Futurist Women: Florence, Feminism and the New Sciences

by Paola Sica

My launch of Futurist Women: Florence, Futurism and the New Sciences (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015 – 2016) was held in Senate House, London, on 7 June 2016, with Katia Pizzi as chair and Simona Storchi as respondent. The focus of my presentation revolved around the female circle of L’Italia futurista in Florence (1916 – 1918) and the creation of a distinctive program through the interaction of its single members in contrast with other avant-garde groups. I asserted that the type of Futurism emblemized by the women of L’Italia futurista is part of a global phenomenon that assumed various aspects on the basis of the place and time in which it took form. These Futurists — Maria Ginanni, Enif Robert, Rosa Rosà, Fulvia Giuliani, Magamal, Irma Valeria, Fanny Dini, Mina Della Pergola, Emma Marpillero, Enrica Piubellini, Marj Carbonaro and Shara Marini — employed the avant-garde as a catalyst to raise consciousness of their status as women and artists during the war. In elaborating new models of womanhood and humanity through their visual, verbal and performative work they did not embrace an enthusiasm for technology as frequently as other Futurists did. For most of them, a major effort was applied towards activating supernatural forces that would have ameliorated life and improved art. In a broader context, these women responded to widespread European and North American cultural trends that were popular in their milieu. These trends included esotericism and other doctrines stressing the irrational, the dreamlike and the spiritual in humans, but also eugenics, naturism and first wave feminism.

 

The presentation of my book and the lively discussion that followed among the participants brought to light additional perspectives related to central issues tackled by “Interdisciplinary Italy,” including the function of “border crossing” and “transgressing” in the avant-garde. In terms of “border crossing,” for example, we reflected on the controversial ideas of these women through an analysis of their sexual politics in comparison with that of female groups formed in different locations and different historical periods, including the Russians and later Italian Futurist artists. We agreed that the Italia Futurista group’s political agenda during World War I preempted certain directives embraced by fascism, but, at the same time, it contributed to the erosion of outdated essentialist conceptions of gender and identity. In terms of “transgressing,” we had different opinions. Some of us asserted that, in relation to other representatives of first-wave feminism like activist socialist Anna Kulishoff, the female members of L’Italia futurista had a very modest impact in contrasting patriarchy. We all acknowledged that point, but some of us also noted that tangible changes in favour of women could begin with initial small controversial transformations, and could occur both through the symbolic realm and the social arena. In conclusion, we agreed that additional work is to be done to reassess other avant-garde women. It will be possible to explore other aspects of their politics and their aesthetics, and through them, reconsider the work of their male peers.

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