[The Seven by Nine Squares home page] [YAWN 38] [Art Strike 1990-1993]


The origins of Neoism lie as far back in the history of art as anyone can be bothered to trace them. In this case futurism seems as good a place to start as any. Indeed the very word Neoism strikes one as a cheapening through realisation of the futurist project. What was projected as the future is merely new upon its realisation. Indeed both futurism and Neoism were so obsessed with the idea of progress that they failed to realise that what they heralded was already praxis. The parallels between Neoism and futurism are striking but it was dada, surrealism and fluxus that provided the historical models upon which the Neoists based their movement. The decisive event in the formation of the Neoist Movement occurred in 1976 when Dave Zack, a not particularly successful art critic, met Istvan Kantor in Budapest. Kantor was a moderately accomplished musician with pretensions about being an "artist." Zack saw Kantor as having the potential to become Monty Cantsin, a character he created whose role could, in theory, be fulfilled by anyone. Kantor was not to be the sole Monty Cantsin but one of a number. Zack persuaded Kantor to defect to the West. Kantor left Hungary several months later on a student visa to study in Paris. On Zack's advice Kantor then emigrated to Canada, arriving in Montréal in September 1977. In 1978 Kantor went to Portland, Oregon, where Zack and the mail artist Al Ackerman fed him with ideas to use in his role as Monty Cantsin. Kantor returned to Montréal right at the beginning of 1979 and immediately began making an artistic reputation for himself using the name Monty Cantsin. This first thing Kantor did on his return was gather a group of Montréal youth around him and fashion a collective identity for them as the Neoists. Kantor ingratiated himself with the organisers of the "Brain In The Mail" show to be held at the Vehicule Art in Montréal and eventually managed to gain a lot of undeserved credit for the exhibition's success. The birth of Neoism is usually dated from 14 February 1979, the day on which Kantor did a "postal art performance" to mark the opening of the show. Subsequent Neoist activity centred around a graffiti campaign, street actions, public interventions and a number of individual works all of which were executed with the intention of receiving scandalised press coverage. These actions are typified by the " Blood Campaign," a series of events in which Kantor had his blood taken by a nurse and then used it in a performance. The most important of these events were the "Red Supper" held at Vehicule Art, Montréal, on 30 June 1979, and the "Hallowmass and Supper," held at the Motivation 5 Gallery on 31 October 1979. There were a number of other "suppers" in which the food motif played an important part. The use of this motif was lifted directly from fluxus, most obviously in the form of the Fluxfeasts. Other important elements in Neoist activity during this period were the use of music, predominantly new wave, and the use of technology in the form of video. In October 1980 there was a five-day "occupation" of Motivation 5 during which a two-way video communication link was established between the two floors of the gallery. Kantor wrote of the event, "Video conversations eventually developed into an automatic exchange of conceptual ideas, video became reality and reality became video, simultaneously." Emphasis should be placed on the words "automatic exchange." Communication has become totalitarian. What one thinks and accepts has become automatic, there is no time for reflection or differences of opinion. For there to be an "automatic exchange of conceptual ideas" there must be a single ideology to bind them together, an ideology from which it is impossible to deviate. The Neoists assume this is "good" because it is "new." Critical reflection has been replaced by the cult of the new for its own sake. When Kantor tells us that the first time he got a video camera he used it to watch himself masturbating and making love he seems completely unaware of the gap opened up between spectacle and life. He seems unaware that he is passively watching an image of himself rather than experiencing the event directly. When he sent out post cards bearing the message "I want to die in the TV," he failed to realise that he was already dead. When Kantor wails, "I refuse to leave technology in the hands of those who control it for their own profit," he fails to consider that the problems of modern society may not be overcome simply by changing the personnel who control technology. In his celebrations of technology he fails to consider that it may be necessary to change the uses to which we put it in order to overcome some of the complex problems facing us today. Similarly in his use of the word "revolution," Kantor fails to realise that it no longer means political change and become instead a metaphor for the failings of his own lucidity. Neoism spread rapidly throughout North America and Europe precisely because its failings match those of the average artist, that is the inability to grasp their own intellectual impotency. And if Neoist actions and ideas often seem remarkably similar to those of industrial music and culture then that is hardly surprising. After all, Genesis P-Orridge, like Kantor, had his head filled with ideas by Al Ackerman and stole working methods unashamedly from fluxus.

Stewart Home, from SMILE no. 8