Category Archives: avant-garde

Introducing Stan Vanderbeek


Symmetrics (music credits anyone? Possibly Ravi Shankar?)

I don’t think I’ve mentioned American experimental filmmaker Stan Vanderbeek (1927 – 1984) on this blog. Today, I found his Symmetrics[1] of 1972 on YouTube. Vanderbeek is one of those artists I discovered in the post-internet days. Before the advent of YouTube this usually meant reading about him only, apart from the occasional still one might find on the net, such as this[2] very nice one.

Actually seeing Vanderbeek’s output on YouTube has proven to be very rewarding, especially after my disappointment in seeing much-read-about works Wavelength[3] by Michael Snow (born 1929) and that other overrated “structural filmSerene Velocity[4] by Ernie Gehr (born 1943).

These two last ones are deadly serious and devoid of any sense of humor; works such as Achooo Mr. Kerrooschev (1960) [5] by Vanderbeek are anything but that.

Click the numbers to see, hear.

If you like the work of Vanderbeek, you may also enjoy Len Lye.

Aimé Césaire (1913 – 2008)

[FR] [DE] [UK]

Aimé Fernand David Césaire (25 June 191317 April 2008) was a French poet, author and politician. He was with Léopold Sédar Senghor one of the figure heads of the négritude movement, the precursor to the Black Power movement of the 1960s. His writings reflect his passion for civic and social engagement. He is the author of Discours sur le colonialisme (Discourse on Colonialism) (1953), a denunciation of European colonial racism which was published in the French review Présence Africaine. In 1968, he published the first version of Une Tempête, a radical adaptation of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest for a black audience.

Introducing Kathy Dillon


Remote Control



Kathy Dillon participated in Vito Acconci‘s body art pieces when she was his girlfriend in the early 1970s.

“Remote Control” has Acconci remote controlling Dillon by voice, including having herself tied up, as depicted.

“Pryings” is Dillon trying to keep here eyes closed while Acconci is trying to pry them open.

Quiddity and Derrick May


“It is what it is” (1988) – Derrick May

Prompted by a recent comment by Lichanos, here is a post on quiddity (the what-isness of things), Susan Sontag’s essay “The Aesthetics of Silence” and Derrick May.

Derrick May’s “It is what it is” is a composition first published in 1988 on Detroit recording label Transmat. Derrick May was my hero in the early 1990s but after his collaborations with System 7 (if you’d care to track down this material, only go for the Derrick May/Steve Hillage collaborations) he basically stopped making music.

“The scene changes to an empty room.”

The Aesthetics of Silence” is an essay by Susan Sontag first published in book form in Styles of Radical Will. She examines three 20th century intellectuals who – after having produced work in their younger years – stopped making anything as they grew older. Her case rests on Arthur Rimbaud, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Marcel Duchamp.

The analogies with Derrick May are obvious, but does he deserve to be mentioned in the row of illustrious predecessors?

Back to the title of this post. The oblique link is the title of this musical composition “It is what it is” = quiddity.

The energy of art

No-Stop City, Interior Landscape, 1969

No-Stop City, Interior Landscape, 1969 by Archizoom Associati

It was American experimental musician Rhys Chatham who first pointed out that the energy of art is always equal (except in periods of extreme hardship such as famine and war, where production tapers off), but has at the same time the tendency to displace itself. In music for example, the energy in the 1950s was in rock and roll, in the 1980s it was to be found in house music and techno.

The energy in international design in the late 1960s and early 1970s was clearly to be found in Italy. Displayed above is No-Stop City, a “radical design” architectural project by Archizoom Associati first introduced to the public in 1969. It is a critique of the ideology of architectural modernism, of which Archizoom felt that it had reached its limits. The artistic discourse of that era was buzzing with the term neo avant-garde, in a period that corresponds with Late Modernism or early postmodern art. The term neo avant-garde was rejected by many, but the term can be interpreted to refer to a second wave of avant-garde art such as Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Nouveau Réalisme and Fluxus.

If you want to read up on this period, please consult the following excellent volume:

The Hot House (1984) – Andrea Branzi [] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Prices in Amazon Europe are around 40€, in America starting from 12USD, a bargain.


The Aporias of the Avant-Garde


Einzelheiten by Enzensberger

While I was in Amsterdam in the winter of 2006-2007 I asked the people in a philosophy bookstore: “If Slavoj Žižek and Sloterdijk are my two favorite contemporary philosophers, who would the third be?” They came up with Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Alain Badiou.

I had remembered Badiou but had almost forgotten Enzensberger, but last weekend at the used book store De Slegte I bought a Dutch translation of Enzensberger’s Einzelheiten, and was very much taken by his analysis of the concept avant-garde in his essay The Aporias of the Avant-Garde.

Aporias, published in 1962 in Germany, is one of the first essays that preached the “death of the avant-garde” which has been celebrated since the advent of postmodernism. It features good analyses too of Lukacs petty defense of literary realism and stimulating reflections on the absurdity of some critics’ grouping of individual artists into art movements, especially in cases such as expressionist literature (no writer has ever called himself expressionist).

On a general level it provides excellent etymological and semantic analyses of the term avant-garde.

P.S. Published in the same year was another work on avant-garde practices, which I suspect is more an eulogy: The Theory of the Avant-garde by Renato Poggioli.

The beneficial side-effects of censorship


Cover of the 1937 guide book to the Degenerate art exhibition.

Cover of the 1937 guide book to the  Degenerate Art Exhibition.

Nazi Germany disapproved of contemporary German art movements such as Expressionism and Dada and on July 19, 1937 it opened the travelling exhibition in the Haus der Kunst in Munich, consisting of modernist artworks chaotically hung and accompanied by text labels deriding the art, to inflame public opinion against modernity and Judaism. The cover the 1937 guide book (illustration top) features a sculpture of unknown origin. It could be Polynesian or any other tribal art work, please help me out here.

The sculpture clearly links modern art with primitivism.

This exhibition is also a perfect illustration of the beneficial side-effects of censorship. Beneficial in the sense that any attempt at banning works of art, books or other cultural artifacts results in an aide to discerning culturati to seek out these artifacts with zeal. Such has been the case with Video Nasties, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (the Catholic Index) and the Degenerate Art expo mentioned above.

I once again repeat my question to you, dear reader: what is the origin of the statue depicted in the picture above. I thank  you beforehand for a reply.

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928 – 2007)


Clickable version

Superb juxtapoem of image-to-music by Youtuber Zapple 101

Does anyone know which Karlheinz Stockhausen piece is on the audio track?

Update: regarding my previous question, the piece is “Mikrophonie 0.1”, here is more from Mikrophonie. (Studie II, 1954)

Icons of erotic art #7

Although French artist Francis Picabia’s work from the 1940s such as [1], [2], [3] and Woman with Bulldog [4]; which borrowed generously from soft-core pornography, is a much more likely candidate for the Icons of erotic art series, today I wish to celebrate Picabia’s entirely unerotic 1915 work: Portrait of an American Girl in the Nude[5], a drawing which depicts a spark plug supposedly representing Agnes Meyer. It is a satirical homage to the machine age and the American pin up girl.

Images sourced at Lemateurdart and K-Punk.