Decolonise Art/Decolonising the avant-garde

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Collaborative Open Source text by Tae Ateh

Decolonising the Avant-Garde[edit | edit source]

Decolonising Situationism[edit | edit source]

Unlike practically all other artists and political groups working with the legacy of Sitatuationist praxis, the psychogeographers and pranksters around the Luther Blissett project looked beyond the Debordist and Paris-centred Situationism to include the Scandanavian sections notably Asger Jorn and also at the Letterist movements, in particular Isou. One of the participants in the Luther Blisstt project in London, the LPA (Tompsett 1995) had also made connections to the heretical Islamic Hurufiya movement of 1500s (Hurufi means letter) which I want to develop in relation also to the Hurufiya school of painting. This group was active in Paris at the same time as the Letterists although there is no connection made between them in any literature. The identical themes between the Hurufiya painting style, which subsequently developed, in North Africa through the 60s (at the same time that the Letterist painting style of Hypergraphy) did not survive Situationist innovation.

The Situationists favoured psychogeography but here it was the only non European section – the Algerian section that was to be the last to use this as an organised Stuationist methodology (Andrea Gibbons 2017). While psychogeography also became an established literary trope through the 90s and 00s, Asger Jorn's concept of situgraphy and the more obscure Letterist practices of Hypergraphy and Metagraphy were not known about at all. There is still scant literature on Letterism and these techniques in English outside of works about Debord (eg on Debord/ Wolman's metagraphy (Wark), or on Debord/ Jorn's metagraphy (Nolle). And some work on Letterist cinema. There is some in French but little translated into English, on hypergraphy and also many of Isou's and other Letterists and Situationists original texts. There are, however, none on Metagraphy or sStuography and certainly none that chart the interrelation between these different groups and movements. almost nothing written on more obscure groups and artists such as the 2nd Letterist International or the Ultra Letterists (although they went on the join Yves Klein's New Realists, and some academic work on this group exists.) There is nothing in English on Metagraphy and little in French either.

decolonising the avantgarde[edit | edit source]

To what extent is this eurocentrism (a Western Europe Paris centrism) in the avant garde a result of the artists and their circles and how much is down to academic historification? The little on Isou in the English language looks at isolated parts of his output – on cinema (Cabañas 2015) and his poetry and Jewish mysticism (Sjoberg, 2010). the Judaic mystical aspect in particular provides a connection ot the sufi school of Hurufiya. The other major figure Asger Jorn is also elements of nationalist mysticism (Shields 1998) and its easy to see how this sits uneasily with european histories of art and modernism. the little writing there is in English on both of these is is as part of works centred on Guy Debord of which there are many. Indeed Debord's relationshp with the Scandinavian or the Algerian sections of the Situationist International can be compared to o9ther examples in the historic avant-garde eg Carl Einstein and the Cubist use of African Art or Andre Breton and the Surrealists relation to Negritude and and the so-called Black Surrealists.

Michele Wallace's writing on the Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation and the Art Strike point to a very mixed answer – at moments the artists themselves at other institutional structures of art are at fault (Wallace, 1990). Another US writer and academic Robin Kelley's work also points to ways in which the avant garde both reproduced and resisted the eurocentrism of art and the academy by the artists involved in Europe and outside as well as by academics subsequently. These insights from the US post war avant garde currents up until the 60s are essential for making sense of our own Black British art history since then. There is currently some good work on excavating archives in London with Women of Colour Index Reading Group, Live Art Development Agency as well as artists such as Sonia Boyce and Rasheed Areen's confronting modernist history and I feel that there are certainly cross overs with the black avant-garde tradition and black british art – not just in themes and content but also in methodologies such as the use of collage (metagraphy), site specific work (psychogeography) and intermedial performance (situography).

These concerns were and are crucial for the psychic workers union and I made contact with artists from not only Eastern Europe and Russia but also from Africa, South America and Asia. While Situationist ideas have been taken up by decolonialist and black artists and theorists (eg Achile Mbembe, Samson Kambulu)

Research methods: Situgraphy and DesaKalaPatra(DKP)Graphy, Urs and Monstration[edit | edit source]

My own use of the Letterist and Situationist techniques incorporates intermedial / situographical work crossing painting , print, video and performance. I am most interested in three of the techniques developed by the DAMTP: The DKPGraph, the Monstration and the Urs. The DKPGraph uses Situgraphical principles and it an interactive instalation which we incorporated into the Russian Actionist performance technique of Monstration. The Urs Monstration combines these two in a psychogeographical/decolonial performance situation that takes place over various sites: the internet, print, painting, video, public performance, sound and music. Formally it is also the detournment of an annual spiritual Islamic festival called an Urs (Arabic for wedding), held at the shrines of holy Sufi leaders on the anniversaries of their deaths.

