Neoism

From Academic Kids

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Street action at the 6th Neoist Apartment Festival in Montreal, 1983

Neoism refers both to a specific subcultural network of artistic performance and media experimentalists and more generally to a practical underground philosophy. It operates with collectively shared pseudonyms and identities, pranks, paradoxes, plagiarism and fakes, and has created multiple contradicting definitions of itself in order to defy categorization and historization.

Contents

Background

Definitions of Neoism and Neoist activity are currently disputed. The main source of this are splits within the Neoist network which created vastly different, tactically distorted accounts of Neoism and its history. (Most prominent is the schism between writer Stewart Home and the rest of the Neoist network, manifesting itself also in Home's books on Neoism as opposed to the various Neoist resources in the Internet). In non-Neoist terms, Neoism could be called an international subculture which in the beginning put itself into simultaneous continuity and discontinuity with, among others, experimental arts (such as Dada, Surrealism, Fluxus and Concept Art), punk culture, industrial music and electropop, political and religious free-spirit movements, Science Fiction literature, 'pataphysics and speculative science. Neoism also gathered players with backgrounds in graffiti and street performance, language writing (later known as language poetry), experimental film and video, Mail Art, the early Church of the Subgenius and gay and lesbian culture. Neoism then gradually transformed from an active subculture into a self-written urban legend. As a side effect, many other subcultures, artistic and political groups since the late 1980s have - often vaguely - referred to Neoism and thereby perpetuated its myth.

History

Founded in 1979 by multiple persona Monty Cantsin in Vancouver, Montreal, Canada and Baltimore, USA, Neoism quickly spread to other places in America, Europe and Australia and involved up to twelve dozens of Neoists. Until the late 1980s and before the mass availability of the Internet, the mail art network was used as a communication and propaganda channel for Neoism. Neoists refer to their strategies as "the great confusion" and "radical play". They were acted out in semi-private Apartment Festivals which took place in North America, Europe and Australia between 1980 and 1998 and in publications which sought to embody confusion and radical play rather than just describing it. Consequently, both Neoist festivals and Neoist writing experimented with radical undermining of identity, bodies, media, and notions of ownership and truth. Unlike typical postmodern currents, the experiment was practical and therefore existential. Monty Cantsin, for example, was not simply a collective pseudonym or mythical person, but an identity lived by Neoists in their everyday life. For these purposes, Neoists employed performance, video, small press publications (such as SMILE, the international magazine of multiple origins and its parodies such as Mark Bloch's C-NILE or Al Ackerman's EMILS) and computer viruses, but also food (Chapati), flaming steam irons and metal coat hangers (used as telepathic antennas). Borrowing from Thomas Pynchon, Neoism could be more suitably called an "anarchist miracle" of an international network of highly eccentric persons collaborating, often with extremist intensity, under the one shared identity of Monty Cantsin and Neoism.

In the early 1980s, the Neoist Reinhard U. Sevol founded Anti-Neoism, which other Neoists adopted by declaring Neoism a pure fiction created by Anti-Neoists. The Dutch Neoist Arthur Berkoff operated as a one-person-movement "Neoism/Anti-Neoism/Pregroperativism". Al Ackerman declared himself a "Salmineoist" after Sicilian-American actor Sal Mineo. In 1994, Stewart Home founded the Neoist Alliance as an occult order with himself as the magus. At the same time, Italian activists of the Luther Blissett project operated under the name "Alleanza Neoista". In 1997, the critic Oliver Marchart organized a "Neoist World Congress" in Vienna which did not involve any Neoists. In 2001, the Professional Association of Visual Artists in the German city of Wiesbaden declared itself Neoist. In 2004, one Monty Cantsin received the order of the Governor General of Canada for outstanding achievement in art and an international "Neoist Department Festival" took place in Berlin.

Influences on other subcultures

Neoist plays like multiple names, plagiarism and pranks were adopted, frequently mistaken for Neoism proper and by mixing in situationist concepts, in other subcultures such as the Plagiarism and Art Strike 1990-1993 campaigns of the late 1980s (triggered largely by Stewart Home after he had left the Neoist network), Plunderphonics music, the refounded London Psychogeographical Association, the Association of Autonomous Astronauts, the Luther Blissett project, the Michael K Project, the German Communication Guerilla, and, since the late 1990s, by some net artists such as 0100101110101101.org. Other artists who explictly if vaguely credit Neoism are the KLF and Alexander Brener/Barbara Schurz and Arthur Cravan.

Relevant quotes

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