Astrit Schmidt-Burkhardt Maciunas’
“Atlas of Russian History”
“Outside of a linear historicality”
George Maciunas’ outstanding oeuvre [opus magnum] of about three dozen story-diagrams was developed between 1953 and 1973. He spent twenty years dealing with diagrammatic illustrations of historic-political, cultural historical, economic and artistic causalities, starting out as a versatile and curious student, then for a short time as an architect, a long term Fluxus-Initiator and finally as a New York city developer of Fluxhousing Cooperatives. The spectrum of his work reaches from the visualization of scarce information all the way to structures showing compact data. Through varying methods he questioned historiography and the power of imagery many times over. This is a well known fact. Yet, largely unknown is that Maciunas was a serious map-artist. Maciunas’ production of diagrams started with a range of remarkable cartography. His Atlas of Russian History marks the beginning of a wide-spread fascination with maps that many artists of the 1960’s and 1970’s shared.
The accurately designed history atlas showing 38 maps drawn with a feather [pen] [11.5 inch x 8.5 inch] is one of Maciunas’ significant accomplishments – and not only because of its accurate production. Maciunas was aware of the conceptual significance of his work, which he listed in his biographical resumé: “Atlas of Russian History. (Book of translucent pages, superimposed maps).” These cryptic details were for many years the only proof for the existence of his work, which few had seen with their own eyes. Barbara Moore could only rely on Maciunas’ resumé when mentioning the atlas. Her statement that the atlas reached all the way to the October-Revolution was a mere assumption. For over half a century until it re-emerged on the American art-market, the Atlas of Russian History had disappeared and was feared lost forever. Since 2007 it has been part of the Fluxus collection of the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center in Vilnius.
The Atlas of Russian History was created in 1953, during which time Maciunas was a student at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, majoring in architecture with a minor in musicology. Earlier, Maciunas had been a student at the Cooper Union School of Art in New York, experimenting with graphic design and architecture. But Carnegie Institute of Technology’s intense study of architectural plans inspired Maciunas at the age of 22 to become interested in diverse sketching techniques – which resulted in him starting to sketch himself.
The direct motivation for the Atlas of Russian History came from a “senior course“ Maciunas went to, regarding the “Evolution of the Modern Russian State”. The three hour long lesson consisting of nine units was “open to properly qualified students in the College of Fine Arts”, which the architect students belonged to as well. At the time when Maciunas was studying in Pittsburgh, the University offered the course every year. The same topics were always listed on the program: “A critical survey of the complex forces which brought about the present system of Russian government; the historic heritage of Old Russia; the struggle of East and West; the overthrow of the Old Order; the emergence of a New Russia; Russia’s role in the present-day world.” In the “senior course” Maciunas learned everything he needed to know for creating his Atlas of Russian History. It is obvious that the maps were established during class. Still Maciunas’ maps were more than those of a bright student. They were rather an independent contribution to the seminar. The Atlas of Russian History announced Maciunas interest in systematic imagery. His interest in pictures and visual portrayal comes from his antipathy towards books. Instead of tedious texts Maciunas’ favoured insight at first glance. This is why he was fascinated by diagrams, display boards, maps, charts coordinate systems and curve representations. The cartography of history was just a further facet in the visualization of knowledge and information with which he was to deal with all his life – not as an architect but much rather as a graphic designer.
Maciunas drewthe Atlas of Russian History on a pad of tracing paper, the same kind as architects use to trace floor plans. The pages are perforated on the side insuring that they can be ripped out without damaging the paper significantly. But Maciunas does not make use of this. Instead he turns the book and uses the landscape format and starts drawing his maps, tracing their boarders and contours, with the perfection of a model student. Afterwards he notes important historical dates and facts. Addenda are marked with pencil, to include them at a later time.
