[Seven by Nine Squares home page] [tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE] [Neoist Path]

"History Begins Where Life Ends"

to quote Art Strike Historian David A. Bannister - & the proof is, indeed, in the padding in YAWN #38. This issue is primarily a document of language games relevant to demonstrating that critical intelligence is as easily derailed by the appearance of the padding as an adolescent heterosexual boy - as long as the bra doesn't come off..
A little background thistory: David A. first encountered Neoasm?! by responding to an ad that Pete Horobin placed in one or more english publications calling for participants in the 8th International Neoast Apartment Festival in London in the late spring of '84. David appeared bearing his first issue of SMILE & showed it to Pete & tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE (amongst others). cONVENIENCE disliked the art world references ("the intention of getting my name in art books", "available for hire as an avant-garde artist & poet", etc..) but was amused by the bland starkness of it:

in may
we bought toilet rolls
by the dozen"

tENTA was mainly interested in the parallels between Bannister's work & that of Tim Ore. Both Ore & Bannister were focused on exposing manipulation mechanisms. D.A.B. wrote under "STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS OR HOW TO ACTUALIZE ANY DESIRE" in the first SMILE:
"My gimmick is that I use advertising to expose the mechanisms of advertising and then sell this as art."
& T.O. had made (sometime between '80 & '83), & widely used, a rubber stamp & large stencil that said:
"Sayings of a Famous Artist

To be Famous one has to be recognizable.
The easiest way to be recognizable is:

  1. To be repetitious.
  2. To have a highly visible & easily recognizable signature.
This text is my recognizable repetition.
Hopefully this is a clear & blatant exposure of some fame mechanisms.


Bannister was finishing the 2nd issue of SMILE at the time & cONVENIENCE encouraged him to make a later issue an ORE issue. Bannister laid out his 6th SMILE as the "TIM ORE SPECIAL" & sent it to Ore. In the accompanying letter he wrote
"Find enclosed a Tim Ore Special which I'm not that happy with [..] when you originally said Tim Ore reprints, I thought you meant texts rather than photos.."
Ore wasn't happy with the issue either because what texts were added by Bannister were expressive of misunderstandings rather than clarifications.

The most appropriate text was a reprint of the "SAYINGS OF A FAMOUS ARTIST" & a repetition of the statement

"Putting a picture of Tim Ore on the front cover of your 'zine can greatly increase it's circulation."
This latter was a variation on the strategy used in Bannister's 3rd SMILE of a few months before. This issue had a picture of William S. Burroughs on the front cover. An inside page contained a repetition of the same "Putting a picture.." text with Burroughs' name instead of Ore's. What was eventually published as the 6th issue of Bannister's SMILEs contained the "SAYINGS.." but retitled as "SAYINGS OF A FAMOUS ARTIST & PLAGIARIST" & signed by "MONTY CANTSIN" rather than TIM ORE.

There were, of course, differences between Ore's & Bannister's purposes. While both used cynical humor to expose manipulative uses of media, Ore's intention was more to undermine the effectiveness of such manipulation & Bannister's was to profit from it. To again quote from Bannister's "STRATEGY.." text:

"Exposing the mechanisms of advertising is one of the easiest methods of disguising their use.

The first stage in selling all products is convincing the consumer/mark that advertising doesn't have any effect on sensible individuals. Naturally vanity leads the consumer/mark to consider themself as a sensible individual.

Once an individual is convinced that they personally are not effected by advertising their defence against advertising crumbles and they are easily manipulated."

Bannister has effectively pursued this strategy to the point of becoming a paid, published author. He has found his mark & made his mark. In the process, he's ceased to expose his methods by pretending to talk about them frankly & simply. In other words, he's become an historian. In other, other words, he's chosen to make a career out of reinforcing the gullibility of his audience rather than subverting it - knowing that that's the stuff that careers are made of.

In order to firmly entrench this career, Bannister found it useful to exploit the chaotic & energetic helpfulness of the Neoasts. Having done very little networking himself by '84 (& being more inclined towards hierarchical propagandizing than networking anyway), stumbling onto the already internationally organized Neoasts was exactly what he needed. Neoasts were active in Canada, the U.S., Germany, France, Mexico, Hungary, & elsewhere. What Bannister would've had great trouble accomplishing by himself, the Neoasts had already laid substantial groundwork for.

