– Spring/Summer 2017

Ethno-Futurism: Leaning on the Past, Working for the Future

Anders Kreuger

Kuchyran Yuri, Kuara-Langa (Echo), 2004, meditative performance. Photograph: Konstantin Semyonov. Courtesy the artist

In life nothing disappears without a trace. This is also true of Udmurt shamanism, the peculiar world of tuno. Many of its elements were transferred to folk songs, dances, rhymes, cumulative recitative songs or tongue twisters, and also to healing rituals (known as tuno-pelyó and pelyasskis). Still in the late 1960s I could, as an eight-year-old boy, observe a man dancing, with strange body movements, at a celebration for a newborn child (nuny syuan). As he danced he stripped off his clothes, crawled on the floor, cried, imitated lovemaking (thus echoing shamanic initiations?) to the mirthful laughter of the others present.
– Kuchyran Yuri, ‘Udmurt Shamanism: My Antiquity and My Modernity’, 20011

I know the topic of this essay will appear obscure to some, if not most, of our readers. Nevertheless, I think it should be relevant to a wider auditorium than those who usually follow the cultural politics of the so-called Finno-Ugrian world. Ethno-futurism started as a political joke by an eighteen-year-old poet in the Estonian university town of Tartu, at the twilight of Soviet power. No one expected it to grow into a movement with its own international conferences, festivals and creative workshops, informally headquartered in the Udmurt Republic and still alive after more than 25 years. Moreover, I think we should include the

  1. Kuchyran Yuri (Yuriy Lobanov), ‘Udmurtskiy shamanizm: moya arkhaika i moya sovremennost, available at http://www.suri.ee/etnofutu/idnatekst/kutsiran_ru.html (last accessed on 12 February 2017). Also published in Estonian, under the title ‘Udmurdi šamanismist’, in Kunst, no.2, 2001, pp.94–96. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are by the author.

  2. ‘Kontinentaalne alateadvus: Kaasaegne kunst ja Soome-Ugri maailm', 14 March–18 May 2008. A longer version of the catalogue essay for this exhibition was published in the Ghent-based journal A Prior Magazine, no.16, 2008, and is still available online at http://www.eurozine.com/the-continental-unconscious/ (last accessed on 12 February 2017).

  3. Available at https://www.academia.edu/4918926/Diving_Bird_Myth_after_20_years_2012? (last accessed on 12 February 2017). Slightly edited by the author.

  4. Gauguin’s D’où venons-nous ? Que sommes-nous ? Où allons-nous? (1897–98) belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

  5. The Uralic peoples, and many other peoples throughout Eurasia and North America, tell different versions of the story of a bird – or some creature capable of diving – who fetches soil from the bottom of the primordial sea to fashion the earth. See V. Napolskikh, ‘Earth-Diver Myth (A812) in Northern Eurasia and North America’, op. cit.

  6. Jimmie Durham, ‘Report to Molly Spotted Elk and Josephine Baker’, in Anders Kreuger (ed.), Jimmie Durham: A Matter of Life and Death and Singing (exh. cat.), Antwerp and Zürich: M HKA / JRP|Ringier, 2012, p.20.

  7. Kauksi Ülle, Andres Heinapuu, Sven Kivisildnik and Maarja Pärl-Lõhmus, ‘Etnofuturism: mõtteviis ja tulevikuvõimalus?’ ‘(Ethno-Futurism as a Mode of Thinking for an Alternative Future?’), written after the First Ethno-Futurist Conference, Estonian National Museum, Tartu, 5–9 May 1994. I have slightly edited the translation by Sven-Erik Soosaar available at http://www.suri.ee/etnofutu/ef!eng.html (last accessed on 12 February 2017).

  8. See Rein Taagepera, The Finno-Ugric Republics and the Russian State, New York: Routledge, 1999.

  9. See Heinapuu Ott and Andres Heinapuu, ‘Some Treatments of the Concept of Ethno-Futurism in Estonia’, available at http://www.suri.ee/etnofutu/idnatekst/ethno_en.html (last accessed on 12 February 2017).

  10. See Kari Sallamaa, ‘Uku Masing as the Pioneer of Ethno-Futurism’, available at http://www.suri.ee/etnofutu/vanaisad/masing/sall-uku.html (last accessed on 12 February 2017)

  11. The sound piece Kuchyran vötyós (The Dreams of Kuchyran, 2009), in which he dives into the dark netherworld and emerges with an array of new vorshud names, was released on CD.

  12. Elvira Kolcheva, Etnofuturizm kak yavlenie kul’tury, monograph based on doctoral thesis, Yoshkar-Ola: Mariyskiy Gosudarstvennyi Universitet, 2008, pp.24–25. See also E. Kolcheva, ‘Formation of Ethno-Futurism’, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences vol. 6, 2015, p.233 (available at /react-text http://www.mcser.org/journal/index.php/mjss/article/view/6867/6572 last accessed on 12 February 2017).

  13. Conversation with the author at the Udmurtia publishing house in Izhevsk, 12 January 2017.

  14. Notably Ovsyanki (the title translates to ‘oatmeal’, though the English-language version was released as Silent Souls), an explicitly ‘Meryan’ film nominated in 2010 for the Golden Lion at the 67th Venice Film Festival, and Olyk Mariy-vlakyn kavase vatysht / Nebesnye zhëny lugovykh Mari (Celestial Brides of the Meadow Mari, illustrated book with DVD. Ekaterinburg: Uralskiy rabochiy, 2013).

  15. Igumen Vitaliy, ‘Etnofuturizm i separatizm’, Russkaya Nardodnaya Liniya, 8 February 2016, available at http://ruskline.ru/monitoring_smi/2016/02/08/etnofuturizm_i_separatizm (last accessed on 12 February 2017).

  16. This is the ‘external manifesto’. Document provided to the author.

  17. Oleg Kulik’s and Alexander Bremer’s performances of the 1990s, with their carefully calibrated destructivity, come to mind.

  18. Conversation with the author, 11 January 2017.

  19. Conversation with the author, 6 January 2017.

  20. E. Kolcheva, Reki vselennoy: Neomifologizm v tvorchestve mariyskikh khudozhnikov, Yoshkar-Ola: Mariyskoe knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 2010, p.21.

  21. Incidentally, Soviet scholars used to quote Jung rather freely but tended to avoid Freud, perhaps because of the former’s emphasis on the ‘collective’, or perhaps because of the latter’s explicitly sexual metaphors.

  22. E. Kolcheva, Etnofuturizm kak yavlenie kul’tury, op. cit., p.70.

  23. Kuchyran Yuri, Sergey Orlov and Zhon-Zhon Sandyr, Ethno-Futurism: Theses for Internal Manifesto, 2011, document provided to the author.

  24. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtXxhpkxyck (last accessed on 12 February 2017).