Andean Futurism

September 8, 2020

Alan Poma, Victory Over the Sun (excerpt titled “Dancing Across the Sun”), 2016. Filmed by Janeth Lozano, performed by Del Águila Gonzalo, music by Alan Poma.

Historical documentation on the Incas, Aztecs, and Maya demonstrate the extraordinary level of astronomical knowledge that each civilization achieved. The astronomers of these societies were capable of tracing the movements of the stars in order to predict natural phenomena such as droughts and floods.

Surrounding the central mountain range of the Andes, archaeological structures have been found to align with the cyclical movement of the stars. An example of this is the Chankillo solar clock, located on the northern coast of Peru. Its construction dates to the 3rd century CE, and consists of three towers oriented from north to south. Among other stellar phenomena, Chankillo predicts the movement of the Sun during the solstice and equinox.

Thirteen Towers of Chankuillo, Casma, Perú (2013). Photograph by David Edgar. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

Chankillo is one of many things that have led me to believe that Andean astronomers were capable of predicting the future based on their knowledge and deep understanding of the cosmos. This could be related to a cultural tradition of prophetic sites or oracles found throughout the Inca Empire, places in which people would gather to consult the “huaca” about their fate.[1]

Two thousand four hundred years after the construction of Chankillo, the Russian futurist movement gave voice to a forceful rejection of the linear concept of time. Using the algorithmic patterns of the occurrences of 1912, Russian poet Velimir Khlebnikov predicted the Russian Revolution of 1917.[2]

For Russian futurism, art was not an approach to reality, but rather it was a reality in and of itself. That is why, along with poet Aleksei Kruchenykh, Khlebnikov sought to transform the spatio-temporal paradigm through poetry. Together they proposed concepts like the world backwards (Mirskontsa), which for the Russian avant-garde meant “a world that begins at the end.” Susan P. Compton explains that Mirskontsa simultaneously implied the end of the world and a return in time. This meant both a return to antiquity (in terms of space) and to the prehistoric world in terms of time.[3] Since the world backwards affects chronological events, other artists like Kazimir Malevich desacralized the icons and images of “primitive” and ancient Christian art, in order to recontextualize them into a parallel future dimension.

Left: Andrei Rublev, Gregory the Theologian (1408). Dormition Cathedral, Vladimir. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons
Right:  Installation view of Kazimir Malevich's paintings at "The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting: 0,10," Petrograd, 1915. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

Conversely, for the Andean chronicler Juan de Santa Cruz Pachacuti (b. ca. 16th century), a similar notion of the world backwards indicated that the Andean world was oriented upwards and toward the south and not the north.[4] However, both Andean and Russian perspectives shared a cyclical vision of time—in each, one must first go through the past in order to arrive at the future. They also shared iconographic similarities, which reinforces the idea of a geometric language. Malevich's Black Cross, for example, is a reference to the tunic used by the orthodox church of Saint Nicholas; while in Inca culture, geometric compositions can be seen in the “Tocapu,” a sacred pattern whose meaning remains indecipherable to this day. My approach to the Tocapu began with a search for corresponding geometric relations. These connections between the two cultures brought me to create an adaptation of the Russian futurist opera Victory Over the Sun (1913), which I used to reimagine and resignify Andean iconography, especially knowing the potency of its elusive meaning.

Left: Royal Inca Tunic, 1450–1540 CE. Camelid wefts, cotton wraps, natural dyes, 90 x 77 cm. © Dumbarton Oaks-Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, D.C.
Right:  Alan Poma, Tocapu, 2013. 2D Animation. (Watch on Vimeo)

In the original opera, the end of the world comes about thanks to the ambition of the Earth’s leader, a hybrid character between Nero and Caligula. The mise-en-scène tells how this leader, unwilling to tolerate that planets orbit around the Sun, declares war on the Sun until he vanquishes it. This event produces a change in space-time that culminates in the Earth’s own destruction.

