Chat conversation between Rafael González and
Monty Cantsin Amen May 2-27, 2020
RG - Who are you really? You are an artist?
MCA - Your question is irrelevant, unless you are an undercover agent.
RG - Dammit, you discovered me very fast! I will try another day with another identity. Anyway, I have seen your name related to something called Neoism ... is it an avant-garde artistic movement?
MCA - Let's say it's a fuckoff revolutionary game, for example. “Avant-garde artistic” is insignificant since everyone is an artist.
RG - I think I have understood something ... but I'm not sure about it. Is Neoism something current or is it out of fashion?
MCA - Well, philosophically talking Neoism always has been and always will be. In historical reality it started in the late 70s and it is still active as a worldwide network of communication and irregular pop-up events to make shit happen.
RG - What are its foundations? If I wanted to be a Neoist, what should I do?
MCA - It’s up to you to decide. But you can start doing everything in the name of Neoism and call yourself Monty Cantsin.
RG - Do you continue doing it? and about Mail Art ... do you think that this continues to have any kind of validity or is it something nostalgic like jukebox in a bar with WiFi?
MCA - Hahaha, well, you are right about mail-art being nostalgic. I left the network in 1995 and stopped completely, put all the mail and related documents in boxes. But the spirit of mail-art, an independent communication network that doesn't depend on the gallery and museum system, survive even today. That's what Neoism represents, or perhaps partly, as it represents many other things. Mail Art is now more like a huge archive and as an archive it has zillions of significant values. Not only because some “(in)famous" artists also participated but because of its collective brain free from authorities.
RG - Well, I don't know if I'm right, I'm playing the devil's advocate, but this helps me clarify ideas. Speaking of famous artists, do you think that some Mail Art artists wanted to be famous from the beginning or did this happen accidentally? Is it difficult to master the ego?
MCA - Well, yes and no. There were a few like Ray Johnson and Robert Filliou who had an early role in mail art and they were theoretical enough to make important remarks on mail art. They were also promoted by the gallery system so they became well known for the work they accomplished. It often happens this way that a movement gets connected to just a couple of people even if there were hundreds like in mail art. If the Monty Cantsin idea was adapted fully then this problem would have been eliminated, or at least partially. The egos of artists are stronger than their rhetoric, but I guess that is also part of the fuckoff game.
RG - I think it is inevitable ... unless you like handicrafts and crochet. I am thinking of the large number of postal artists who do handcrafts (including myself) flooding the postal network and social media ... Do you think that social media can play an important role in artistic creation?
MCA - Yes, it has the potential. Mail art in the early times basically functioned as social media, it preceded the internet. The perception of art is changing. We were never so close to the concept of Joseph Beuys's that everybody is an artist and we are creating a social sculpture. Even though the world is ruled by dictatorship people are value freedom at a higher level and at a more creative level. We can catch this through the activist movements very well. Actually artists are not the leading creative people today but those who don't call themselves artists are way more creative.
RG - The immediacy is perhaps the difference between the postal network and current social networks. Don't you think there was something very beautiful about the delay of a mail and even its loss? Have you had that feeling when you received a mail dated months or even a year before its arrival?
MCA - Mail usually arrived sooner, like a few days, a week or no more than two weeks after they were sent. Of course the delay played a role in it but in those times it was already calculated once you sent your mail to the receiver. You were not expecting immediate responses of course, but the sooner you received it was the better. Of course mail art was always about text and/or images, but of course sound and later video also were part of it, it was multimedia including even instructions for performance. Its complexity is what made it interesting and often mind-blowing when you received it and opened an envelope or package. This kind of mystery doesn't exist in social media.
RG - Going back to Neoism, which is something that intrigues me ... did Neoism need postal mail to expand and / or develop or can it "live" without Mail Art?
MCA - Neoism survives without mail art for a long time. Mail art was an important carrier of Neoist propaganda, a communication device, the mass media of Neoism. But Neoism is not dependent on mail art and never has been. Collective activities, apartment festivals, training camps, congresses, and other different direct meetings and pop-up events between collaborators were/are the most important driving forces always for the movement. Personal meetings are the key to keep Neoism alive. Our recent big pop-up event Neoism40 took place in May/2019 in Montreal.
RG - Neoism40 was the last big event, was Neoist Chair the first event?
MCA - No. But it was the first public manifesto of Neoism in the form of a street performance. I was sitting on a chair with a Neoist sign attached to it. Passers-by stopped and asked me “What is Neoism?” “We have no idea” I said “that’s why we are here to find out what it is.” And we started discussing the possible concepts of Neoism. And this discussion continues ever since and nobody has ever been able to figure out “What the hell is Neoism?”
RG - Is Neoism a Neodadaism in the Punk Rock age?
MCA - We deny to have anything to do with previous movements of the historical Avantgarde. Neoism is not a new ism as its name suggest, but perhaps the oldest of all, it preceded creation.
RG - But you used many elements typical of the late 70's like dirty aesthetics, zines and flyers made with photocopiers, loud rock, industrial music, youth subversion ... don't you think that the context influenced Neoism or do you think that the movement was completely independent of the time in which it arose?
MCA - I wanted to start something completely new and different in the name of Neoism. Therefore I had to negate that past. "Refuse, deny, negate!" is one of the first important Neoist slogans. Art history and influences are for school teachers and students. Neoism is not about teaching the past, it's about refusal, plunder, crime, and all that the fuckoff revolutionary ideas dictate. We had to get in trouble with the system of rational order to manifest our existence. Of course this is something we learned from history but we deny it. Acceptance is too generous and we were penniless and hungry. "Hunger is the mother of beauty!" that was another early slogan. So we devoured all the previous stupid art crap and puked it out in a different form: Neoism. Of course it was a perfectly healthy situation. The punk/new wave pandemonium and confusion of the late 70s was a clear sign of Neoism and a signal for Neoism, to get rid of formal obligations of the past.
RG - Are you one of the plotters of The Art Strike 1990-93, which I unwittingly followed fervently?
MCA - I wouldn't say that, even though I had a hand in it. Neoism was an engine behind the art strike, but there were different concepts. "Art is strike, strike is art" was my slogan. But the 1990-93 art strike was too much about protesting the museum system and related commercial market. It was too much of student stuff. I confront institutionalization with what I'm doing all the time, I mean I strike, I crash into the system.
RG - What can you tell me about Luther Blissett, Karen Eliot and Istvan Kantor?
MCA - LB and KE are different names for the exact same idea of the Monty Cantsin open-pop-star project. Sort of Neoist style plundering by people who actually want to look original. Which is funny because originality has no value at all in Neoism. As for Istvan Kantor, well, it's the name that was given to me by birth and how I was known for a quarter of century. But since age 26 I went through many names, Csö Kantor / Monty Cantsin / Bertolt Bartok / Amen. / Esmeralda Eldorado / Spooky / Sawang… however, I'm best know as Monty Cantsin.
RG - Do you think that an art as traditional and ancient as painting still has something to contribute or do you not care at all? People still like to hang things on the walls, especially paintings. Art collectors especially prefer to acquire paintings and art galleries exhibit painting mainly. How does Neoism move in this artistic discipline?
