Fortunato Depero’s Futurist Toy
On the 30th of March 1892, Italian Futurist artist Fortunato Depero was born in Fondo, Trentino. In his youth, he was apprentice to a marble worker, which may explain his future interest in shape, form and design. On a 1913 trip to Florence, he discovered a copy of Giovanni Papini’s periodical Lacerba, which prophesized the freedom and autonomy of art, the exaltation of the anarchist ‘genius’ and ‘superman’, introducing even the working classes to a liberated view on political and cultural issues. In Florence, Depero read Marinetti and in Rome he met Balla, exponents of the future movement. As part of Marinetti’s legendary Futurism manifesto, published in 1909 in the French Le Figaro, the poet pledged: “We intend to destroy museums, libraries, academies of every sort, and to fight against moralism, feminism…” and everything else, really. Most of these outrageous ideas seemed to be written by an all-male group of rebel youths. Equally childish and subversive for no specific reason, some of their art carried more serious implications later, as it came to serve as Fascist propaganda for Mussolini, hence the exclusion of futurist manifestos from most art histories at one point.
In 1915, Depero and Balla wrote the manifesto Ricostruzione futurista dell’universo (Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe) which expanded upon the ideas introduced by Marinetti: “We Futurists, Balla and Depero, seek to realize this total fusion in order to reconstruct the universe by making it more joyful, in other words, by an integral re-creation. We will give skeleton and flesh to the invisible, the impalpable, the imponderable and the imperceptible. We will find abstract equivalents for all the forms and elements of the universe, and then we will combine them according to the caprice of our inspiration, to shape plastic complexes which we will set in motion.” Depero’s manifesto offered blueprints for mixed-media art and for the marriage of artistic and industrial worlds, considered as Futurism’s most important innovation, and most lasting legacy. He suggested “sound and kinetic three-dimensional advertisements,” which were unheard of at the time and reflected his future interests in commercial art. He is now famous for designing the brand image for Campari, the traditional red-liquor filled conical bottle.
A less threatening, but nevertheless ideologically-orientated part of Depero’s manifesto concerned objects of play. He seemed to suggest that a total change of attitude towards the way we live our life had to be shaped from childhood. He denounced conventional, mind-numbing toys and proposed, as well as designed, a whole new range of his own: “In games and toys, as in all traditionalist manifestations, there is nothing but grotesque imitation, timidity (little trains, prams, puppets), immobile objects, stupid caricatures of domestic objects, anti-gymnastic and monotonous, which can only cretinize and depress a child. With plastic complexes we will construct toys which will accustom the child: to completely spontaneous laughter (through absurdly comical tricks); to maximum elasticity (without resorting to thrown projectiles, whip cracking, pin pricks, etc.); to imaginative impulses (by using fantastic toys to be studied under a magnifying glass, small boxes to be opened at night containing pyrotechnic marvels, transforming devices, etc.); to the continual exercise and sharpening of sensitivity (in the unbounded realms of acute and exciting noises, smells and colours); to physical courage, to fighting and to WAR (with gigantic, dangerous and aggressive toys that will work outdoors). The Futurist Toy will be very useful to adults too, keeping them young, agile, jubilant, spontaneous, ready for anything, untiring, instinctive and intuitive.”
Through his toys, too – especially if we consider the manifesto’s shocking line of them intended to get children used “to physical courage, to fighting and to WAR” – there is a decisive link “between aesthetic revolution and virulent nationalism, bordering on imperialism. At the same time, it evokes infantile play and caprice, a child’s all-or-nothing attitude (“capricci” means both “whims” and “tantrums”). [It] offers insight into the connections between these two overlapping aspects of the Futurist “deconstruction and reconstruction” of the universe. (…) Outrageously comical and dangerously aggressive, the toy is a miniature model of the Futurist style of action: a combination of ludicrous excess and violent fanaticism.’ As an adult, the Futurist child will continue to play his power games by transforming battle into an exciting sensual experience and by perverting love into a relationship of domination and annihilation.” (Cinzia Sartini Blum, ‘The Futurist Re-Fashioning of the Universe’, South Central Review, Vol. 13, No. 2/3, Futurism and the Avant-Garde, Summer -Autumn, 1996).