in Transferts, appropriations et fonctions de l’avant-garde , Cahiers de la Nouvelle Europe no. 16, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2012.
DADA was the avant-garde when it started because it pushed the front of art’s struggle with prevailing conditions further than where expressionist/cubist/destijlist etc. trends were able or interested in pushing it. In Europe in the 1910’s art was continuing as art, despite a radical reshuffling of its formal means and strategies, and now in a time of world war, but without any resolution of the problem of art’s impotence and complicity in the face of real events. The tension between art’s vision of humanity and the humanity it actually assists, as culture, in reproducing grew to an extreme. DADA was a break made to escape this cycle of impotence and compromise, and to build into cultural initiatives a ratchet-stop against backsliding from proposed positions of engagement.
in The Estonian Architectural Review, 2008.
It was not as professionals that they approached these questions, but as jobless
delinquents, poets, lovers, cynics and drunks. The dérive, a mode of observational drifting countless artists have by now integrated into their practice13, and countless planning and urban studies programs14 into their pedagogies, began as little more than dead time in the stumble of vagrants from bar to bar. And psychogeography, the art-science whose very name seems to promise a permanent human refutation of alienation in the urban field, emerged out of no more experience or authority than the standard dissatisfaction of youth. “We are bored in the city!” The accomplishment of the SI as a movement was that they never got over that boredom, and never ceased to hold the organization of urban society responsible.
“Form and Structure Reframed: a new on the cult of the new in our century”, translation essay on a text by Asger Jorn
in Crayon 5 , ed. Andrew Levy, 2007.
In the mid-1950’s, Asger Jorn was busy collecting a big decade of his art thinking into a series of essays, published in 1957 as Pour la forme: ébauche d’une methodologie des arts (For Form: Draft of an Arts Methodology). The book appeared under an imprint of the Situationist International, founded by Jorn, Guy Debord and others that same year, but what the essays preserved was a distinctly pre-situationist thinking. In fact they marked the fullness of a survival effort on the part of artistic culture which the SI would declare long-dead and invalidated in the context of late-capitalist realities. Covering his involvement with the post-Surrealist COBRA group and his campaign to establish the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, they show him struggling urgently to fill the viability gap created for art by the failure of Surrealism as the last art resistance.
The main veins of avant-garde activity in the European sphere, the now canonical cycle Futurism-Dada-Surrealism-et suite, gambled art and literature’s stakes in the centuries-old entitlement for a new chance at impacting the human situation. Respectability and the perpetuation of fashion status were sacrificed for a new angle on efficacy, a redirection of cultural producer-consumer relations aimed at backing up the usual flows and spilling the channeled energies of bourgeois sentiment over into the sphere of everyday life, where contestational politics take place and make real difference.
Inherent in the notion of an avant-garde is the irreversibility of its measure of progress. To occupy a position that has been surpassed is to not be avant-garde.
It is stunning the degree to which this is disregarded by fans.
A hard fine line. In my paper: Aucun retour possible: an Event Logic of the Avant-garde I trace a little history of the hard fine line, this avant-garde, and of some who have sought to hold it. Also, my course on Avant-Garde and Modernity: here.
And at the recent 4th Bi-Annual Conference of the European Network of Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies in Helsinki, I brought the same challenge in the form of an open panel: “The Radical Now – Who/What/Where is Avant-Garde Now?”
Loving the avant-garde, the way academia has loved it, has meant failing to join it, and over many generations leaving it to flounder in the failures that strengthen existing conditions, conditions the avant-garde has had its dignity in opposing concretely.