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THE ASSAULT ON CULTURE CHAPTER 16 (pages 87-94)
The date on which Neoism was founded varies from account to account. As time progresses the date gets put back. Writing in the sole issue of "Immortal Lies" (Montreal 1985), Istvan Kantor (born Budapest 1949) claims that his "Post-Concerto" performed at Vehicule Art, Montreal, on February 14th 1979, is 'considered as the opening piece of Neoist Conspiracy'. Whereas in the 1982 text "WHAT IS A uh uh APARTMENT FESTIVAL???", Kantor had claimed that the 'neoist movement was launched on may 22, 1979, in Montreal', when he and Lion Lazer distributed leaflets on the comer of Sherbrooke and McGill.
What can be ascertained with certainty is that Kantor had spent some time at the PORTLAND ACADEMY in 1978 and returned to Montreal with the concepts of Monty Cantsin and ISM which Zack, Ackerman and their group had been developing. Back in Montreal, Kantor found himself in the company of several young cultural workers who had been profoundly influenced by the punk phenomena. In the hands of this group, ISM was transformed into Neoism and by the summer of '79 a graffiti campaign was being waged on the walls of Montreal. According to R. U. Sevol (born Michael Ferara, London) in "Miles 2" and "Miles 2 Supplement" (Paris 1985), the slogans used included "Everything Before The 90's", ':Liberate Imagination", "Seek Beauty, Desire Passion", "Never Work", "Hunger Is The Mother Of Beauty" and "Convulsion, Subversion, Defection". The graffiti draws heavily on the legacy of the French avant-garde: these are the slogans of surrealism, situationism and the occupations movement of May '68, with some late romanticism thrown in for good measure.
However, as the group developed, it became apparent that it had more in common with futurism than french avant-garde traditions. Indeed, the very word Neoism is striking as a cheapening through realisation of Marinetti's project. A heroic vision of the future reduced to the novelty of the new. In technological terms, video was to the Neoists what the motor car was to Marinetti. This became apparent during the Neoists' 'occupation' of Motivation 5, Montreal, in October 1980. A video communication link was set up between the two floors of the gallery. According to Kantor's "Video After Death" leaflet (Montreal, undated) 'video conversations eventually developed into an automatic exchange of conceptual .ideas, video became reality and reality became video'. Kantor's description is typical of the myth making in which he indulges: phrases such as 'conceptual ideas' sound very grand but are ultimately tautological (all ideas are conceptual), while 'automatic exchange' implies a totalitarian system of language (an impossibility since the split between signifiers and signifieds prevents meanings from becoming transparent). The tedious nature of the gallery occupation is revealed by the fragments from R. U. Sevol's notes published in "Organ Centre de Recherche Neoiste vol. 3 no. 1"(previously "The Neo"):
"... Lazer is bored so he and Yana leave ... Frater Neo appears and asks questions about photography. No one is interested ... I was too tired to move ... Kiki left to wash his socks ... I didn't seem to care, I just did it..."
Video did not 'become reality'. The altered mental states were, at least partially, due to sleep deprivation and boredom. The Neoists took the slogan they'd adopted from Niels Lomholt ("Bread Feeds The Hungry, Video Feeds The Full") too seriously. In their eagerness to indulge in futurist heroics, they didn't bother to examine the consequences of what they were doing. These avatars of 'the' new sensibility hadn't even learnt the most basic lesson of industrialisation; that although technological innovations may alter our mode of being, the way in which they do this is not always desirable.
In Kantor's hands, the Monty Cantsin concept regressed rather than developed. During the course of what were often violent performances, he would offer 'his' neoist chair to anyone who wanted to take on the 'open pop-star' identity. The aggressive way in which this was done intimidated those who might have taken up the offer. When, in the mid-eighties - due to the intervention of a number of European neoists - the Cantsin identity was taken up widely for the first time since Zack left Portland in '79, Kantor circulated letters claiming to be the 'real' Monty Cantsin.
In 1980, the Neoists - taking their cue from the use to which New York cultural workers had been putting their lofts for more than twenty years developed the concept of Apartment Festivals. These were week long events held in the homes of conspirators. The first "International Neoist Apartment Festival" (APT) took place in No Galero (a Montreal apartment) from September 17th to 21st 1980. The participants were Kiki Bonbon (psuedonym of Jean-Luc Bonspeil), Istvan Kantor, Lion Lazer, Niels Lomholt, Napoleon Moffatt, Reinhart Underwood Sevol and Alain Snyers. The event consisted of concerts, performance art, installations and the screening of films and video.
