I got my own translator Friday afternoon during a talk by filmmakers Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi — not because of my esteemed position in the local alt-press but because I was one of the few dolts present who couldn't “keep up” with their Italian. It was Day One of the Harvard's “Futurism at 100” conference, and a sleek lecture room in the Center for European Studies was lined with distinguished thinkers from all over eager to discuss the most industrious, morality-despising, feminism-hating, car-crashingest art movement ever. The room was a montage of corduroy jackets, big fuzzy moustaches, GQ suits, houndstooth, fishnet stockings, and purple shawls, and the irony wasn’t lost on anyone as quotes from chief Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti blipped along from oft-malfunctioning PowerPoint presentations.
Gianikian and Ricci Lucchi have been making intense film collages with found material for years (a retrospective was under way at the Harvard Film Archive), and much of it comes with a Futurist interest in the World Wars, which were filmed on the front lines with armored cameras. Ricci Lucchi, who looks like one of the world's sweetest grandmas, laid it out plainly after a day of academic subtleties. “Futurism has given us two world wars, civil wars, and concentration camps, so the urge to give them so much attention is curious. But I discovered Marinetti in the ’70s when it was extremely taboo, so of course I had to read him.” UC-Berkeley's Harsha Ram gave half his lecture wearing a three-foot-high papier-mâché mask of Marinetti, recalling how Marinetti investigated Futurism in Russia while fighting on the Russian front in World War II.
The day was winding up with a panel discussion when a gaggle of younger participants crept into the room led by Professor Damon Krukowski — you know him from Galaxie 500 and the silky pop duo Damon and Naomi. Krukowski read text for a performance piece called “Sound Pool” while his students, incognito in dress-up clothes, slowly unraveled the presentation with handfuls of noisy objects. One girl dragged a spoon across a dishwasher rack, another dropped beads into a cookie jar, squeaky dog toys yelped, and a guy roamed the aisles with a mini-guitar amp and Nintendo DS making squelchy sounds from a synth program. Some lecturers made small talk; some crumpled up cans of Diet Coke and banged them on the desk. The symposium was officially shut down for the day.
Later, some students, all freshmen art majors, ate cheese cubes in a corner of the center's palatial courtyard while scheming to get into the room where Harvard keeps a vintage modular synth. “They wanted to burst into the room in the middle of the last lecture and just take over,” said Krukowski — something that would still be on the tame side of the Futurists' museum-burning tendencies. “I mean, these kids are purists. That was vetoed.”