MCA - Among communication devices perhaps gestures and words are the most ancient ones and still giving the finger or saying fuck off are undeniable parts of Neoist communication. Throwing blood on museum walls as a form of signalization of existence is also a Neoist way of transmission, spreading ideas. We basically met through mail art which was a breeding place for Neoism during the early 80s. I think there are no forms I haven't tried, from writing poetry to making computer controlled kinetic sculptures or AI machinery via music, noise, performance, dance, sculpture, and, yes, drawing and painting... Neoism has no formal restrictions, it's not about the exploration of forms, it's as much about the act of setting things on fire, breaking things, revolting, creating trouble, conflicts, just as much as doing yoga breathing up on the mountain, or saying fuck to civilization by living a hermit's life. At the end it all depends on you, your ideas, your way of thinking. Neoism confronts, challenges, provokes the authoritarian leadership and the system of control. Whatever you make in the name of Neoism it's a statement of resistance. We don't write poetry because we want it to be published and I don't throw blood on the walls because I want to sell my art. They clean up the walls right away and our poetry gets forgotten. But we always create new ones.
RG - Have you tried using the word NEOISM as a mantra or prayer? I have thought that perhaps this word can be used in meditation to eliminate the ego.
MCA - I like this image and like the idea of prayer. I always used and use many different Neoist prayers, mantras that I repeat day by day or at special occasions. These prayers are either addressed to my dead friends and family members or to myself, they are short and repetitive, ask for protection against eviction, or for help to pay the fucking rent, for example. I never meditate to eliminate my ego since my ego is what keeps Neoism going. Ego is not the enemy, it should be your best friend and your fearless companion to eliminate misery.
RG - Speaking of prayers ... Why Amen?
MCA - For different periods of my life I used always different names, like Picasso used different dominating colours. "When you have said everything and nothing else left to say that's when you say Amen" I read something like this in a Henry Miller book and it inspired me since I was looking for a new name for "The Book of Neoism?!" in which I thought I said everything I ever wanted to. I also thought it's fun to start the book with Amen and I added it with a dot for last name. Amen. (pronounced Amen Dot).
RG - Does Neoism have any kind of connection with situationism and psychogeography?
MCA - I already told you previously I think that Neoism is not part of the Historical Avantgarde, it's not one of the isms succeeding each other. It's a warp or parallel time zone network. Remember in Back to the Future when Beef takes over and leads the city? That's the type of psychogeography we could attribute to Neoism, but it's not necessary. We already introduced enough new episodes that are independent from the rest of the ism gangs. Guy Debord lived the last part of his life in the French Alps, high in the mountains ruled by eternal storms. That's where he shot himself in the heart. I never expected him to be such a romantic thinker. I attended one of his film projections after arriving in Paris in 1976. It was nothing but a black screen, people were shouting, sleeping, jumping around, that was basically the content of the "movie." It could have been Neoism, but it wasn't because if it's not done in the name of Neoism it's not Neoism.. Actually I fell asleep during the projection, but mostly because I was extremely tired after hitchhiking from Vienna to Paris to see this show.
RG - You are right, my question has been repetitive but now I have this idea very clear. Poor Guy Debord ... perhaps if he had lived in the Pyrenees everything would have been different. Has your conception of art been conditioned by the fact that you were born in Europe, specifically in Hungary, and that you moved to Canada?
MCA - I picked up everything about art in isolation, behind the Iron Curtain, in the East. I knew exactly what I was looking for when I left behind everything and headed for the West. But didn't find it anywhere in Europe. Paris was a centre of authority and control. After getting a refugee status I continued to run away and immigrated to Montreal. From there I took a flight to the West Coast and joined David Zack in Postland, Oregon. Well, it's not just a typo, Portland was the headquarters of two of the main characters of correspondence art, David Zack and Blaster Al Ackerman. And there were many others, Musicmaster, Eva Lake, Smegma (a noise band), Tim Harvey and the NWAW (NorthWestArtistsWorkshop), The Neoboys (a girlband), the list is long... That's where I finally felt at the right place and I could get things done. I introduced myself as Monty Cantsin, formed a new band and that's how the Monty Cantsin open popstar project started, in the streets, clubs and abandoned buildings of Portland. I worked with a garbage man, Steve Minor, for a couple of dollars a day. Steve was an old black man who spent ten years in prison for murder. I learned a lot from him, he was my superstar. My job was to break bottles and other glass material collected in oil drums with a metal rod.
RG - So were you the creator of the name Monty Cantsin or the first person to use it? Did this occur even before the idea of Neoism?
MCA - The name was created by David Zack. He took many names, made them into a prayer, started to recite it aloud faster and faster until they got mixed up and he spit out the name Monty Cantsin. After that he sent me a message "If you need a name, try Monty Cantsin," because I was looking for a new name. And soon when [I] arrived to Portland to join him at CASF (Correspondence Art Service Foundation) I introduced myself as Monty Cantsin. The night of my arrival we formed the Monty Cantsin ISM B. Band (Monty Cantsin International Street Myth Blues Band) in his kitchen. I played twelve string guitar and I sung and he played on a four string and also cello. In our first song we just repeated the one line "We are Monty Cantsin International Street Myth Blues Band, yes we are, we'll go far" to the melody of The Beatles song "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." This was in June 1978, basically a year before I kicked off Neoism in Montreal.
RG - Was there any important event (I mean important to you and your friends) in 1979 that led to the rise of Neoism? Perhaps some of this following below collaborated:
A mob attack destroys the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.
The Sahara Desert experiences snow for 30 minutes.
13 Tornadoes ripped through Texas and Oklahoma.
The first black-led government of Rhodesia in 90 years takes power on June 1st and the country's name is changed to Zimbabwe.
Pope John Paul II visits his native Poland, becoming the first Pope to visit a Communist country.
President Hasan al-Bakr resigns and Vice President Saddam Hussein replaces him in Iraq.
Due to the crisis in Iran oil prices increase around the world and the public begins panic buying, making things worse.
During the "Death to the Klan March" organised by communist supporters in Greensboro, North Carolina white supremacists open fire killing five marchers.
11 fans are killed and dozens are injured at a concert by The Who at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident after fire at reactor in Pennsylvania US.
3000 Iranian radicals, mostly students, invade the United States embassy in Tehran and take 90 hostages, including 63 Americans.
400 Armed Sunni Islamic Muslims seize the Grand Mosque in Mecca taking pilgrims present for the annual Hajj hostage. The crisis ends after two weeks and more than 250 dead.
The first British nudist beach is established in Brighton.
The Times newspaper is not published for nearly a year due to an industrial dispute.
Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin sign the first peace treaty between an Arab nation and the Jewish state.
A Canadian Pacific freight train carrying dangerous chemicals is derailed causing an explosion and releasing toxic fumes causing mass evacuation in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
Lord Mountbatten and three others assassinated by the I.R.A. on August 27th. He was a British admiral, statesman and an uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Northern Ireland - 18 British soldiers are murdered at Warrenpoint, South Down.
