element to Teplin’s work.
Alexis M Teplin at the Hayward Gallery via www.marymarygallery.co.uk
Teplin’s installation is on until 10th March. It is part of The Rest is Noise festival, a year-long celebration of the cultural and musical 20th century. Held at the Southbank Centre, the festival will see various talks, concerts and exhibitions throughout 2013.
Elizabeth Metcalfe is an English student at King’s College London and a writer, published by the Guardian and London Student.