However, D.A.B. was primarily interested in Neoasm?!'s usefulness as a springboard for his success. As such all elements that might run contrary to that goal needed to be neutralized & all that might support it needed to be boosted. Hence, David A. Bannister, "prime historian & theorist" of Neoasm?! was born. The historian's position was perfect for Bannister's purposes. He could write about something that very few people had any direct experience with - thusly avoiding conflicting history. He could write about the activities of the Neoasts without much fear of contradiction from them - knowing that they were either too busy with other activities to take time off to write to refute him (after all, "History begins where Life ends") or their writings were too imbued with the spirit of their most centrally binding attitude (subverting almost everything - including theirselves) for anyone lacking this attitude to detect their conflict with D.A.B..

Bannister's major problem was not, therefore, with the majority of the other Neoasts but with the main Neoast other than himself who had similar careerist ulterior (or exterior) motives: Monty Cantsin/Istvan Kantor. Kantor was D.A.B.'s biggest competition &, therefore, the first target of D.A.B.'s history. Cantsin/Kantor's strident self-servingness had long been tolerated (or even enjoyed) by his fellow Neoasts partially because of the many other traits that are in the mix. While most Neoasts knew full-well that Kantor used Neoasm?! as a tool to fund his jet-setting (in much the same way that Abbie Hoffman & Jerry Rubin did with the Yippies) few Neoasts (if any) begrudged it as too undeserved.

He, at least, still qualified (to put it in Church of the SubGenius terms) as a "high unpredictable" & still took enough risks to satisfy the guerrilla action oriented desires of his friends. Kiki Bon Bon, R.U. Sevol, John Berndt, cONVENIENCE, Pete Horobin, Zealot and others all manifested many street subversions and confrontations as a major part of their activites. While Cantsin/Kantor's claim to be supporting the Tompkin's Square Park Activists by splashing an X made from his blood on the wall of the Museum of Modern Art seems more like a self-serving publicity stunt than an act of politics to many of his friends, it's still "infinitely" preferable to Bannister's giving a lecture at the Victoria & Albert Museum about how he'd rejected Neoism because it "had become a self-consciously avant-garde movement". Bannister has learned his lesson from advertising well but many Neoasts have found his application of it to be as oppressive as that of the industry that he took his strategy from.

In Bannister's book "The Assault on Culture" Cantsin/Kantor is denigrated in an attempt to downplay his importance. Kantor's use of phrases like "conceptual ideas" are ridiculed without calling attention to the point that Kantor barely spoke english at the time & never used anything approaching "correct" english grammar. What D.A.B. also failed to mention was the more substantial root of his hostility towards Kantor.

Shortly after the two of them met at the 8th Apt Fest, C/K had asked D.A.B. to help distribute his record for him in England. Bannister agreed to this expecting a businesslike relationship. When this didn't turn out to be the case he developed a passionate hatred for Kantor that he has yet to relinquish. How could Kantor ask D.A.B. to sacrifice his valuable time to support Cantsin/Kantor's shamelessly self-serving but disorganized project? Bannister had too many of his own shamelessly self-serving but better organized projects to pursue. Kantor, on the other hand, was most likely annoyed that Bannister was critical of the interaction. After all, impoverished Neoasts like cONVENIENCE often helped him without much personal gain (when they weren't fighting with each other) - why should Bannister be any different?

Another key omission in Bannister's history of his relationship with Neoasm?! is the story of how he split from it. Since one of his main concerns was in making a career out of Neoasm?! (& not with self-subversion) in much the same way that Cantsin/Kantor has, Bannister found the challenges put to him by the more mischievous Neoasts to be too discomfitting. For Bannister, sitting at home & sipping tea while fictionalizing a believable history of Neoasm?! that he could eventually sell to publishers & museums was much easier to deal with than having to interact in person with real live quasi-psychotic energy bomb unleashing situations at Apartment Festivals where most of the action took place.

Hence when Bannister attended the 9th International Neoast Apartment Festival in Ponte Nossa, Italy a year after the only other Apt Fest that he'd ever attended, he left because of his inability to deal with even the most trivial of self-challenging situations rather than because he found the festival to be contemptible (as his account in "Assault.." implies).

The circumstances under which Bannister left were centered around one main incident. One night while D.A.B. was sleeping, Pete Horobin gently woke him up enough to convince him to try to cut a lemon in half with a pair of scissors. While Stiletto videoed, a very barely awake David A. tried unsuccessfully & repeatedly to cut the lemon with one hand while he held his bed-clothes around the waist of his otherwise naked body. This video later became the "Emergency on Nightshift" portion of the 9th Apt Fest video quasi-document. When he realized that he'd been tricked by a prank, a disgruntled David left promptly the next morning (despite the festival's being only partially over). Hence in D.A.B.'s first SMILE post APT 9 (issue #8) he announces in the opening paragraph

"As soon as I got back [..] I ceased to be a neoist".