The Atlas of Russian History leaves little space for the geo-historical imagination because it is accurate with the geographical conditions. In no instance does Maciunas upset his deeply ingrained habits of orientation. He never inverts the coordinates. Whatever other reference points might define Russia’s position in space the North Pole is up and the South Pole is down. The positive and negative connotations of these terms are commonplace. In this spirit Maciunas’ maps impart a view of the world.
In a sequence of pages incorporates all the important events and changes in Russian history, starting with the bottom map of the nomads and the steppe inhabitants around 700 B.C., Christianization, the invasion through the tartars, all the way to the Mongol empire and Czar empire in the 19th century, which are on the top of all the pages. The translucent pages show the cross-fading layers of time linked in a visual manner that expose history as an interwoven whole. The overlapping of information is a showcase for the historiographical depth of the past. This is the context in which the Atlas of Russian History must be understood, for today it is not in the original form of a bound book but instead a portfolio of loose pages. But taking the atlas apart did end up having a positive effect: the maps can be compared next to one another.
Even though the atlas shows a lively picture of Russian history, Maciunas only worked with two different map stencils: a panoramic map and a very detailed map. On the larger scaled maps macro-trends and outstanding events of the eastern hemisphere – stretching from Central Europe to Alaska and from the Northern Arctic See all the way the Pacific Ocean – throughout the time-period of 200 years (“1500–1700”, “1700–1800”, “1800–18[…]”) are shown. For a better understanding of the maps, Maciunas adds captions: asterisks show discovery-travels and explorations on land and to water. Rectangles mark settlements, cities and fortifications and hatching identifies annexed areas. Russia’s natural boarder in the north is the ocean and stays relatively stabile throughout the years. However, the territory towards the south constantly had to be protected, while the west boarder strengthened and the east constantly had to be re-defined. The many war-zones on the maps seem to confirm Karl Marx’s theory: history of the world is the history of a struggle. Every portrayal of history is subjective. Every map is a projection of a blurred world. In Maciunas’ atlas, the Russian empire is blown out of proportion, as if to demonstrate the explosive actuality of the USSR during the Cold War.
One of the four general maps – the one showing the 18th century – sticks out especially because it has a guiding theme. Slightly absentmindedly Maciunas noted the central idea “first of all and then”. Typical for this time of change [1700–1800] is an increased interest in the east border of the upcoming empire. The large Second-Kamtschatka-Expedition  led illustrious researchers like the historian Gerhard Friedrich “Müller” the botanist Johann Georg “Gmelin”, the natural historian Georg Wilhelm “Steller”, the astronomer Louis “Delisle” de la Croyère and the geographer Stepan Petrovich “Krasheninnikov” to travel over land to the Asian peninsula.
In the course of the expedition, which is one of the largest in history, Siberia is explored and Alaska discovered. The eastern extension of Russian control is promoted even more by bold tradesmen and merchants rather than through academics and the researchers.
The adventurer and cofounder of the Russian-American Company is Grigorii “Shelekhov”, who founds the first Russian colony on the “island of Kodiak” in Alaska. The east expansion climaxes in “1812” through the fantastic vision of Alexander “Baranov”. As the chief manager of one of the most influential fur companies his vision is to populate the whole pacific. His first successful step in this direction is founding a Russian business colony in California. All this is noted in a general map of “1800–18[…]”. The map shows that Baranov’s mercantile vision of great power is not met. Instead areas of Manchuria and the north part of the island Sakhalin are annexed in the mid-century. After a while – being hard to reach from St. Petersburg – the over-seas colony is even considered unprofitable, so that the empire of the Czar sells its American possessions for “$ 7,200,000” to the Americans and by doing so even wins a new ally (“Russo-American rapprochement”).