23 people die in Nice, France, when the coastal town is hit by a tsunami.
The Sandinista National Liberation Front overthrows the regime in the central American republic of Nicaragua.
China institutes the one child per family rule to help control its exploding population.
The worlds first anthrax epidemic begins in Ekaterinburg, Russia following a biological weapons plant accident.
American Airlines Flight 191 crashed and exploded in a field near O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.
The price of oil reaches a new record of $24 per barrel.
IRA Murders MP Airey Neave: The British Conservative MP Airey Neave is killed by a car bomb.
Pakistan's former Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is executed.
USSR Invades Afghanistan.
Margaret Thatcher elected on May 3rd as the Prime minister in UK.
Severe Atlantic Storm hits Fastnet International Yacht Race and a number of boats and crew are lost.
Following the Burgess, Mclean, Philby and Sir Anthony Blunt Spy Scandal he is stripped of his knighthood.
MCA - The question is if these events inspired me and the rise of Neoism? Perhaps. But what inspired me was more like the constant fight for my everyday survival. Being a refugee in Paris in 1976 was a constant struggle, hassled by the police all the time. I was a street singer/beggar. My situation didn't get much better after arrival to Montreal and I worked as machine operator slave in a “plastic brain factory.” But time went by and came that turbulent year, 1979. Those were explosives times in general, of course and the end of the 70s brought lots of conflicts, chaos, noise, wild ideas, anger, cultural and political changes around the world. It was also happening at the lower level of underground lifestyle, philosophy, art, music, etc. In fact Neoism was an engine to spark off a rebellious era first in Montreal and then also elsewhere in North America and Europe. Youth all around the world were fed up with the old system, that was evident when the punks came on stage. We all changed haircuts! It sounds perhaps funny but Neoism can be interpreted as a "haircut-philosophy." Look at Marx, Lenin, Mao, or today's best example, Trump. We gave free haircuts at our events, we always had a buzzer and some scissors around at Neoist apartment festivals. The reaction to all the fuckups that was happening, and I'm glad you sent the list because it refreshed my mind, our reaction was to remove ourselves from all that shit and open up our apartments to have crazy parties, insane pursuits, and also moved int the streets for new encounters, propaganda, graffiti, etc. Here is a Neoist manifesto, Love Letter, from early 1979, I attach it.
MCA - The small picture on the top is a photo of Marton Kosznovszki, a Hungarian shepherd or cowman who was an illiterate man and as a kid I admired him for his look and lifestyle, always carrying a loaf of bread under his arm and hoe on his shoulder, wearing the same hat and outfit everyday... Years later when I learned about Joseph Beuys I saw Marton as a predecessor of him.
RG - I am verifying that you have had a life full of adventures and very intense compared to my life that has been comfortable, calm and quite predictable, for now. Do you think that it is necessary for the artist to suffer and enjoy life extremely (this is quite romantic I know) to create something truly good, important, lasting in time?
MCA - Traumatic experiences are often the driving forces, the sources of motivation for making art. My most important traumatic experience was the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. I ran out from the air raid shelter where my whole family and other people stayed during the uprising, and in the street I pointed my toy gun to a convoy of Russian tanks. They stopped and a soldier jumped out from the leading vehicle and approached me. I ran back to the building and hid in a dark corner. The Russians surrounded the buildings and looked for me. In those times lots of kids threw MOLOTOV cocktails to Russian tanks and got killed. I only used a gesture but it was powerful enough to scare them. I was lucky enough that the janitor of the building could speak some Russian and calmed them down. And perhaps they were on some other mission anyway and so they left. People in the air raid shelter ritualistically broke my toy gun, that my grandfather made me, to small pieces. That was the first time that I confronted authorities at gunpoint using a gesture and it determined the rest of my life. I was 7 years old.
RG - Are you still in contact with one of your old colleagues? I have read that David Zack presumably passed away in Texas in 1995. What does "presumably" mean? I must confess that I had not heard of David Zack until I have started this research on you and Neoism.
MCA - Yes, we are in contact, but I stopped doing mail art when David died in 1995. His death was surrounded by all kinds of rumours, nobody wanted to believe that he was dead, including myself. I put together a book about his life and art and also a retrospective show that mostly based on my archival collection of his works. There is a good text I have written about him here:
The book is called "AMAZING LETTERS - The Life and Art of David Zack" and was published by the New Gallery in Calgary, where he lived for a while with his family. But he also lived in many other places, countries, cities. I have ran out of copies of the book, only have a couple of them for my archive.
RG - David Zack sent mainly typed letters. And you, what was your main modus operandi in Mail Art and your objective in those early years? I am realizing that most of the mail that I receive and send does not have a thematic coherence, there is no clear message ... only aesthetic. Well, just the fact of communication is important enough already, right?
MCA - I preferred the term correspondence art. David always wrote long messages, many of them hand written, but then he got a good electric typewriter and used that to produce more letters. I also used typewriters, but usually only wrote one pagers, except when I worked on some specific project like for example telling stories to Art Lover aka Balint Szombathy about my Neoist conspirators /collaborators who used pseudonyms. He collected these together for a book. But mostly I sent out messages in the form of Neoist propaganda in order to convince people to join us and change the world. Yes, I wasn't into creating mail art products, like stamps and postcards, my main objective was to spread Neoism. "Call yourself Monty Cantsin! Do everything in the name of Neoism!" Of course I used Neoism rubber stamps, stickers, and also made zines, but I wasn't interested in making nice looking, cool, color Xerox art which was a kind of trend among mail artists. I published The Neo mag, a zine which I printed 4-5 times a year usually in 200 copies and sent them to Neoists or just gave them away to local friends. The main purpose was to enlarge the network through correspondence, so I called mail art the mass media of Neoism. I did a few special mail-art projects though, like I organized mail art events, among those were the "supper performances." "Red Supper", Hallowmass Supper", "Seizmik Supper," "Midnight Supper"... I invited mail artists to send ingredients for making a soup and I used the material I received through the mail to make the soup for real. I mean I created it into a performance, threw everything in a pot, added my own blood to it, set some fire on my head and that's how I cooked the soup. I kept some of the soups in jars and I still have them well hidden somewhere in my archive. I'm pretty sure that one day new life will emerge in those jars.
One of my projects in which I explored the formal aesthetics of mail art and also the system of post offices was my "No Tourz" trip from Montreal to San Francisco and back to Montreal on Greyhound buses. I did it with a $100 Greyhound special with which you could travel anywhere for a month. I went down to California for the Inter-Dada '80 mail art event/meeting in Ukiah, with another $100 in my pocket. All the way when the bus stopped I sent postcards back to Montreal to my own address. I made these cards on the bus. It took me 4 days and nights to get to SF, I basically didn't sleep at all. And almost right away continued to Ukiah. There I did a supper performance "Seizmik Supper." Cavellini was there and the whole California underground scene...and I successfully spread the idea of Neoism and my own blood. From there I continued my trip to Portland, Eugene, Seattle, Vancouver, always sending cards to my address in Montreal. Stopped in Vancouver for a few days to create another Supper event. From there I went to meet David Zack in Calgary, and then continued to my travel back to Montreal with a couple of other stops in Regina and Ottawa... I arrived to Montreal totally exhausted exactly a month later, over hundred self-addressed postcards waiting for me, a perfect illustrated mail art diary of my trip.