Analyzing saleability in his target market, Bannister's careerist program gradually developed. First, he had to establish that he represented the latest development of a particular lineage - thusly "outmoding" anyone that might provide an oppositional viewpoint & attracting hordes of conformist non-conformists looking for a bandwagon to jump onto that might give their otherwise thoughtless activities an appearance of theoretical "heaviness".

Thus, in the same SMILE in which Bannister declares himself no longer a neoist he declares Neoasm?! to be dead by dating it from 1979-1985 - pursuing his old grudge by writing

"With Kantor having gone completely gaga other neoists left the network in futile attempts to avoid personal communication with him."
No matter that no one Neoast could be a spokeperson for all others. No matter that D.A.B. didn't even personally have any contact with many, if not the majority, of the Neoasts (Boris Wanowitch, e.g., had no desire to cooperate in providing info for "Assault.." knowing that Bannister primarily wanted to kill it off so that he could rise up from its "ruins"). No matter that Neoasm?!'s vitality simply depended on the amount of energy being expended imaginatively in its name, etc.. Bannister, the historian, had declared it dead because it suited his purposes & he intended to bury its corpse regardless of whether more responsible doctors were pointing out that the body was still breathing. The time had come to choloroform the audience since the corpus refused to pass out on command.

The flow of Neoasm?! had been rife with splits & departures as might be expected in any situation in which such a combination of aggressive odd-balls attempt to interact collaboratively. Lion Lazar, an early collaborator with Cantsin/Kantor, had ceased to be involved after the first Apt Fest in Montreal in late 1980. cONVENIENCE lost interest in it for four years after the 8th Apt Fest. People associated with it came & went &, sometimes, came back again. To quote one of cONVENIENCE's slogans, "Neoasm?! Now & Then!" (this being a take-off of C/K's "Neoism Now!"). Reinhardt U. Sevol became an Anti-Neoist. Arthur Berkoff became both an Anti-Neoast & a Neoast. The appearance of Florian Cramer reinvigorated Neoasm?! in the '90s just as the appearance of John Berndt had reinvigorated it in the mid '80s. Bannister's leaving it was hardly enough of a novel or foundation-shaking event to justify declaring Neoasm?! dead. Thus Bannister had to write Neoasm?! off in some other way.

To quote from Bannister's "Assessing the Art Strike 1990-1993" (printed in YAWN #38)

"Neoism was at a dead end [..] Although it was the last thing Dave Zack, Al Ackerman and Maris Kundzin intended when they founded the group,"
  • (another bit of revisionist history meant to denigrate Kantor - Zack met Kantor in Hungary & encouraged him to move to the U.S., appreciating Kantor as the "Bob Dylan of Hungary" - Kantor did eventually move to Portland, Oregon to stay with Zack & Ackerman & to become the "King of the Janitors" but his English was so minimal that he had very little idea of what was going on. According to Ackerman's recent description of those times to this author, Maris Kundzin was a puppet-maker that Zack tried to dub "Monty Cantsin" who had no interest in the idea so Zack encouraged Kantor to run with it instead. Again according to Ackerman, the word "Neoism" was not coined at this time & wasn't coined until Kantor thought of it when he moved shortly thereafter to Montreal. As someone who lived with Dave Zack two years later, I can safely say that Zack's sense of coherent structure was far too disrupted by his extreme diabetes for him to have substantially developed any "movement" (although, as Ackerman puts it, Zack is imbued with "otherworldly vision"). As for Maris Kundzin, I wouldn't be surprised if he's never even heard of Neoism/Neoasm?! - nevermind "intending" it to be anything in particular)
  • "Neoism had become a self-consciously avant-garde movement and its intolerant attitude towards less rigorous sections of the cultural underground resulted in many individuals rejecting Neoist activities without actually giving them any serious consideration."

    This latter part of D.A.B.'s claim was, of course, exactly what Bannister wanted people to believe - & yet, what exactly was this supposedly "avant-garde movement"? tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE has repeatedly rejected the term "avant-garde", for example, so who exactly was thinking of, or referring to, Neoasm?! in such a way other than Bannister? Who exactly was manifesting this "intolerant attitude"? What exactly were the "less rigorous sections of the cultural underground"? It's easy to predict where this all leads to. Why, of course, the "less rigorous sections" were those that participated in events that Bannister instigated.