A rudimental panorama map of the 19th century also belongs to the general maps. Like all Maciunas’ history maps this one is designed without poesy or geographical alienation. The map is defined through few contours along the coast in the north and a few lines in the center of the country. Without concrete setting or clear reference it presents its self as a more or less silent scene. It is only possible to speculate about the close end of the Czar Empire. The empty surface leaves room for free geohistorical imagination. In the panorama map one can see the major trends of an epoch. By contrast all detailed maps are conceived of in short time frames and tiny detail. Based on an aquatic map Maciunas uses grid paper to trace the East European area. It reaches from the from the North Russian flatland to the Black See and the Caspian Sea in the south. The eastern boarder is formed by the Ural, which isn’t shown in the map. One doesn’t learn much about the physical array of this large region. Instead of listing planes and mountain ranges, Maciunas describes the rivers Donau or the Don, the Dnieper or the Wolga. By notating cities along the waterway, it is striking to see what an important role rivers and oceans – and not mountains – play in the settlement history of the Russian Empire. Through his aquatic map, Maciunas builds the Atlas of Russian History step by step and map by map. The template allows him to trace within the individual time zones the distinctive waterways, cities, troupe shifts and wars as well as a over the centuries stabilizing boarder of the Russian Empire. Successful battles are marked on the detailed map with an asterisk, a typographic symbol with which Maciunas at a later time accentuates successful comrades on his Fluxus diagrams and with which he marks special occasions on his calender. On the top right hand corner of every detailed map there is a record of the date and starting on the map “800–900” he adds time specific general themes, like here “Christianization”. These details make the rough division in antiquity, the middle ages and modern times unnecessary, names, which were made in distress to create an order in European history. With Russia’s rise to an empire in “1721–1725” through Peter the Great, Maciunas emphasizes rulers in his maps. From then on he abstains from characterizing historical phases as if everything to be said, had been said through the shining names of all Czars.
A text forces one to read linear. A map allows its viewer to follow his or her own inclinations, to skip around without any obligation to follow a governing thought. It is different with the Atlas of Russian history. Maciunas gives precise instructions: “Must be read backward (starting with last page). One can observe thus geographic changes in time.”
If you follow his orders and don’t leaf though the atlas from front to back but much rather the other way around, from back to front, all Russian history will display its self chronologically from its beginnings without any unnecessary typographic information. On the map “7 B.C. •” he only mentions Scythians. Except for their trading activities with Greek colonies there is no information on these relatives of old Iranian nomadic people. The front page of the atlas has a negative touch to it due to the absence of geographic information. Being an empty map, it doesn’t allow any recognition of the geographical region. In some respects this non-region evokes the virtual borderless territory on which Russia was to found its history. The region Maciunas’ map describes is without any cartographic points of reference, so that it may unfold in the imagination of the observer. Virtually minimalistic, a small circle serves as a geographic reference on the map “4. A.D.”. Without naming it, the circle represents the bottom reach of the Bug river. For the sixth century Maciunas distinguishes two significant coastal boarders: the boarder between the Black Sea and the Caspian See, which are characterized by migration an fluctuation. The boundless go-west-trend of “Magyars (Hungarians)”, Turkish people and steppe dwellers, for example the “Khazars” or the “Avars”, is indicated through arrows. The mixing if these tribes during the migration created the poly-ethnic milieu of East-Slav. In the 7th century the “Norseman (Vikings)” penetrated the Newa and the Wolga all the way to the estuary and drive away the “Magyars”.
By differentiating “forests” and “steppes” from “4–2 B.C.” Maciunas classifies two climate zones. A horizontal line is enough to differ between the “forests” in the north and the “steppes” in the south. But that is still quite abstract. He becomes much more concrete when drawing wiggly lines to indicate the Black Sea at the bottom of the page. It marks the coastline with the Island Kri and the Sea of Azov. All rudimental information on the map more or less indicate today’s Ukraine with its two climate zones.
The differentiation between “forests” and “steppes” is much more natural than it may appear at first glance. Different climates ask for different ways of working and living. In the forests there are the “hunters” in “small groups” and in the steppe the “nomadic tribes” are in “large groups & states”. On the long run these cultural anthropological differences lead to stress, which is a very important factor for the evolutionary history of the Russian Empire. Consequently – in Maciunas’Atlas – after the “Christianization” of Kiev a struggle [sic] between “forest” and “steppe” breaks out. Three phases are distinguishable from one another, the periods “973–1036”, “1036–1125” and “1125–1238”. They stand for the formation-phase of the Kievan State and with that for the genesis of the Russian empire, then for its downfall due to an inadequate order of succession (“civil strife between princes”) and finally for Kiev’s fall after the Tartars’ intrusion under the leadership of “Ghenghiz Khan”.