RG - Still it is a very "physical" correspondence art, I mean that your body, and mind, of course, is always very present in your work, it is something very corporal, even sending postcards. I have very good relationships with some people from the San Francisco of the 70’s, like William “Picasso” Gaglione, John Held Jr. and Anna Banana. I imagine that you will have coincided with them in some of those events.
MC - As I mentioned the whole West Coast Underground "scene" (for me they were just a bunch of hippies) was present at Inter-Dada '80, not only Bill and Anna and the Bay-area Dadaists, but also Buster Cleveland, Karl Loeffler, Ginny Lloyd, Yanagi, Ed Higgins, GX Jupitter-Larsen, Abdada LeClair, Rockola, Pamella Rome and so many others. It was mostly a celebration of Cavellini, basically a Cavellini festival which was for me quite annoying, old fashion, childish shit, and at time also boring, led by Judith Hoffberg, who, for some reason, because she didn't like David Zack, and I was a friend of Zack, completely ignored me and left me out from the InterDada '80 book which she edited and Cavellini published. In retrospect I'm glad I wasn't associated with it. Yes, I was disappointed in many ways because I did probably the only real subversive, mutinous, Neoist performance "Seizmik Supper" that disrupted the daily stupidity of Cavellini kiss ass parade. I felt sorry for him and sorry for the whole bullshit surrounding his clown king like presence. My performance was stopped by a hotel detective at the moment when I kissed my own blood into the mouth of another male performer, Yanagi, and I was removed from the room with force, naked, bleeding, with fire marks on my body. It couldn't have a better ending.
RG - It is possibly a childish idea, but I have always had the impression that there was a certain rivalry between Guglielmo Achille Cavellini and Ray Johnson. Are you interested in any of these two correspondence artists?
MCA - I never thought about Cavellini as a correspondence artist, really, never. His self-historification was quite brilliant and perhaps embodied the spirit of mail art, but he was rather a businessman than a practicing mail artist. He was a typical Italian mafioso, rich, clever and authoritarian. He bought his fame. Ray was a romantic artist, rather old fashioned. He preferred hiding to parading. I have no idea if they have ever met. Cavellini paid lots of money for his portrait by Warhol to boost his fame. Ray was angry when David Zack wrote the Art In America article because he wanted to keep correspondence art practice away from becoming popular and commercial. For Cavellini the mail art network was a perfect platform to be admired and glorified. Yes, I was interested in both of them and met both of them. Ray sent me a few beautiful messages, words of love. Cavellini stayed cold towards me, but he expressed at InterDada '80 that Neoism was the thing to do and not the Dada nostalgia.
RG - And the nostalgia for Dadaism still continues and for Fluxus too but not for Neoism, because it is not really an ism and also there are still you and other activists of the movement, right?
MCA - The main part of it is that we never been a real art movement, you know, that could be easily identified by the use of colours, forms, dimensions, space and time, we never used the language of art but replaced it with unusual words, terms, used mostly in offices, factories, military stations, in emergency situations, by police, terrorists, paramedics, or in scientific laboratories, so we rejected the normal ways of the artistic communication, we didn't call ourselves artists, and that scared artists, not just the older conservative ones but also young artists in our own generation. We were an insult for them. Our look, our behaviour, our talk and expressions were different. But many of the older generation artists liked us, like Robert Filliou, for example, who was himself a "shitdisturber" as we often got labeled. Robert Filliou came to Montreal in 1979 and we instantly became friends. His sudden appearance for me was a clear sign of the endorsement of Neoism. We performed together and I produced for him a few videos. We also corresponded. David Zack and Al Ackerman were also way different from the rest of the mail art aficionados and they often provoked harsh reactions, they were ousted from the art system. David was for quite a long time a theoretical writer, an art critic, and teacher, writing for all the well known art magazines, teaching art history in schools, giving lectures, leading workshops. He was like 13 years older than me, and, at the time we met in Budapest, in 1976, he was already quite an infamous poet and correspondence artist who left the establishment for the underground. He kept a Xerox machine in the kitchen of their house and valued copies more than originals, just like Warhol. He had an inflammatory style, he was total crazy, could be very offensive, annoying, but he was also a brilliant brain with great intelligence and intellectual power. He also traveled a lot, had a very complex private life, married several times, had 7 kids. He was also an excellent cello player. Ackerman was less offensive and more into living in isolation with his wife and daughter and writing letters in his kitchen. Most of the early conspirators of Neoism are still active, many of them were young punks when they joined me, about 18 years old, and I was a decade older.
RG - Like Stewart Home?
MCA - No. I'm not talking about him. He got involved with Neoism 5 years later, in 1984, when we had a Neoist apartment festival in London. I'm talking about all those who accompanied me in Montreal at the very beginning of Neoism. Kiki Bonbon, Zbigniew Brotgehirn, Napoleon Moffat, Terre "Z", Valerie Figolie, Lion Lazer, Yana, 1175X Agent, Marilyn Burgess, Florence, Adrenalin, Boris Wanowitch, Alan Lord, Gordon W., Bretty Nova, First Aid Brigade, Louise Litsz, Bill Vorn, Jack5, Moondog, Mr Green, Tom Könyves, Lysanne Thibodeau, tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE, Richard X, … I have listed most names of Neoist conspirators in an article I have written, "The Poetical Plunderground of Neoism." I can send you the file.
RG - The diffusion of Neoism through publications was an important activity for you, I think. You have told me about The Neo Mag, that I have tried to find something on the internet but with negative results so far. Was the content only yours or was it open to more collaborators (conspirators)?
MCA - Yes, the Neo was the voice of Neoism, or rather one of the voices. There were many others involved with the contents besides me, local Neoists, mail art fanatics and other maniacs of small underground press. It had a scissor and glue cutup style, I made the layout fast and dirty but the offset print looked always excellent and it was cheap. The mailing was more expensive. Homemade mail art zines were my favourite readings those times and I have great collection of them in my archives. Of course I kept copies of THE NEO as well, but no extra copies. Always think about to reprint them all under one cover. Let me look for some scans for you... Here are a few I could find fast.
Most of these were scanned from the original masters so you see the yellowed transparent tapes I used to stick up things...
Hope, I just saw these among the scans, Cavellini and me at InterDada'80 and two other pics from the Cavellini parade.
RG - Am I doing Neoist poetry stealing your time for Neoism?
MCA - Are you doing it in the name of Neoism? It's impossible define what is Neoist poetry and what is not. If you are the poet, it's you to decide.
RG - What was the essence of Apartment Festivals? I have the impression that these festivals were a Neoist action that was documented and made known through your publications or videos. Do you continue to celebrate these Apartment Festivals or have they mutated into another kind of events?
