Whither the Avant Garde?

From a performance at “Whatever happened to the Avant Garde?”


Whatever happened to the avant garde?
As an artist and an activist that’s a big question.
One that I wrestle with almost every day.
In fact, it’s so big a question that it’s impossible to try and answer it in 5 minutes.
So instead I’m going to read you a poem…

Whither the avant garde?
Wither the avant garde!
Whither the avant garde?
Wither the avant garde!

The Spectacle has killed the avant garde
Beneath the pavement there’s simply another marketing opportunity
market forces are the new avant guard
Exotic Financial Instruments their form…
The artist inside the market
The market inside the artist

In the beginning was the avant garde
And the avant garde was with god
And the avant garde was god
The same was in the beginning with the avant garde
All things were made by the avant garde
And without the avant garde was not anything made that was made
In the avant garde was life
And the life was the light of men
And the avant garde shineth in darkness
And the darkness comprehendeth it not

“The avant garde needs a manifesto”

Brian Eno is not the avant garde
Damien Hirst is not the avant garde
The Chapman Brothers are not the avant garde
Tracy Emin is not the avant garde
Sarah Lucas is not the avant garde
Gillian Wearing and Sam Taylor-Wood are not the avant garde

Jeremy Deller might be the avant garde

The avant garde flourished in the 1980’s during the rise of the neo-liberals which culminated in the End of History
Pop music was made that referenced Revolution, Derrida, Deconstruction and Dance
(1) “The last time baby that I came to you oh how your flesh and blood became the word”

David Bowie was once the avant garde
Fuelled by heroin and the Berlin Wall
Art Schools that produced musicians were once the avant garde
But 9,000 pounds a year tuition fees does not a revolutionary make

Re-enactment practice pretends to be the avant garde
Returning to the scene of the crime
And re-presenting it as spectacle
The simulacrum of ideas

Beauty and Truth are not the avant garde
Nor the classical greek dramas of pity and terror

The avant garde is not unlistenable
The avant garde is unspeakable
The avant garde will not be brought to you by Fox News
and Rupert Murdoch
The avant garde will not give you sex appeal
The avant garde will not feature a theme tune
written by Edgard Varese
The avant garde will not be televised, except if it’s sponsored by the BBC and Sky Arts

Fillipo Tomasso Marinetti was the avant garde
And then he started the Fascist Party
Luigi Russolo definitely was the avant garde
And indeed, did produce unlistenable music

Hugo Ball was the avant garde
As was Tristan Zara
Cabaret Voltaire was the avant garde
And so is Chris Watson

The Great War of 1914-18 begat the slow death of modernism
The avant garde as rearguard action
The avant garde as an attempt to recapture a moment in time when “everything is possible and nothing is permissible”

The avant garde has been bought and sold
The avant garde is the gold standard by which everything else is measured
The avent garde guarantees stability in the marketplace

Neo Futurist Collective “is” the avant garde
Freee “is” the avant garde
Ultra Red “is” the avant garde
John Cage was the godfather of punk
but he was not the avant garde

(2) “Art will not save the world”

For art to be free it can have no ideology
For art to matter it can have no purpose
If art is to change the world
It must embody the sublime

(3) “If the subversion of experience proper to art
and the rebellion against the established reality
principle contained in this subversion cannot be
translated into political praxis, and if the radical
potential of art lies precisely in this non-identity,
then the question arises: how can this potential find
valid representation in a work of art and how can
it become a factor in the transformation of

So…Whither the avant garde?

Joseph Young (2014)

(1) The Word Girl, Scritti Politti (1985)
(2) Manifesto of Neo-Futurism, Rowena Easton (2008)
(3) The Aesthetic Dimension, Herbert Marcuse (1979)