Tiflis: 41 degrees, 1919. 32 pp. 22,5x15 cm. Original letterpress design by Ilia Zdanevich. The wrappers used to be folded. Tears and minor restoration, otherwise good. One of approximately 250 copies.
The following book is one of the classic examples of the collaboration of the two greats of Russian and Georgian avant-garde, Iliazd and Kruchyonykh.
Ilia Zdanevich (Iliazd) (1894-1975) was the founder of Russian book avant-garde, one of the apostles of futurism and dadaism, the founder of livre d’artiste tradition alongside Picasso, Ernst, Miro, etc. Alexei Kruchyonykh (1886-1968) the Enfant terrible of Russian poetry, one of the most eccentric and hard to understand personalities of universal avant-garde, the inventor of the new form of book production. Although the two have met in Saint Petersburg, it was in Tiflis where they formed together with poet/artist Igor Terentiev ‘the duo of three idiots’ and the press called ’41 degrees’.
The group left a certain mark in the history of the 20th century typographic design. At the time Kruchyonykh was interested in treating the body of the book as the intact organism allowing the full transparency between the artist and the author, almost erasing the line between the two. Iliazd was inspired by the idea of using typographic means to illustrate a book which is clearly seen in the design of the front wrapper of this particular edition. Iliazd, the artist who didn’t draw, in this approach has foreseen the ideas of Alexei Gan and the book constructivism in which the main weapon of the book designer was anything that could be found in the typography.
For Kruchyonykh this book also has been another step in overthrowing Guttenberg as he was at war with the whole idea of mass production of the books, often using hectograph and other methods of printing resulting in low number of copies.
As ‘the third idiot’ Terentiev has put it, Kruchyonykh forgot to hang himself and now endlessly produced the tiny handmade books (see ‘Grandiozar’, the biography of Kruchyonykh). This also underlined how non-serious the business of ’41 degrees’ was. Of course the same is seen in Kruchyonykh’s poetry, in particular in poems like ‘I’m the Supplier of the Spit’ and ‘When I was Cuffed in the Face’. Having that in mind it’s interesting to regard the typographic experiment by Iliazd in less serious light, although undoubtedly this book alongside with another letterpress masquerades by ’41 degrees’ has inspired his later more serious livre d’artiste editions.