MCA - The essence of the Apartment Festivals was to remove ourselves from the existing orders of the official art scene, get separated from the art establishment, and start a new experience in our own living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens. While it often felt like a laboratory experience, it was more like a secret meeting of conspirators to plan a plot. It started in the Fall/1980 in my own apartment, in Montreal. My apartment was already a gathering place, I renamed it to No-Galero and organized small scale events, performances, parties. The First International Neoist Apartment Festival took place in September/1980 at No-Galero. We didn't do much publicity, just some photocopied flyers, but it spread mouth to mouth and through mail art. It was a one week event with different actives every day and turned out to be a successful test that actually determined the format of future APT festivals. We opened up not only our apartments but also people's minds and a new way of creative exploration that was pioneering, rebellious, subversive, desperate, anti-establishment and disruptive, including total madness and reckless mockery to say "fuckoff." It was a simple but effective idea that got immediate responses and turned into a longterm series that is still alive. Yes, of course it mutated, each event was different in some ways, but we kept the 7 days structure, a week of vacation in each others misery. With APT 5, in 1982, in NYC, we adapted the city as our apartment and events took place also in the streets, in clubs, parks, bars, artist studios or at the bank of the Hudson River. Our most recent event, Neoism40, which we held in Montreal in May/2019 in tribute and commemoration of 40 years of Neoist activities, subtitled "Total Disaster," included among others a Disaster March, two nights of Bunker Riots, and an all day brainwash Neoist Bootcamp.
RG - Music and noise is a good tool for Neoism, right?
MCA - Absolutely! Monty Cantsin is an open pop-star, a rock star, noisemaker, de-composer, Neoism is a Seizmik Orchestra of brain waves, shaking vibrations, steady drums of blood drops. The fight for Total Freedom through dance music was part of the Neoist Propaganda during the early '80s. The different epochs of Neoism can be defined by music. The early days were characterized by synthesizers and electro beat followed by techno-industrial, scrap metal noise, electro riot, always with a propagandistic tone, the sound of the megaphone. Megaphonic noise mixed with high frequency screams, emergency sirens and deafening alarm bells was another period, late '80s and dearly '90s. We also experienced with sampling, looping and machine beat. Red Armband started as a loopmachine band which was a result of my work with kinetic machinery. There were and still are many different Neoist formations, bands, orchestras and solo performers. tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE is more into semi-improvised noise and orchestral discord, the band Phycus plays industrial noise, Angela Idealism is the Neoist screaming diva. Early Neoist bands included Monty Cantsin, First Aid Brigade, Boys du Severe, all of them characterized by synth-music. Let me mention Lion Lazer, Kiki Bonbon, Zbigniew Brotgehirn, Alan Lord, Jack5, Boris Wanowitch, Bill Vorn, Lysanne Thibodeau ... Revolutionary songs, Communist military marches, French chanson, Hungarian folk music were among our inspirations.
It's perhaps important to note that David Zack also played music and he tried to break into the music scene as a singer/songwriter without much success. At the time when he was visiting in Budapest in 1976 and had a mail art show at the Young Artists Club I happened to play there with my cityfolk band, Kantor Inform, and that’s how we were introduced to each other. David was always carrying a guitar or cello with him and he played while having conversations, often answering to questions in the form of songs. That was kind of similar to what we were doing as we turned newspaper articles into songs therefor creating a conversation with the news media. At that time we were already banned from playing public and the show at the Young Artists Club was an exceptional occasion. We invited Dave to our living place where we played together and did some recordings. He invited us to Regina, Canada, where he lived that time. I took his invitation seriously and four months later I was on the road to Paris and from there soon to Montreal. But by then he lived in Portland, Oregon, and it was more complicated for me to pass the border with my homeless passport I got from the Canadian Immigration Services. At first I was investigated at the border about my communist background and they didn't like my long hair, my guitar and that I only had a few dollars in my pockets and got rejected by US authorities. The next day I returned with nicely combed hair and $200 I borrowed from a friend and made it through.
RG - Were the editions of your sound works self-produced or were you trying to get other people / labels to produce them. Any contact with record labels?
MCA - Yes, signed with YUL Records in 1981, an independent record label in Montreal, and they put out my first two albums, Neoist Songs (1982) and Mass Media (1984). Unfortunately the producer/owner of the label died soon after the second album's release. At that time I already lived in NYC and started my own label Maldoror Records. Put out two records of my own songs Born Again In Flames (1987) and Ahora Neoismus (1988). Ahora Neoismus was quite successful at University radio programs in the USA and also in Canada, I got up on many charts. But then, because of my Museum of Modern Art blood intervention in august/1988, I basically got banned from the USA, and after two years of fighting at the courts I was deported back to Canada. Meanwhile I put one more record out on my label, the then quite famous NYC noise band DEMO-MOE's Demolish NYC album. But a couple of weeks after the record launching the band broke up and each members disappeared in different directions. Another disaster! I was lucky that a record distributor bought almost all the boxes of the records for exactly the same amount I paid for pressing them.
RG - Especially in the 80s, many creators of sounds, music, noise, poetry, etc., distributed their works on cassette, which was a very convenient format to send by mail and exchange with other people from all over the world. This was what has been called the cassette culture. Did you have any relationship with this movement?
MCA - Oh, boy, relationship? I was deeply involved with "cassette culture" if that's the term you prefer. In fact one of my problems is that my cassette recordings are still not digitized and waiting in boxes for their resurrection. I had the best two cassette ghettoblaster with multiple functions and used it for recording, mixing and of course for performance. I still have it actually and still use it as my sound system but it doesn't forward and rewind very well. I used to perform with it in the streets and also in clubs and galleries, it was my mobile sound system, my ghetto blaster and a megaphone. I miss it a lot. I used to make "backing tapes" for my performances, meaning only the music of my songs were on the cassette tapes and sang live. So as I said I have my music, my music of the '80s on cassettes, hundreds of them and I never had time to digitize them. I digitized a great amount of my video tapes, you know, I also produced videos starting 1978, using the Sony portapack system and then 3/4 inch, VHS, then betacamSP followed by mini-dv...and finally no tapes. But I have the tapes in my archive in huge numbers. To make good quality digital masters is expensive, you know. Last year I decided to start digitizing my audio cassette collection and gave a couple of boxes to a friend in Montreal who then worked for an archive and had access to good quality machines, but changed job and he didn't do my cassettes but still have them in Montreal. There is actually a shop nearby here that does cassette digitizing, so I think I'll start it soon. But there is also the question: Why? Who wants to listen to them besides me? And maybe you and a few more people....Keeping an archive is a pain in the ass. I spend my money on rents to store my archive. I rent three garages. Two two-car garages and one three-car garage. Not for my cassettes of course, my cassette collection is here in my office in archival boxes. In the garages I store my kinetic machinery, installation works, paintings, drawings, sculptural works, found objects, etc. It's an obsession. I love the smell inside my storages, you take a deep breath and immediately everything comes to your mind, I mean your memory gets instantly turned on. But I have to find a solution for my archives for the times when I won't be breathing. It's complicated. Even just to give them away is complicated. Throw them in garbage containers and incinerate everything like they do it with waste material is another solution. Burn, baby! burn!
