First and foremost, we make a large claim for kinaesthesia, the sense of movement, as both a source of personal knowledge and a resource for innovation in the arts and wider culture. We show this was the case in the personal lives and in the public achievements of the artists, poets and performers of the Russian avant-garde at the beginning of the twentieth century. Further, we set the historical culture we describe in the context of a larger discussion, currently very much underway in the performance arts, dance most obviously, and in philosophy and physiology, about the primacy of movement and the movement sense in knowing and expressing being human, being alive. As some others have done, we name the sense of movement ‘the sixth sense’, intentionally alluding to the associations of this name to intuition, to a ‘sense’ that goes beyond the senses. <…>

Modernist art movements were international; indeed, the way innovations broke through the borders of national cultures was intrinsic to modernism. Many Russian artists lived and worked in, or at least travelled to, Paris, Munich, London. Fewer artists made the journey in the opposite direction, though some did, and Isadora Duncan did with great effect. The Russian impact in Europe and North America was well recognized, most spectacularly with the debut in Paris, in 1909, of the Ballets russes. After 1918, there was a strong Moscow-Berlin connection, fostering Constructivism in art, design and architecture. Vladimir Nabokov wrote his first reflexively literary novels, and Viktor Shklovsky his Formalist compositions, de-familiarizing the everyday world, in Berlin. Our Russian story is thus part of a larger epic.

The Russian experience also gives us the sources to develop a large claim about why the movement sense has been regarded, as we argue it has, especially around 1900 and now, as the highest, most significant and most authoritative, sense.

From ancient times, and in many cultures around the world, there is evidence of a human longing to gain knowledge transcending the everyday senses, senses so apt to deceive.

In mystical religious practices, in dreaming, in the life of the imagination, in philosophical reason, there is a long history of search for intuition, sometimes called a sixth sense, to ground knowledge in a higher realm than the one revealed by the mundane, material senses. In Russia, utopian longings, linked to worldviews rich in imagination for the place of humans in the cosmos, were of special importance. We argue that this search for a higher sensibility, at least in part, transformed in the modern age into a range of beliefs about kinaesthesia as a higher sense. It is in this context that we find significance in the belief that the movement sense gives both unmediated expression to being-in-the-world and unmediated knowledge of the world. The sense has been held to transcend the separation of subject and object and to realize the ancient hope ‘to know’ by rendering the knower part of the larger whole, not an outside observer of it. This, we suggest, is a modern recreation of intuition, insight and belief in higher, or most profound, knowledge. The modern dancer is its personification, its celebrant. The belief holds that knowledge is in the body, and the body the vessel of truth.

Nicoletta Misler
Anastasia Lesnikova
Johannes Schwartz
Experimental Jetset
Experimental Jetset
Linde Dorenbosch
State Museum and Exhibition Center ROSIZO
Mondriaan Fonds, Wilhelmina E. Jansen Fonds

Dit project maakt deel uit van de programmalijn Jaarthema's en het dossier Olympische Spelen.