Left: Alan Poma, Victory Over the Sun revolves around the final moments of the Solar System's existence. Image by Janeth Lozano
Right: Kazimir Malevich, Set design for Victory Over the Sun, 1913. D. Andrea Jeanne (1990), Kazimir Malevich 1878–1935 © The St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music

My adaptation of the opera takes its original plot and turns it into a story told from an Andean future. A character called "The Time Traveler" lands on Earth as the last messenger of the Sun, and communicates using the icons, native languages, and music of the Andes of the future. Thus, the two universes, the Russian and the Andean, converge in the work in order to respond to the survival of Andean culture in the face of imminent  planetary destruction.

The art of the future must be an art of convergence and dialog. Art will be the beginning of a revolution of time.

This task is difficult, but not impossible. Using particle physics, science has shown that the smaller the particle, the shorter the gap between past and future. Particles live in a constant present together with other nano-organisms that exist simultaneously in several different locations.[5] Art can become a vehicle for experimenting with a reality of alternative times and spaces.

Alan Poma, Andean Futurist Manifesto (Lima: Soma Publicaciones, 2019). Images by Estrella Pezo. (Read the manifesto)

This is the context in which the Andean Futurist Manifesto (Lima: Soma Publicaciones, 2019) was conceived. The manifesto is a call to invent different futures whereby Latin American artists take charge of their own “time.” This publication introduced the concept of “trans-rationality,” an allusion to “Zaum”—the so-called trans-mental language of Russian Futurism. The Manifesto takes trans-rationality to be a characteristic also typical of pre-Colombian cultures, which serves as a means for the creation of alternative realities that originate from the future.

Latin American societies are ignorant of a great deal of history prior to the Conquest, and that historical erasure poses problems for imagining our future. Andean trans-rationality inscribes its own concept of future time, one that derives from the juxtaposition between an avant-garde conception of time and the idea of an artistic language beyond the bounds of reason.

The Sun must break free of its enclosure. Opening up to a dialectic with other cultures will become a necessary condition if an alternative aesthetic in Latin America is to emerge.

Alan Poma (Peru) is a multidisciplinary sound artist, whose work has focused on creating site-specific projects and spectacles. His presentations often integrate performance, video art, sound art and scientific research, creating productions that provide sensory journeys for viewers.

In recent years he has developed a series of live events and installations that reflect an investigation on the futurist Russian Opera Victory Over the Sun (1913) and the English vorticist play Enemy of the Stars (1914), working with an interdisciplinary group of collaborators including anthropologists, historians and physicists. With their input, Poma has examined the close relationship between Russian futurism and Andean culture, drawn from their shared iconographies.

Notes for a Horizon-tality: Toward the Possibility of Becoming Together as an Assemblage is a project that responds to our multiple and seemingly multiplying emergencies. Since the growing uncertainty of living in a world in crisis seems to continuously threaten the possibility of the future, this editorial initiative seeks to contribute to the growing scholarship on this topic from the perspective of Latin American contemporary art.

[1] “Chronicler Pedro Cieza de León, who provides us with one of the most authoritative 16th-century narratives about Inca civilization and history, was the first chronicler to use the word ‘oracle’ in reference to the huacas, with oracle meaning a sanctuary with a sacred image (idol) capable of responding to the queries of the faithful and predicting the future.” Marco Curatola and Jan Szeminski, eds. The Inca and the Huaca (Lima: Fondo editorial PUCP, 2016), 263.

[2] Khlebnikov, Velimir, and Paul Schmidt. "An Excerpt from ‘The Tables of Destiny.’" October 27 (1983): 59-73.

[3] Susan P. Compton, The World Backwards (London: British Museum Publications, 1978), 19.

[4] Chronicler Juan de Santa Cruz Pachacuti states: “All of the Nations of Tawantinsuyo come from up in Potossi,” a locale situated in the South. Fundamentally, the astronomical system used for orientation by indigenous people was directed toward and is directed toward the South, not toward the North as in Western civilization. This means that the region of the South Pole was upward for them, with the Southern Cross and the eyes of the llama being the primary sites for determining one’s position and points of orientation.” Dick Ibarra Grasso, Astronomical and Sociological Science of the Inca, Cochabamba: Editorial los Amigos del Libro, 1982), cited in Carlos Milla Villena, The Genesis of Andean Culture (Lima: Fondo Editorial C.A.P., 1983), 37.

[5] Carlo Rovelli, Quantum Gravity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).