The "Second International Apartment Festival", February 16th-21st 1981, was organised by Kiki Bonbon at the 'Peking Pool Room', again in Montreal. Among the participants were several members of the Krononauts (2) from Baltimore, USA (tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE, Richard X, Ruth Turner and Sumu Pretzler). This second APT was similar in content to the first one, although the element of communal lifestyle and friendship played an increased role. On the personal relations front, Bonbon simulated temper tantrums, while tENTATIVELY, who had arrived before Richard X, pretended on X's arvival to be X, while X pretended to be tENTATIVELY. The resulting farce typified the head games which fast became an essential feature of APT Festivals. In his essay on the events at the Peking Pool Room, "Tim(nn) Laps(nn) M(nn)mory Kronology" (sic), tENTATIVELY concludes by summing up the APT concept:
"APT like NEOISM as minus t he (sic) superfluous middle which would disgustingly make it ART. APT as APT. APT as apartment: a space again skipping t he (sic) ART intermediate of performance spaces as buffer b tween (sic) public & performers private life. t he (sic) PEKING POOLROOM as KIKI BONBON's APT."
The text was written in tENTATIVELY's usual brain frying style. Throughout its first half, '(nn)' is substituted for the letter 'e'. Not content with this, tENTATIVELY introduces other idiosyncracies to ensure the essay is only comprehensible to a persistent reader, such as the use of the number '2' in place of the word 'to' and the use of a space between the 't' and 'h' of the word 'the'.
The "Third International Neoist Apartment Festival" was organised by the Krononauts, in Baltimore, between May 29th and June 7th 1981. This APT featured the Neoists' first nature walk, plus numerous fIlm screenings and performances. Among the participants were Richard X, David Zack, Richard Hambleton, Kirby Malone, tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE, Marshall Reese, Bonnie Bonnell, Sumu Pretzler, Ruth Turner, Dava Presslor, Lisa MandIe, Tom Konyves, Michael Gentile and Tom Diventi.
APT 5 took place at des REFUSE, New York, from March 15th to 21st 1982. During the festival, Gordon W. Zealot 'set up his mobile kitchen on W-Broadway, and fed neoists with greens and windbread', as 'a life-style demonstration of primitive subsistance'. Napoleon Moffatt gave an important 'pre-war' conference entitled "The Legitimacy Of Akademgorod":
"I'm in search of AKADEMGOROD. I'm still searching for AKADEMGOROD. AKADEMGOROD is the city of scientists in Russia, in Siberia. It is a city built for destruction. It is also a city where all the brains of Russia think and create the END.Neoists should be in search of the city of scientists, in search of AKADEMGOROD. The project is to find the city of AKADEMGOROD and, by being there,justify the city. Neoists are living, are surviving by eating high technology. I'm ephemerally here, in this city, to ask you to join the crusade for AKADEMGOROD. The goals of the crusade are to find the city and then establish the reality of Neoism into the reality of AKADEMGOROD. BE A PART OF AKADEMGOROD."
At this time, Moffatt was considered the theorist of the movement, and his suggestions were usually taken up by the Montreal group, if not always the wider Neoist Network. Akademgorod quickly became the promised land of Neoism.
The "Neoist Network's First European Training Camp" took place at Peter Below's Studio '58, in Wurzburg, West Germany, from 21st to 27th June 1982.(3) Here the Neoist practice of offering free hair cuts to the public was continued. The performances on the whole saw a shift away from futurist influences and towards a fluxus aesthetic. This trend is typified by Pete Horobin's 'Principle Player' (PP) scripts performed at the festival. The 'Principle Player' was an identity anyone could take on by performing the scripts Horobin wrote for the PP, or even by writing new PP scripts and then performing them. Horobin (born London 1949) had been developing this concept since 1980, well before he came into contact with Neoism and the Monty Cantsin 'open pop-star' scenario. An example of PP performance, "Seven Scripts For One Week Of Neoist Activity" (written August 1982) is included in Neoism Now, edited by Monty Cantsin (Artcore Editions, Berlin 1987):
"NEODAYONE The principle player does not think about art for twentyfour hours.
At this time, the European Neoists were far more influenced by sixties anti- and non-art movements than their North American counterparts, but this would change after 1984 when several members of the punk and post-punk generation were recruited.