Between 973 and 1238 the contrast between “forest and steppe” formed Russian history in different ways. Initially Kiev’s empire, which is based on trade, is constantly threatened by the steppe nomads. The inner conflicts add to a danger that comes from the steppes, endangering Kiev’s supremacy until finally the Mongolians conquer the land from the south.
Three maps follow, which record the unification of Forest & Steppe due to the “Tartar invasion” and its “domination” during “1238–1241”, “1241–1325” and “1325–1462”. Under the reign of the “Golden Horde” of the Mongol Empire the consequences of the “gradual loss of contact with seas” during the turn of the millennium become obvious. There is a noticeable shift of historical events between “1462–1505”: under “Ivan I I I” the new center of power moves to the colonized woodland in the north east, to Moscow. Without striking a blow they managed to free themselves from the 240 year old Tartar domination. The destruction of the Golden Horde through the Crimean Tartars in the battle of “Sarai” did the rest. With the annexation of the territories in the north, west and south, Moscow expands to become the center of Orthodox power. On the map’s shaded area, where Orthodox belief dominates, it is protected until the 17th century through two Cossack alliances in the south Russian steppe: the Zaparog host at the Dnieper on the “Host of the Don”. There are two wavy arrows pointing at the allies. They remind of the time when the Kosakes used to be Russian farmers, who fled from bondage and of those deserting the Tartars. The broad area of the Moscow Empire enables all requirements necessary for a new ideology, which help “Ivan III” with Lithuania. The political rise allowed building diplomatic relationships with other empires. In 1497, the “First Russian Embassy” in Constantinople is erected.
The various maps Maciunas drew for the 16th and 17th century, explain the Russian expansion policies under changing rulers as well as the gradual adjustments of the territory’s boarders. It is important to emphasize the rapid expansion of the Empire under “Ivan IV” (“1505–1564”), who in 1547 is crowned “1st Czar” in Russia and who ruled with absolutistic-autocratic ideals. After his reign of terror from “1564– 1584” characterized by executions and the confiscation of goods, times of trouble follow from “1584– 1613” due to disrupted conditions in the heartland. Russia finds rest from the political-cultural duality which had emerged through the conflicts between Czar, patriarch, state and church, only around the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. An obvious signal for change is a strategic relocation in 1703 of the recently founded capital “St. Petersburg” at the Gulf of Finland. That change the gradual loss of contact with seas, which happened through the formation of the Kievan State, is compensated for.