RG - Burning everything is always very purifying and liberating, but I am sure many of us want to explore all your material before this happens. I understand that you used cassettes more as a musical instrument than as a means of distributing your music, right? Did you distribute your music on cassette? Surfing the internet I have found a 1987 cassette of a project called White Colours and the cassette title is Neoism Now, appearing in the credits as composer, mixer and arranger a certain Monty Cantsin?
MCA - Well, I told you about the use of cassettes in performance as an example. I thought it was a more interesting aspect than cassette distribution that everybody was doing in the 80s. I did, we did, they did plenty of limited edition cassette productions. The one you picked from the internet is from Graf Haufen aka Monty Cantsin, a Berlin based conspirator. He was very active for several years from the mid '80s, organized a Neoist Apartment Festival in Berlin in 1986. He also produced large posters with the same image that is on the cassette cover. He had a small music shop in Berlin, definitely serving cassette culture. Another Neoist conspirator Gen Ken Montgomery aka Monty Cantsin also had a similar shop, Generator, in New York which he opened a bit later in 1989 in the Lower East Side. The Generator was also a gallery and performance space, in important distributor of sound art. There is lots of information about it online. You can also look up tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE who had a big hand in Neoist activities starting 1980 in Baltimore, MD, USA, and he is also an underground sound (de)composer who took a great part in alternative cassette fabrication and distribution. But almost every Neoist in the network did it, like Italian Neoist Vittore Baroni is another very important, leading representative of cassette culture. Baroni probably published more small edition cassette compilations than anyone else. In 1985 I published SMILE Neoist Music Anthology, probably the most comprehensive compilation of sounds and songs by Neoists in the 80s. There is lots of information about these Neoist cassette publications online and once you start searching you'll find them. Wikipedia is often filled with lots of false information changing facts of history by the writers but creating confusion and disorder is also part of Neoism. I have a website istvankantor.com which I didn't renewed for quite a long time and it's not in a very good shape anymore but for information you can look it up. Finally let me mention Rodolfo Protti's Old Europa Cafe record label and mail order service specializing in ambient music, noise music, electronic music, and industrial music and was an important base of the cassette network in the 80s. He also put out Neoist compilations. He is still active, wanted to release another Neoist compilation on cassette not too long ago but I don't know what happened to his initial enthusiasm. Analogue was killed by digital, digital was killed by the internet. The fact that most formats of music distribution, analogue and digital, is basically dead is a fuckup resulted by the internet. Mail art was a hotbed for cassette exchange, David Zack was especially big in sending his cheap cassette recordings to his correspondents, many of us have great collections of them, like Pete Horobin and me for example. Pete left the network about two decades ago and donated his archive to Artpool, in Budapest.
RG - Indeed, your example of the use of cassettes in performances is a much more interesting aspect as well as your comment about kinetic machinery, a fact that I am completely unaware of.
MCA - Yes, talking about cassette culture, cassette use in the 80s brought up the subject or archiving and I mentioned a list of the item I have in my storages, among them the kinetic machines. It was a ten year long adventure I started in 1993 and basically ended by 2003 even if it continued irregularly for a while. I made a series of high tech, computer controlled kinetic machines exploring the sculptural look and kinetic functions of file cabinets. File cabinets look like monoliths, especially the old fashion ones. I was always attracted by them especially because they are representative furniture of bureaucracy. At a time when I moved into an office building where the rent was low enough for me, I saw thrown away cabinets at the freight elevator. I picked up one of them and took it to my studio to experiment with it and from then on I got obsessed with file cabinets. First I turned them into simple mechanical performance objects, slamming the the cabinet drawers, pulling them out and pushing them back, using the motion of thumping, I basically fucked them. Then I equipped them with electric motors to do the pounding and soon I was working with a crew of engineers and new media artists to create computer controlled kinetic devices exploring the cabinets. Quite soon afterwards I was having big shows at electronic media festivals, I filled up opera size rooms with my shows, including Ars Electronica in 2000, at the Next Sex edition and I traveled with this heavy equipment all over Europe. There were about a dozen different file cabinet based machines in my live performances and installations. Lot has been written about so you can probably find information online, definitely in my website www.istvankantor.com
The most important aspect of this project is not even my own machines but the existing worldwide kinetic machinery that connects offices through computer technology which we can basically look at as a found-system replacing or perhaps adding to the concept of found object. When you open a file cabinet in an office you basically trigger an immediate response that triggers other responses and it becomes a world wide performance with millions of participants.
file cabinet opening --- document digitizing---sending via internet --- receiving --- making a safety printout -- putting it into cabinet —- responding to sender — sender receives the message — makes a safety copy — puts it in a cabinet —— etc…
RG - Are you still banned in museums or not even interested in getting into it anymore?
MCA - Long story with many chapters. Yes, I'm officially banned from museums and especially from the ones where I committed a crime. What is interesting that even if you are a murderer and spend a decade in prison after your punishment is over you are free like anyone else. I'm still banned from museums where I have done blood interventions 40 years ago. Actually I took to court one of them, The National Gallery of Canada, for the restrictions they imposed on me for splashing my blood between two ready mades in the Marcel Duchamp room in January 1991. Almost twenty years later with the help of a lawyer I successfully won my case and my ban was removed, they even paid back all my lawyer's fees. But still I can only return to visit an exhibition if I call them before and then one or two security guards accompany me throughout my visit. What was very funny when, in 2004, I was a winner of the Governor General Award for Visual and Media Arts, and the award ceremony took place at The National Gallery of Canada. For that occasion they lifted my ban and I was accompanied by about a dozen security guards and countless journalists as I was walking towards the stage to receive the highest award someone can receive in Canada. The newspapers called me the Osama bin Laden of the Arts who elevated vandalism to high art. Hahaha.
But anyway, I have no intentions to return to Museums. They don't like me and I don't like them, so we get along well. More hahaha. It's so fuckedup how this official art system works. I basically never hurt any art works because I splash my blood on the wall between the works of artists I actually like and respect. Except sometime some drops unintendedly fall on the works. That's what happened at the Museum of Modern Art in 1988 when I executed my first large scale public blood-x intervention in the Picasso room. Some drops fell on Picasso's Girl with Mirror and I was charged with 10million$ damage, an act of felony, minimum 5 years in prison. But I was lucky and a young lawyer took my case without charging me any money, just because she wanted to make a name for herself as a lawyer because the day after my blood action I was all over in the news, not only in NYC but around the World. And it was more than just the 15min fame, it took me over two years at the New York Supreme Court to fight the charges and finally it got down to criminal mischief and I paid $1200 fine instead of going to prison for 5 months. It was actually a very interesting life adventure and I truly enjoyed every occasions at court. It gave me lots of changes to explain my Blood Campaign to the judge and of course to the media. The bad part of it is that I have a life long criminal record of that and that makes my border passing very difficult, often get rejected and detained even more than 30 years after. What is important to understand is that each blood performance had different reasons and my purpose was not only to exhibit my blood as a work of art in between other artists works, but each action was dedicated to some social or socio-political event. Like the one at the MOMA was a protest against police brutality during the Tompkins Square Riot in which many of my artist friends participated and got beaten up or jailed.