I want to demonstrate that various techniques and ideas appear in other work by artists and cultural producers in other parts of the world at least partly as a result of the internationalism and intersectionalism of the avant-garde. An example of this is the close relation between decolonial and avant-garde theory through Black Surrealism and Negritude movements.

Starting with Hypergraphy (Letterist painting) I want to look at the Hurufiyah movement (Egypt and North Africa) and the Khartoum school, Nsukka group (Nigeria) and Al Bu’d al Wahad (the One-Dimension Group, Iraq).

With Metagraphy I will look at artists using the collage form – this was used a lot in the 80s by the Black British Art movement eg Eddie Chambers, Shaheen Merali – and by contemporary artists who reference the Situationists for example the metagraphic instalations of Samson Kambulu which even engage directly with Situationist archive material. Also the web and Internet popularity of cut and paste techniques such as Memes can be read as examples of metagraphy.

I will explore and analyse works by artists that are site specific – eg Rasheed Areen's Chakras, also the use of spectacles and theatrical contexts eg by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o – or Crazinist Artists performances – as well as protests against art work such as the case of Brett Bailey at the Barbican

In terms of how these methods all come together in Situography, I will also look at contemporary art groups who share methods and techniques if not terminology: eg in Russian Actionism (Voina- Russia, Lipovy Tzvet – Belarus), Xiamen Dada (China), Laboratorie Agit Art (Senegal), (UK/International).

I want to relate these to my own work with the Psychic Strike Alytus Biennial (International) and its origins in the Psychogeographical and Neoist groups and their methods of multiple user names and 1 person associations. - especially luther blissett, AAA, Art Strike network. and how my own innovations of the DesaKalaPatraGraph and the Urs Monstration sit within and against this history. These projects will operate as case studies for how Situationist thinking is employed through a decolonial lens

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Blissett, Luther (1995) Guy Debord is Really Dead: The Major Failures of the Situationist International Considered in Their Historical, Cultural, Psychological, Sexual and ... to Dominate the Lives of the Living Paperback. Sabotage Editions, London

Aston, Elaine (1991). Theatre as Sign-System: A Semiotics of Text and Performance Paperback

Chambers , Eddie (2014) Black Artists in British Art: A History from 1950 to the Present

Elleström, L. (2011) Media borders, multimodality and intermediality. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Harney , Elizabeth (2004) In Senghor′s Shadow: Art, Politics, and the Avant-Garde in Senegal, 1960–1995

Jacobsen, Jacob (Ed). Expect Anything Fear Nothing

Cabañas , Kaira M., (2015) Off Screen Cinema, Isidore Isou and the Lettrist Avant-Garde – or Beyond the Black Box, The Lettrist Cinema of Disjunction

Melvin-Koushki, Matthew (2018) The Occult Science of Empire in Aqquyunlu-Safavid Iran: Two Shirazi Lettrists and Their Manuals of Magic

Home, Stewart (1991) The assault on culture: utopian currents from Lettrisme to class war.

Rosemont , Franklin and Kelley, Robin D.G. (Eds) (2009), Black, Brown, & Beige. Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora

Maydanchik, Michelle. The Origins of Moscow Actionism, 1991-1996. University of Chicago

McKenzie Wark. (2011). The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International.

Nolle, Christian. Books of Warfare: The Collaboration between Guy Debord & Asger Jorn from 1957-1959

Shield , Peter (1998) Comparative Vandalism: Asger Jorn and the Artistic Attitude to Life

Sándor Katalin (2010 Phd Thesis: The Intermedial Aspects Of Visual Poetry (concrete Poetry, Lettrist Poetry And Collages)

Seaman, D. (2017). French Lettrism: Discontinuity And The Nature Of The Avant-Garde. In: Discontinuity and Fragmentation edited by Freeman G. Henry.

Sjoberg, S. (2010) Media on the Edge of Nothingness: Visual Apostrophes and Lettrism.

Sjoberg, S. (2017) Towards an Ahistorical Jewishness: The Idea of Jewish Essence in the German-Jewish Avant-Garde

Wallace , Michele (1990) Invisibility Blues From Pop to Theory