The outstanding reign of Peter the Great is shown in the maps of “1676-1698”, “1698-1721” and “17211725”. Maciunas primarily begins with the itinerary of the young aspiring potentate, who, from the beginning of 1697 was en-route in Riga, Brandenburg, Holland, England and Vienna. This journey abroad was the first undertaken by a Czar from Moscow. What follows, is a cartographic summary of the Great Northern War against Sweden and finally an optimistic picture of the glorious rise of Russia as it becomes an “Empire”. Because of the increasing differentiation of the Russian history, Maciunas summarized these social fabric intervening reforms and modernizations of Peter the Great into twelve points and inserted these in the form of an addenda-paper into the Atlas. Following Peter the Great, it was Catherine the Great [Catherine II] who managed to expand the Petersburg Empire (“1762-1781” and “1812-1825”). With the historical victory over Napoleon in 1814 (“1801-1812” and “1812-1825”), which Maciunas, without much pathos, noted with the sentence “Russian General Barclay de Tolly + allied troops enters [sic] Paris”, Alexander I. became liberator of Europe and Russia not only geographically, but also politically and in regards, military, to one of Europe’s leading powers of the modern age. In the Atlas, the new world-political position of Russia can be seen by the concentration and consolidation of informative congested areas. Irrespective of temporary shifts of the border due to annexation, theaters of war and areas of conflict, which Maciunas marks with hachure’s, in 1721 the western and southern external borders are becoming more stable. For Maciunas this had the advantage that he would only need one map-stencil to trace the formation-phase of the Russian “Empire” step for step. The shapes of a realm have many reasons for being. The majority are painful. For Russia the territorial borders distinguished who was a friend and who was an enemy. However, the border had one further meaning beyond tensions and conflicts. As static formation in times of peace it is the place, as Negri and Hardt see it, where modern sovereignty is settled. The question, whether Russia, with its foreign political decent result, through the invasion of Paris, managed to become a part of Europe in social and cultural regards, has been answered by Slavophilists and Westerners highly controversial. The debate regarding the universal claim and the national cultural identity led to one of the most important questions of Russian intellectual history in the 19th and early 20th century. Also Maciunas disputed arguments from both sides. But since the Atlas of Russian Art does not offer an adequate systematical location, where this important discussion could be disputed, this was in the Chronology of Russian History: 867-1950, which has a sole section on “Slavophilism” and “Westernism”. In the late 19th century, the cartography more or less discontinues abruptly. The heroic phase of the Soviet history in the early 20th century was too complex to illustrate or comprise in the traditional format of an Atlas. With his project of historical cartography Maciunas, in a certain way, went to the limits of the so-called “to map onto”. This is a systematical border, as Gregory Bateson demonstrates in his essay Mind and Nature (1979): “All description, explanation, or representation is necessarily in some sense a mapping of derivatives from the phenomena to be described onto some surface or matrix or system of coordinates. In the case of an actual map, the receiving matrix is commonly a flat sheet of paper of finite extent, and difficulties occur when that which is to be mapped is too big or, for example, spherical.” “Every receiving matrix”, as Bateson concludes, “[…] will have its formal characteristics which will in principle be distortive of the phenomena to be mapped onto it.”
In case of the Atlas of Russian History the distortion was based on the rough simplification of complex historical processes, as reflected through factual graphics. Due to this, Maciunas was compelled to change the mode of illustration. He shifted from a two-dimensional historical cartography to a historical diagram, which, considering an increase of factual density could be extended into the third-dimension, without major structural alteration. There is certain evidence that Maciunas began working on his historical diagram, while he was still completing the Atlas. In any case the Chronology: 1881-1895 begins in the same year, in which the Atlas was suddenly discontinued (1881) and in which Czar Alexander III. succeeded to the throne after his father had been assassinated. The noticeable spaces that can be seen on both maps that are dedicated to “Alex III” (“188018[…]”, n.d.) coheres with the circumstance that the historical cartography was “work in progress”. In a stupendous way the blank space on the piece of paper leaves unexplained, whether one could not maybe understand history as factual graphic set theory.
In a certain way the Atlas functioned as a “crash course” in regards to Russian history. According to Maciunas observation guide one would use the cartography as a flip book by thumbing through it from the back to the front with a certain amount of verve. In a performative use of the Atlas one will notice a visual flow, which glides through epochs and centuries. If one recalls the Russian history in this almost cinematographic way, one will get the impression of an Empire evolving from scratch, which continuously expands and finally comprises one-sixth of the entire Earth.
From the Space/Time Atlas to the Time/Space Charts History is never independent from space. On the contrary it’s always site-specific. If one follows Michel de Certeau, space only emerges, when it’s filled with movements, which deploy in it: “Therefore it results from activities, which give it a direction, temporalize and lead it, to function as an ambiguous unit of conflict programs and conventional arrangements”. In this sense space is an essential dimension of historical events, which becomes apparent to its full extent, when regarding the strategic land occupation in the name of fatal blood and soil politics. The Atlas of Russian Art teaches us this in a descriptive way, through not only showing locations of war by means of hatching, but also through illustrating the sphere of actions of military conflicts.