I usually write a manifesto and a letter of donation to the museum and give them to a museum representative. In these papers I explain my intentions. Of course at the US border it's very hard to explain these kind of things. They can understand a the story of a gangster, a murderer, drug dealer but my case takes long hours of explanation while in detention and meanwhile my plane or bus leaves and then I get returned. But of course you get experienced and learn ways how to pass.
RG - What did it mean for you to receive the Governor General Award for Visual and Media Arts, I mean on a psychological level, did it produce any internal contradiction or did you just receive it with a sense of humor?
MCA - It was a strange thing. First of all I completely forgot that I was nominated by a female artist friend, Linda Feesey, a writer and curator, who actually found the nomination document on my desk in an envelope 2 days before the deadline while visiting me. She suggested that she could nominate me and she did it. This was sometime in June/2003 and in December I got a call and someone asked me if I was going to be in Canada in March/2004. And it was a strange voice and strange question and I thought I was in some trouble and I said something that I have no idea where I'll be. And then he said "I'm asking you because you are a recipient of the Governor General Award of Canada and we would like to be in Canada that time." I didn't even remember by then that my friend nominated me and I just responded fast "Ok, I'll be here" and hang up. Then early in March one morning I saw my face on the cover of Canada's national newspaper and from then on for a month I had another 15min fame. Of course I was mostly confronted and disliked by the media which was really good so I didn't have to be ashamed myself for getting such a high award for defacing museums.
RG - Your first blood intervention was with a painting by Picasso ... In your last intervention, who was the chosen artist?
MCA - My first blood intervention was actually in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montreal a few years earlier but of course my action in the Picasso room at the MOMA is much better known. My last blood-x museum intervention took place at the Whitney, Aug 20, 2014, entitled Supreme Gift. All these museum actions were "gifts" to the museums. This one for the Whitney Museum of American Art targeted the work of Jeff Koons. He is actually not really among the artists I like. I don't hate him either, I give him lots of credits for certain parts of his accomplishments, and when the arresting police officers asked me in the police emergency van if I would like to kill Jeff Koons my answer was that I just would like to brainwash him. The emergency van was escorted by two police cars, one in front, one in the back with sirens on, running through red lights, as I deserved it being a dangerous criminal. They also asked me if I would like to blow up the museum and I said "I like fire, I prefer to burn it down." Anyway, so I did my blood splash right behind Koon's most famous work the Silver Bunny, on the white wall. Turned out really good, I had enough time to finish it before the security stopped me. Lots of people were in the room, among them a couple of my accomplices taking photos. So it's well documented, I was happy with the results. This time the police took me to a mental hospital for treatment instead of jail which was I believe the request of the museum for discrediting me for an insane person and to have less contact with the media. But still I got my pictures and descriptions in every NYC newspapers the next day. By then I was out from the madhouse, celebrating with my photographer friends in the Lower East Side. Koons work impressed me in his earlier years, especially the Ciciolina series. But my action was rather challenging the corporate power and greed in the arts which Koons's work represents quite clearly.
RG - We may have talked about this before ... What is your opinion on digital art. You believe that someday there will be no "physical" art and there will not be a need for "physical" galleries and museums, that everything will be on our smartphone?
MCA - This stage of my life I don't believe in these things. When I was in my twenties or early thirties I was more inclined to think that there will be direct communication between individuals, I mean cerebral contacts. When I told about this to my anatomy professor, Janos Szentagothai (I already mentioned his name before) he was furious and strongly rejected the idea. People's private ideas would be at risk if we could plug into each other's brain, was his main point. Well, this is almost the same thing with smartphones. If they would have all information in them including your ideas and everything you work on or think about then you would have no freedom. Plus the elimination of the "physical" would cripple creative communication just like the elimination of physical workout would deform our bodies. Smartphones are useful for many things, even to create art, but they won't replace everything, especially things that need physical construction and shaping to be implemented for use, like our own body.
RG - What is a Mail Art star like? Do you think that many people in Mail Art or as you prefer to call it Correspondence Art want to be professional artists and earn money and recognition?
MCA - The mail art network includes a very big variety of participants, contributors, players. I would say none of them are professional in the sense of making their living through mail-art. Of course there are some mail artists who tried to run small businesses by selling things through mail, like music products, cassettes, vinyls, small limited edition publications like zines and newsletters, also cards, posters, stickers, badges, books, etc. Selling things through the mail never worked for me and always ended up just giving things away. Of course many of the mail artists are doing other kind of art as well, from music to painting via design, performance, etc. I was never into a single form, like only doing mail art, but there were times when one form was more dominant than others. In my life long practice mail art was the most dominant perhaps between 1978 and 1983. But I have never been remarked as a professional mail artist, not even as a mail artist, and in fact often not even as an artist, hahaha, because I didn't even want to be called "artist". I had a rubber stamp "professional neoist" and used that in my practice of correspondence in the early 80s. I don't think that I was ever counted in among the "leading mail artists", like Dr. Ackerman, David Zack, Buster Cleveland, Anna Banana, Bill Gaglione, Niels Lomholt of Lomholt Formular Press, Ed Higgins, and others who focused on mail art, spent their time and money on making mail art products and buying stamps. During those five years I mentioned above I actually also spent lots of money on stamps and turned even my performances and music to mail art events. My "Supper" performances are perhaps the most characteristic of this. Ray Johnson was a professionally recognized correspondence artist but I'm sure he made more money with his paintings and drawings than letters. The art market and the institutional art system never considered mail art professional until perhaps the millennium when they started buying mail art archives. For me the greatest mail artists are David Zack and Blaster Al Ackerman.
Fluxus artists are overrated as mail artists because Fluxus was more of a network for creating live events in a staged form. Later years Fluxus artist Ken Friedman was more involved with mail art than the older generation of Fluxus artists. His 1973 mail art project "Omaha Flow System" was a significant mail art event that definitely energized and put mail art in motion. Zack and Ackerman didn't like him because of his work with art institutions. Géza Perneczky, Hungarian origin art historian also took an important part in early mail art as a participant and as writer/historian. He wrote important books about mail art and networking. Perhaps Vittore Baroni has the largest collection of mail art publications from around the world.
RG - Do you remember all the artists you have honored with your blood interventions?
MCA - Yes, of course Rafael, I would say Blood Campaign is my most significant life long masterpiece, a continuous long term project since 1979. I have a list of all of my blood actions with documentations of each piece, photo, video, publicity material, descriptions, news articles, police reports, court documents, manifestos, interviews, etc. I have wasted lots of blood on the barricades. Let's say I have done about 1000 blood actions and each time used up only 10ml of my blood, that would be 10liter but that's a very conservative counting because I usually draw and use up way more than just 10ml at a single occasion. But it always depends on the concept. For my museum interventions I usually spend 6 vial full of blood, each vial is 10ml. These are vacutainer vials with some anti-coagulation compounds already in the vials. These vials are also easy to transport in your pockets to the scene of crime, and they are perfect for splashing the blood on the walls and create a good looking X. Among my "honoured" (your term) artists are Picasso, Warhol, Duchamp, Paul McCarthy, Rauschenberg, Dennis Oppenheim, Ai Wei Wei, Koons, Shalom Neuman... Shalom was among the few who willingly let me sanctify his exhibition with my blood between two of his paintings. But when it's done legally it's not the same, you know, because confronting institutional authorities must be part of the piece for a full effect.
