Monday, February 25, 2008

Cultural Differences/Neo-Avant-Garde

Due to recent discussions here and Per Backstrom's essay on the latest issue of Action, Yes, I came to think about my Fahlstrom research in Stockholm this past summer. While looking through the archives at the Modern Museum, I found letters that Fahlstrom had written to Pontus Hulten complaining at how apolitical the big artists in NY were. In one letter he talks about how he was at some dinner with Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and when Fahlstrom complained about the injustices of US society, the Americans kept saying, "But here everyone is free to make money" and "The US is the land of opportunity, everyone can get rich here." Fahlstrom appears to have been pretty angry about it.

On the other hand, Fahlstrom appears to have absolutely loved all the little guerilla theaters, presses and political action groups in New York. In one essay about the time/space period, he says something like, "The first thing I learned from New York was that I could do things for myself." The Living Theater, guerilla arts happenings and things like that. That's also part of the neo-avant-garde.

Interesting that both sides of the neo-a-g should have been reborn in contemporary US poetry right now. On one hand the ethics of collectivity and small-press publishing, but also the Warhol/Johns attitude.

[Also, I highly recommend Ugly Duckling's new reproduction of 0-9, a literary journal from NYC in the late 1960s. John Giorno's stuff in there is super.]

Sweden makes two really intersting contributions to the neo-avant-garde: Fahlstrom and his brand of concretism (which is much more varied than the Swiss or Brazilian varities, and which involves a lot more LSD - and an interest in the Internet!), as well as that which ended Concretism - a progressive movement of musicians, poets, actors and playwrights who created a genuinely populist artistic movement, putting on big class-consciousness-raising spectacles that only the Cubo-Futurists could have dreamed of. (I have fond memories of these Communist puppet theaters, anti-nuclear sculpture gardens, children's records decrying the ills of capitalism etc; but not really all that interesting when removed from its cultural context.)


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