    If the implication of the above is that Neoasm?! had become too dogmatic (or dogmatic at all) & that Bannister had laid the groundwork for escaping from this dogma it might bear fruit to consider what constitutes dogma in the first place. It seems to me that dogma is a deliberate means of fixing a flow of energy thru narrowing & confining its stated purpose & then trying to force the flow into conforming to that purpose. I know of no way that this is done other than thru language. It's ironic that Bannister would feel free to let himself be sold as the "chief theoretician of the Neoist group" in the ad blurb for his "Neoist Manifestoes/The Art Strike Papers" book (released, oddly enough, in 1991 when participants in the Art Strike

    "will not produce work, sell work, permit work to go on exhibition, and refuse collaboration with any part of the publicity machinery of the art world."
    according to Bannister's call for the strike) while criticizing Neoasm?! as too oppressive. If the "chief theoretician", i.e. the main Neoast pusher of language, didn't make things the most dogmatic then who did?

    The whole issue of whether Neoasm?! ever even had any theory (let alone dogma) is certainly a loaded one. I tend to be amused by John Berndt when he claims something like "Neoism is a movement to create the illusion that there's a movement called Neoism." I like this characterization not because it so-called "tells the truth" but because it's so expressive of the total elusiveness of it all. As cONVENIENCE has said when asked what his philosophy is, "I had a philosophy once."

    While Bannister cynically states in his Victoria & Albert address that Neoasm?!

    "had acquired so much historical baggage [..] that the issues raised by the Art Strike would have been ignored by virtually everyone outside the group"
    he's perfectly happy to be able to make a living off of selling the primary historical baggage it has acquired (namely his historification) to the repository for such baggage (the Museum) which he could've only sold to the museum by placing it all smack dab in the middle of art history discourse!

    So, First, Bannister had to demonstrate that he represented the next step forward in the avant-garde logic of lineage (certainly not the Chrononautic idea of "progress" represented by such types as Richard X (participant in as many Apt Fests as D.A.B.) in which time is thought of as dendritic (i.e.: Multi-Parallel-Universe Branching)) by renouncing the linear dogma that he's been primarily responsible for (without admitting his responsibility), &, Secondly, he had to encapsulate what he was "rejecting" in a simpler way than what he was encapsulating as the proposed replacement.

    Such encapsulation is otherwise known as "commodifying". Bannister was quick to exploit that it's much easier to both sell (& be plagiarized selling) history in an "authoritative" form likely to be responded to with "This guy really knows what he's talking about!" than in a more multi-verse form likely to be responded to with "What the fuck is this guy talking about?". Given that Neoasts were rarely concerned with "art" (cONVENIENCE, amongst others, vehemently denies that Neoasm?! is an "art movement" & claims that he would have never become involved with it if it were) & were/are much more concerned with subverting ideologies with whatever toys & concepts they find most stimulating at the time, Neoasts resisted commodification. Few Neoast objects have been made, few are for sale. Possibly the only Neoast to make a profit off of activities perpetrated in the name of Neoasm?! before Bannister came along was Kantor/Cantsin. Even Gordon W. Zealot's catering activities were conducted free of charge when done in the quasi-utopian name of Neoasm?!. Once again, Kantor was D.A.B.'s biggest competitor in the small business world of "Who's Who". Bannister's SMILE #8 had its price listed as "30p Free to Shoplifters". One wonders whether D.A.B. would prefer to have all of his books stolen instead of collecting his royalties. Somehow, I think not.

    So, with the typical trickiness of advertising logic, Bannister had to take something that wasn't commodified (Neoasm?!) & turn it into a commodity (objects for sale: his magazines, books, & lectures - the packaging of a history oversimplistic enough to be consumable) so that he could renounce commodification by proposing the purportedly next most radical step of rejecting what one has grown out of. Which, of course, brings us to the Art Strike. How could there be an Art for an Art Strike to strike against if the whole concept of "Art" had been rejected in favor of the more convoluted (&, therefore, less easy to commodify) decision to simply do whatever it is that one does outside of such simple-minded & hack-need (to quote a pun of cONVENIENCE's) contexts.

    The importance of rejecting the context of "art" that enables (& enobles) commodification would be more likely to result in rejecting the contextualization of exhibition in galleries (for example) than the contextualizing something that's not presented as "art" as "art" in order to sell books about how much one has gone beyond what one has contextualized!

    The Art Strike, for Bannister, was not so much a rejection of the commodification of creativity as much as it was the commodification of itself accomplished by placing itself in pseudo-opposition to the only context in which it could be sold so that it could be sold within that context. Bannister could have never sold his talk to the Victoria & Albert Museum on the Art Strike if he'd contextualized it as "commodification resistance" (for example) & left out the "Art" part.