With the help of a limited set of figures Maciunas determines and clarifies localities: circles for places, asterisks for expedition destinations or battlegrounds, etc. For this kind of geo-historical infrastructure of maps holds true, what George Kubler described within the scope of his essay Shape of Time (London 1962) as iconic reductionism of knowledge. Elementary data and features help to reduce the mass of information. Even though they do not illustrate graphically, they create an epistemological field of operation, which is based on contentual consistency and visual homogeneity. The usefulness of a general map of this kind is determined by the preciseness of the graphical information and not by, howsoever differentiated criteria’s regarding formal-aesthetic representation of reality. Also the Atlas provides not so much aesthetic pleasures but conceptual aids to see historical facts and to see them differently. Maciunas unexpressed target was to understand the Russian territorial state as a historical dimension with different potentials for interpretation by integrating cartographic practices of illustration into a historiographic illustration of knowledge and context of tradition.
To disclose the different potentials for interpretation, Maciunas changed the mode of illustration of history. The Chart substituted the Atlas. The abstract diagram replaced the descriptive map and a graphical arrangement form replaced the analog representation. The new creative matrix was not based on area anymore, but on a line. For his Charts, Maciunas used ordinary writing paper. The light-blue ruling and the pink vertical on the left side of the paper helped as spatio temporal interpretation model, since they create the two-dimensional framework of a coordinate system. Through this line network the historiographic space, which occupied a lot of space in historical maps, was subjected to a chronological respectively a synchronoptical organization will. With the creation of the Charts, emphasis of organizational categories shifted from space to time. Externally the shift from coexistence to consecutively can be noticed through Maciunas’ change of the relevant reference value from the horizontal format, with its implied geo-horizon to the high size, with its vertical time axis. Content wise the change of paradigms is emphasized through labeling. The complete title of the Atlas is: (Space-Time) Atlas of Russian History. Maciunas typed the text, as well as all later Fluxuspublications on his famous IBM Executive typewriter and glued it in form of a title page into the Atlas. Quite similar he proceeded with his Greek and Roman History of Art Chart (c. 1955-1960), there he glued a commentary onto the back of the diagram. In our context the important sentence reads the following: “Fragments of a History of Art (Time-Space) Chart.” Maciunas’ precise differentiation between space-dominance in historical maps and the sovereignty of time within chronological Charts is found again later inside the Fluxus-diagrams. There the avant-garde is differentiated in the art of space and the art of time, as well as its gradual convergence and amalgamation.
The different chronological Charts that Maciunas produced throughout his studies tell the Russian history either after or immediately following the Atlas with its maps. Certainly they do this in a different way. Within the Chronologies, which cover the period from 1881-1950, the historiographic space, as said, has clearly been diminished in favor of a certain dramatic of the linear improvement, which could have only been evoked by time series. More important than the territorial shift on a grand scale become the tempos of change and the micro-historic developments. Within the Charts, which vary in size but are consistent in layout, one can differentiate between two different types of history models. In the descendent time series, beginning with the year “1881”, Russian history wins a historic victory, because Maciunas presents the young Soviet Union in a spectacular three-dimensional diagram as a quintessence of the past. However, in the ascending illustration of the three-part Chronology of Russian History: 867-1950 the Soviet Union has climbed to the peak of development. Russia’s awareness of its superiority lets it triumph over the past, regardless of all social deficiencies, which are not being concealed. In one model of shear force of history, which points to the top, Maciunas presents the historical process as a powerful trend of evolution.