APT 6 was held at the 'Neoist Embassy', Montreal, from February 21st to 27th 1983; APT 7 at tENTATIVELY's apartment in Baltimore from September 20th to 25th 1983. APT 8 was organised by Pete Horobin at 13 Aulton Place, London SE11, and took place from May 21st to 26th 1984. tENTATIVELY and Litvinov flew in from Baltimore, the model Eugenie Vincent had already moved to Europe and was present, Carlo Pittore was passing through London anyway, and Istvan Kantor had been wired money by his family - rich members of the Hungarian Communist Party - to come to Europe for his grandmother's birthday. (4) The presence of these North American die-hards made the London Festival a more traditional event than the Wurzburg manifestation. This naturally included rivalry between tENTATIVELY, Pittore and Kantor. Kantor left London before the APT had even finished, sulking because no one turned up to see his performance at the London Musicians Collective. When tENTATIVELY first performed his 'Neoist Guidedog' - during which he crawled on all fours and obtained a free bus ride because a blindwoman held him on a leash - there was a mix-up over buses and only a few neoists witnessed the act. Unperturbed, he persisted and managed successfully to document the performance on Super 8 a few days after the festival finished.
The 9th Neoist Festival was organised by Pete Horobin at Emilio Morandi's Arte Studio, Ponte Nossa, Italy, between June 1st and 7th 1985. It marked a sharp departure from previous Neoist Festivals. It took place in a small village, whose council considered it an honour to be hosting an International Arts Event. A major road ran through the village, and Neoist banners were strung over this to advertise the arrival of artists from all over Europe. The opening was a civic occasion with the presentation of a plaque. In the week that followed, the residents of Ponte Nossa were bemused to fmd body outlines chalked on their streets, hundreds of different portraits - all bearing the name Monty Cantsin - fly-posted to their walls, clothes being burnt in front of their homes, the appearance of a large 'chronogramme' by the side of a local river, and numerous other signs that the world had - to all intents and purposes - been over-run by lunatics. The villagers were further horrified by the appearance of Graf Haufen's mother, who turned up in a camper van with a hippy boyfriend half her age, keen to see some of her son's performances. On top of this, local youths - noting that the carabinieri had orders not to arrest anyone for bizarre behaviour - used the festival as a backdrop against which they were allowed to indulge in mildly anti-social behaviour. Their parents wondered what they'd done to deserve the festival, the teenagers held the artists in contempt - but had a gas anyway.
In October '85, R. U. Sevol - by this time resident in Paris - circulated an open letter proposing that the next APT should be spread over several locations, so that greater numbers of neoists could participate with ease. As a result, in the summer of '86, meetings of two or three neoists took place in Paris, Amsterdam and Tepoztlan (Mexico). The short notice at which these events were arranged resulted in low attendances - and whether taken singly or together, they cannot in any way be viewed as an Apartment Festival. tENTATIVELY wrote to Sevol asking for his summer '86 tour of North East America to be considered part of the festival. Since it was the only substantial event to emerge, this tour must be considered the 10th Apartment Festival.
The 64th (sic) Internationale Konspirative Neoistche Apartment Festival was held at Artcore Gallery and Stiletto Studios (Berlin) from December 1st to 7th 1986. Like the Ponte Nossa festival its central feature was an exploration of the Monty Cantsin concept. Documentation was produced listing the addresses of 99 Monty Cantsin's who participated either by post or in person. However, it was also marked by the absence of Pete Horobin and other key figures in European Neoism. It was the final fling of a movement overtaken by dissension and apathy. A few minor Neoist manifestations have taken place since - including the so called Millionth Apartment Festival in New York (23rd to 27th November 1988) - but they are of no consequences.
From The Assault On Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War by Stewart Home (original edition Aporia Press/Unpopular Books, London 1988, new edition AK Press 1991).
1. However, the speed with which electronic communications systems operate does serve to pressurise those using them into reducing the time they take to reach any given decision, thus lowering the overall quality of human thought and the rationality of individual choice making.