    In Bannister's talk he prides the Festivals of Plagiarism that he co-instigated as his hypothetical surpassing of Neoasm?! as being

    "radically different from any of the Neoist Apartment Festivals"
    - &, indeed, they were. What he fails to mention is that they were radically different in much the same way that a Cork Street gallery show might be. Judging by documentation that I've seen of them & from John Berndt's description of the first one in London, these Festivals were little more than completely ordinary art shows (akin to most mail art shows with a theme in that less than 20% of the participants even bothered to try to relate their work to the theory that Bannister's texts were so heavily justifying the festival with).

    Once again, the lesson of advertising has been well-learned: capitalists must be flexible in their co-opting: if a healthy anarchist culture appears & refuses to swallow the "medicine" that it knows it doesn't need, sell it under a different name with seemingly more "radical" rhetoric than what the anarchists used in the first place. No matter that the Festivals of Plagiarism were mainly art shows for collages & copy art & paintings & other such banal pictorial forms. No matter that Festivals of Recycling might have been more accurate descriptions. The important thing is that by virtue of calling the act of reusing & changing previously existing material (not even always with the intention of critiqueing said material) "Plagiarism" the appearance of being "radical" could be given to people whose work was otherwise straight out of art school teachings. If the process of reusing had been called something so uncontroversial as "recycling" the festivals would have seemed more like the product of "outmoded hippie liberals" & wouldn't have sold nearly as well.

    Advertising must make something seem new if it's going to successfully sell it. Why buy something you already have? The word "Neoism" initially functioned in the same way as long as one didn't notice that it consists of a prefix & a suffix with no substance in between. Gradually, its all-too-obvious etymology has been subverted from "within" by such people as "Blaster" Al Ackerman; "Blister" Istvan Kantor; "Blester" tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE; "Bloster" Arthur Berkoff; "Blyster" R.U.Sevol; & even "Bluster" David A. Bannister. Bannister's main contribution to Neoasm?! may've been his invigoration of the multiple entity under one name concept. As I think even he would acknowledge, (until his historic position depends too much on the contrary) he only invigorated it as far as he did because the Neoast network was already set up to accomodate such things & because Neoasts like cONVENIENCE & Horobin & Berndt (etc..) exerted so much energy to encourage the project's realization (not to mention Monty Cantsin's participation).

    Even so, knowing that Horobin's & cONVENIENCE's critiques of & alternatives to (compare the Festival of Non-Participation, for exampBannister's ruses were & still are much deeper than the smoke-screen that D.A.B. uses to hide his basic careerist motives, Bannister has stooped so low as to try to subtly write off both of them in the V&A speech as having been "more interested in inventing some new universal language" - thusly trying to contextualize them in some simple-minded modernist program rather than acknowledge that their activities are far broader than either modernism or post-modernism or Bannister's narrow (but often humorously insincere) ideologies could ever accomodate.

    It's hard to believe that even Bannister, in his current self-inflated state, believes that (again quoting from the V&A speech) the financial problems of London art galleries

    "of Cork Street indicates that the number of individuals immobolized by the Art Strike was even greater than those who felt severely [?] threatened by it.."
    This strikes me as being as obviously ludicrous as Situationist claims that their theory was a main impetus behind the May '68 upheavals. What Bannister & Debord mainly have in common is the amount of time spent ruminating about how to make money off of being armchair revolutionaries.

    It might also be important to note that the YAWN #38 Bibliography is a bit odd. The inclusion of John Berndt's "The Psychosomatic Variations" strikes even its author as bizarrely irrelevant. The exclusion of Tim Ore's "Confession in Support of the 1990-1993 Art Strike" & E.G. Head's response (included with this article as supplementary material) is all too relevant. Ore's Art Strike article & Head's commentary are representative of where Bannister & Ore diverged. Ore used the Art Strike as a conceptual trouble making device precisely to irritate the people who would be threatened by such a thing (artists with an investment in a standardized context).

    Ore doesn't take the Art Strike any more seriously.

    Ultimately, it's all ludicrous to both him & Head but if they can stir up a little Operation Mindfuck with it (as the Discordians put it) then good. Significantly, when Bannister included Ore's article in his SMILE #11 he left out Head's highly illuminating text because it supposedly was too "hippie" for him. It seems to this writer that it was deleted more because it exploded & ridiculed the simplicity of Bannister's political diatribe with its oblique poking in the padded bra.


    David A. Bannister
    c/o Sabotage Editions
    BM Senior
    London, WC1N 3XX
    Great Britain