With the Chronology of Russian History: 867-1950, Maciunas undertook a remapping of Russian history. Nevertheless or exactly because of this, it describes the conceptual pendant to the Atlas of Russian History. Also in this sense, the socio-cultural history of a country is being explained, which is a topic that is rarely addressed in the Atlas. In a sketchy way the Chronology illustrates the period from the appointment of the first Russian bishop in “867” until the end of the Stalin era. Through the synchronopsis of the history of the church, art and culture, social affairs, and financial concerns, as well as the militarization of a peasant state, a multifaceted knowledge-map has been developed, which especially through its many white spaces makes it possible to see coherences. For example, the population graph and the export curve continue from the 15th to the early 19th century almost parallel, where as the agricultural production diminishes drastically after 1900. This, by pencil drawn graph, ends at this stage abruptly, as if Maciunas had been disturbed during work. Actually it represents the creeping food-crisis, which had been a result of the so-called war-communism.
Together the informative high-density zones and the white spaces on the diagram result in a knowledge network consisting of tight links and distant relationships. Meanwhile the informational gaps produce space for speculation. The historiographic sense of possibility has no barriers. Due to the fact that Maciunas’ Chronology records a period of more than one thousand years, it becomes obvious that he tried to present Russian history in totality. In its unfinished state the Chronology of Russian History: 867-1950 leaves space for further semantic networking for the obliged observer. He who observes shall, once in a while, take the Atlas into consideration. Not only because there he will find further information, but also similar data respectively for the year “988” or “1494”. Through the congruity that can be seen by overlapping the works, such as with the complementary appendix, it becomes clear, how intertwined both works are with each other. Only when both works, the Chronology of Russian History: 867-1950 and the Atlas of Russian History, are considered together, one will receive a comprehensive understanding of the Russian past.
Focus Russia With the Atlas and the Chronologies, Maciunas developed a superb overview of Russian history. The absolved “senior course” regarding the “Evolution of the Modern Russian State”, as well as compendiums reference books, which Maciunas worked through with great diligence, provided the most important data and facts. Basically, he was a notorious knowledge worker throughout his entire life. Before he processed his lexical knowledge to maps and charts, through which it received its ultimate effect, he would organize it meticulous on filing cards or retain excerpts. Evidence for this is the time period of twenty years, in which charts and diagrams had been developed.
The basic knowledge of Russian history, which Maciunas studied in his own accord in Pittsburgh, helped him throughout his studies of art history at the Institute of Fine Arts at the New York University (1955-1960). Already during the mapping of geo-historiographic learningscape Maciunas’ special interest for eastern European and Asian migration of the peoples became obvious. At NYU he intensively dedicated himself to this topic. He was not only interested in nomadism, because he himself had a moving past. He was born 1931 in Kaunas. Due to illness he grew up in Switzerland, before he spent his childhood and early puberty in his hometown. In 1944, when Russia invaded Latvia, his family fled to Germany, before they finally emigrated to the USA in 1948. It is not enough to explain Maciunas decided interest in Russian history with the circumstance that his mother and with her the maternal branch of his family are originated from Russia. Even though, with the Atlas, Maciunas evidently took sides for his mothers’ country of origin, who he admired, and by that distanced himself once again from his father, who, as a politically dedicated high school student, had taken part in the guerrilla fights against the Soviets, it had only to a small extent been his own biography and genealogy that had led him to expose himself in such a dedicated way to Russian history. It was rather the cultural power for change that fascinated Maciunas regarding the Hunnensturm and the nomadism of the Tatars, Mongolians and Turks. This cultural transforming energy, which evolves from migration of the peoples, can also be found in the Atlas, especially where Maciunas indicates operative movement impulses based on direction vectors.
Further more Russian history offered Maciunas material for general reflections regarding socio-cultural processes. Later in the sixties it became the legitimation for an artistic reform practice named Fluxus. With his avant-garde movement, Maciunas actually tried to proceed with the heroic phase of Russian history. Fluxus was purposely part of the succession of the Russian Left Front of the Arts (LEF), a loose association of socialistic cultural artists, which had been founded in 1917 and were based around the same-named magazine (1923-1925). Maciunas, as already the LEF-Group, propagandized a socially dedicated artist-collective and a gradual elimination of fine arts. The longer Maciunas lived in the west, the more grew his ideological commitment to the east, which provided the constitutive elements for his distinctive social self-conception. In America, Maciunas the “pro-soviet Lithuanian” (Dick Higgins), projects himself as unconventional follower of Russia, a strange kind of “Marxism-Leninists” (Jackson Mack Low).