2. The Krononauts were also closely linked to other groups such as the Dallas (fexas) based Church of the SubGenius, which was founded in the spring of 1978 by the Rev Ivan Stang. Taking a graphic from a 1940's book on advertising said to represent success, Stang added the name l.R. "Bob" Dobbs and founded a religion. Dobbs, a pipe smoking salesman, was promoted by Stang as the figurehead of Amerika's weirdest cult. According to SubGenius lore, the world as we know it is due to end on July 5th 1998. But anyone who pays a membership and ordainment fee to the Church will be saved. "Bob" - who 'is a basically a pretty regular guy, just very rich and possessed by forces greater than man' - has his followers names placed in the 'Book of Humans', so that the aliens from Planet X will take them onto their space craft at the appointed time. The SubGenius will be saved, while all the other' assholes fry'.
Stang's parody of revivalist religion - utilising slogans such as 'Repent! Quit Your Job! Slack off', 'Pull the wool over your own eyes' and 'You'd pay to know what you really think' - proved a success with the American underground. By the early eighties, hundreds of 'abnormals' had flocked to join his 'spazz-church of macho irony'. With the money that poured in, the Church was able to finance its newsletter "The Stark Fist Of Removal", badges, audio tapes, stickers, T-shirts, video and other paraphernalia. The increased size of the Church not only provided Stang with an income, but also enabled it to hold conventions.
The most notorious stunt in the Church's history was the climax of its 1983 Congress in Baltimore. On the 18th of September, tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE (psuedonym of Michael Tolson) made national news when he performed his 'Pee Dog/Poop Dog Copright Violation Ritual'.tENTATIVELY, naked and covered in white greasepaint, was arrested by more than twenty armed cops, while beating the decomposing carcases of two dead dogs strung from the ceiling of a railway tunnel. He was accompanied by thirty-five SubGeni, who danced to the rhythmic pulse of a thunder sheet. Two police officers who'd been sent to investigate reports of trespassers were so frightened by their discoveries that they called up reinforcements. The action resulted in tENTATIVELY receiving a probation order. tENTATIVELY - also notorious for his films, such as "Peeing On Bob's Head" (which after an extremely tedious single shot opening, finishes with a woman pissing into his mouth) - is now considered a Saint by the Church. The Church, with its cult of weirdness, ultimately becomes a one line joke. It bears a certain conceptual similarity to The College of Pataphysics, but with a popularist rather than intellectual- approach. It is this lowest common denominator attitude that accounts for its success. Similar cults, such as the Krononauts - who among other things have held a 'Party For The People Of The Future' with the intention of attracting time travellers - are too rigorously intellectual to appeal to the average male college student.
As well as participation in the Krononauts, Neoists and Church of the SubGenius, tENTATIVELY simultaneously pursued his individual interests as a 'mad scientist/d composer/sound thinker/t ho ught collector/as been & not an artist'). Without these other diversions, it seems unlikely that someone as hip as tENT A TlVEL Y could sustain an interest in the church.
3. European recruits to the movement had initially been contacted via the mail art network.
4. Kantor informed the author of this during the course of APT 8. The author was also present at The Ninth Neoist Festival, and picked up additional information through correspondence with individual neoists - tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE and Pete Horobin were particularly helpful about supplying information.
5. There is much that I've overlooked in this brief treatment of Neoism. Many 'neoists' were deeply involved in making music and/or 'audio works'. The music made by the Montreal group tended to be extremely dull post new wave rock; it was left to 'neoists' from other parts of the world to make more substantial audio contributions - John Berndt and Graf Haufen (both of whom worked as Monty Cantsin) were among those who produced the most consistently strong Work in this area. The "Neoism Now" compilation cassette by 'White Colours' (Artcore, Berlin 1987) offers a good introduction to neoist audio.
In the area of neoist film, tENTATlVELY a cONVENIENCE made the most conceptually interesting work. Members of the Montreal group made some technically very proficient videos but these were often no more than promotional backdrops for their tedious music - and ultimately aren't of much interest. Pete Horobin, working principally out of Dundee, Scotland, shot a massive amount of video as part of his 10 year 'data project'; but has yet to find the money that will enable him to hire enough time on a video suite for this work to be edited down into a publicly presentable format. The most notorious Neoist film is Kiki Bonbon's 'Flying Cats'. I have not seen this work, but it allegedly features two men, dressed in white coats, standing on top of a tower block. The men have with them a selection of cats. One at a time the cats are picked up and thrown to their death. Throughout the film the protagonists repeat the phrase 'the cat has no choice'.
From The Assault On Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War by Stewart Home (original edition Aporia Press/Unpopular Books, London 1988, new edition AK Press 1991).
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