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Donkey for hire (Asel naprakat), 1918/19 - Akademie - Kunsthalle Zürich

Donkey for hire (Asel naprakat), 1918/19

Ilia Zdanevich (1894–1973), Donkey for hire (Asel naprakat), 1918/19.

Donkey for hire by Ilia Zdanevich exemplifies the extreme formulation of «Zaum» as an organic, radical, and abstract language at the limits of incomprehensibility. «Zaum» was invented in 1913 by the influential Russian futurists Velimir Khlebnikov and Aleksei Kruchonykh as a universal and «transnational» language allowing fuller expressions. Zdanevich had met the Russian Futurists while studying in Saint Petersburg in 1913. In Donkey for hire we hear a particular version of «Zaum» as it was developed by Zdanevich. It is the second of a series of five Dra (dramas), which Zdanevich published between 1918 and 1923 in Tbilisi and in Paris. Zdanevich’ «Zaum» appears as an abstract and arbitrary phonetic chain of words, mashing words of Russian and Georgian heritage with words that are often barely recognizable.

Ilia Zdanevich, Donkey for hire (in Russian).

Donkey for hire was first published in 1919 as part of the anthology Sofia Georgievna Melnikova. The text uses bold sexual language to describe a ménage à trois. It often favors sound over meaning and develops itself through chains of association and Freudian slips. The poem is a «writing in languages», just as Krychonykh demands in his Declaration of the Word as Such (1913): «The worn-out, violated word ‹lily› is devoid of all expression. Therefore I call the lily éuy – and original purity is restored.»

Listen to a recording of Donkey for hire here.