Along the self-chosen motto, “communists must give revolutionary leadership in culture”, Maciunas followed with Fluxus, the anarchic impulse of nomadic cultural transformation. What he planned was a second Hunnensturm in form of a great Trans-Siberian Agitprop-Tour. Model for this might have been Dziga Vertovs rolling “Cinema-Wagon”, which had been attached to the agitation train October Revolution. With this Vertov presented movie chronicles and fictional movies to the mainly analphabetic population in the remote regions of the young Soviet Union. Something similar must have been on Maciunas mind, when he thought about a train ride from Vladivostok to Moscow. At every station Fluxus presentations were planned, which, typical for Maciunas, should have been honored with food from the local public. This grandiose undertaking was planed within the scope of an international concert tour for the winter of 1964. But as much as Maciunas would have liked to visit the USSR, as little was he able to enthuse his fellows to get cold feet for a pittance in return. The trip was not realized. A reentry into the old home country never took place.
Maciunas enjoyed traveling a lot, not only with his finger on the Atlas of Russian History. Unlike imaginary traveling in his head, the active trips in real life could only be pursued with limited financial conditions and under high physical exertions, since he was a chronic asthmatic. Due to a permanent position in the U.S. Army in Wiesbaden from 1962 on, Maciunas was able to go on educational tours with his mother. The grand tour led through France, Italy, Holland, and Germany. At the same time Maciunas perceived himself as Mercury for Fluxus. The restless traveling was part of his job. In a different way it would not have been possible to accomplish the tight schedule of the Fluxus-Festival (1962-1963) in Wuppertal, Wiesbaden, Copenhagen, Paris, Düsseldorf, Amsterdam, London, Den Haag and Nice, which were meant to make Fluxus popular in Europe within one blow. Maciunas’ primary vision, to initiate Fluxus as an international avant-garde movement, was bound to the mobility of all Fluxus-artists. The socio-political dimension of these transnational trips may not be ignored. The transnational trips to the west were directed against the narrow viewed separation of national states, where as the trips to the east were meant to help overcome geo-political contrasts.
Maciunas wanted to make history with Fluxus. His stated aim was to cure artistic deficiencies in the Eastern bloc. Everything that was needed to dissolve the, long overdue, socialist realism could be part of an extensive implementation of Fluxus. To achieve this, as Maciunas had foreseen it, an art-historic transformation process was necessary: “directive and operational headquarters for all FLUXUS activities” should be located “anywhere within the USSR”. Eventually Fluxus-George requested this in a long letter to the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU and Chairman of the Cabinet of the Soviet Union Nikita Chruschtschow. It is unknown whether Chruschtschow ever received this request. He would have never involved himself with such an affiliation anyway. Therefore the attempt of a cultural-ideological reformation of the Soviet Union, with the help of Fluxus, was another unfinished project the avant-garde left behind. The Atlas of Russian Art surmises none of these venturous plans. However, like every map, the Atlas already displays Maciunas urge towards the east through its imperceptible inner geographies and biographies. In a miniature way it leads towards what Maciunas would later try in a big scope: the change and improvement of the world with the assistance of Fluxus.
For the comprehension of the diagrammatic works of Maciunas, the Atlas of Russian history is of unique importance. It marks the beginning of the opus magnum, which is the basis for all further historical diagrams, including those from Fluxus. Also Maciunas’ last diagram, the so-called Big Chart, dated 1973, with the highly scientific name Diagram of Historical Development of Fluxus and other 4 Dimensional, Aural, Optic, Olfactory, Epithelial and Tactile Art Forms (incomplete) is rooted in it. Mapping knowledge was and remained Maciunas’ main issue in life.