RG - I fully understand that it is not the same when it is legal ... Why transgression is very important in your work, right? Can you imagine yourself in the future making Matisse-style paintings?
MCA - Rafael, I'm not against painting. I'm a Neoist, and therefor I rebel, but I'm also a painter and I think that every real artists paint with their own "blood." I'm Xpressing my dislike of institutional dominance, I'm sick of the control in the arts, the officialdom of institutions, their administrative power, greed and stupidity, that's what I'm fed up with. As a Neoist I have my own ways of expressing myself and perhaps Matisse style painting is too old fashion for that. But I do paint, maybe not in the style of Matisse, fuck that, but I have nothing against Matisse and I have no blood and time to waste it to celebrate or against Matisse or other painters. Actually I like to vandalize their works and use their reproductions as art material. But as a Neoist I have more important issues to struggle for, to challenge and stand against the hegemony of oppressive systems, to retain my individual rights and freedom of speech in this hostile, police dominated, murderous, money grubbing technological society.
RG - What does the symbol of a red cross mean to you or other Neoists? Is it related to the artist's blood?
MCA - The red cross is an early Neoist sign together with many other Neoist symbols. The red cross is a ready made sign and a plundered symbol, fits well into the always changing and expanding Neoist cosmogony. For the Red Cross it's an emblem of neutrality and protection, for us it means emergency for changes and dangerous situations. "We are standing on the alert to change the world...We are for perpetual changes" says the first Neoist manifesto "Love Letter" which we already talked about before. And of course the use of Red Cross paraphernalia in my Blood Campaign project is another reason. The cross, the X, blood-X, 6oclock sign, fire, steam iron, burning steam iron, 6fingers, red star, black star, broken clocks, gold flag, red flag, wire coat hanger, bread hat, fish hat, etc, etc, are all important Neoist signs, objects signifying Neoism, adding visual impact to Neoism.
RG - Is Neoism an exclusively European and American movement? I imagine that this would be the case at first ... Do you have knowledge of Neoist conspirators in Asia, Africa or Oceania?
MCA - Knowledge? For the past twenty years the strongest base for Neoism Is Asia. Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong and especially mainland China are very active in Neoism. That's where the new is happening. Europe is fucked up and the USA is a control freak country. But Neoism is homeless, it was never exclusively attached to any countries. It's a network of people living in different parts of the world and as such it is totally unique and different from precedent art movements which usually only existed in a single country or city or maybe in a few places at once. Neoism started in Montreal as a small group of performance and street artists and grew into international through the mail art network. Montreal was the perfect place because it wasn't an oppressive city like Paris, it welcomed immigrants from different parts of the world. Paris was a big disappointment for me in every ways. I could survive as a street musician and even earned a name as an artist from Eastern Europe, a political refugee, but from the moment I arrived there I knew I'll have to continue running away. Paris had a superiority attitude but as a revolutionary cultural centre was dead, was not happening. Montreal was completely different, the architecture, culture, politics, people's attitude, everything. It didn't take me long time to get involved with the local art community and launched Neoism a little more than a year after my arrival. Meanwhile I also spent 6 months in the West Coast, mostly in Portland, Oregon. I guess I already outlined that time through a previous question. So with the participation a bunch of young local artists I initiated Neoism in Montreal and from there it spread to other cities in North America. In 1982 The Neoist Network's First European Training Camp took place in Würzburg, Germany, followed by other events in Hungary, Italy and Yugoslavia. And then for the next twenty years it was happening big in North America and in Europe, in Berlin, Budapest, London, Paris, Baltimore, Toronto, New York, and elsewhere. But the Asian period started only in the 00s. And that's where I can see that Neoism still has a big potential for future events. There were some Neoist events also in Australia and Africa, but without my participation and thus I can't really elaborate on them.
RG - So Europe is rotten and America is boring forever, is there no possible solution?
MCA - I don't think there is solution. The whole world is fucked up. Total disaster. And that's what we stressed since the very beginning of Neoism. The need for something radically new was evident in the late 70s. That's what Neoism expressed. And all the punk and new wave movements were driving forces in this direction. But look at what's happening today. How are we going to get out from this disaster? I'm not talking about Covid19, I'm talking about the worldwide dictatorship. Dictatorship rules the world. That's totally evident. And we are not going to win. All that we can do is to say FUCK THE WORLD!
Let me just some names to the part where I was talking about Asian Neoism: Cai Qing (China), Ywan Wijono (Indonesia), Ong (Thailand), Seiji Shimoda (Japan), Marla Bendini (Singapore),... they're my close contacts but of course representing a larger community.
RG - Is TOTAL DISASTER your current line of intervention or just a motto? If so, how and where is it developing?
MCA - End of the World, Total Suicide, disaster, catastrophe, ruins, misery, crisis, were some of the key terms in manifestos, songs and scripts from the very beginning of Neoism. Last year for the 40st anniversary of Neoism, 1979 - 2019, I chose Total Disaster as a subtitle or motto for the commemorative event Neoism40 that took place in Montreal, May 22 - 28. So in some ways it's a current label but, on the other hand, it's an old motto. Throughout my youth and basically all my life I lived in constant fear that the world could end any time in a nuclear catastrophe. That was like "the Sword of Damocles," always hanging above us in every situation. It determined our life permanently, like a biblical prophecy turned into a daily news headline. With the climate change catastrophes and with this current Covid19 event it is quite apparently present and determines our everyday life. Total Disaster is not our intervention, and it's not a current Neoist phenomena. It is already very old. It's a very compact definition for the weather forecast of our times.
RG - If David Zack were alive, what do you think he would be doing now, what would his art be like?
MCA - He would be the greatest communicator online. He already had that kind of talent way before he died. It's really unfortunate that he couldn't stay alive for the internet age because he would be the leading voice. His communication skills, techniques were absolutely advanced and he was basically a precursor of computer art, online communication and everything else that explore the world wide web. This guys in Early Mail Art has nostalgia for the original mail art productions, well, David would not. He would embrace online communication and would produce huge amount of letters and messages that would flood the internet.
RG - What are your current lines of work and your next projects?
MCA - Like always, I'm doing many things at once, that's that way I am. My father was frustrated because I was always interested in different things, visual art, music, sports, philosophy, science, poetry, yoga, etc and he told me "Istvan, do only one thing, don't waste your time on so many different ideas!" But for me dissipating my energy was the greatest virtue, wasting my time was a redeeming philosophy and squandering my talents was an affirmation of creativity and the base for productive living that I planned for my whole life. So right now I'm finishing a few books, fiction and Neoist history, composing new songs with my recently reorganized band, Red Armband, and started a new series of drawings and paintings inspired by the immortal mythical figure of The Wandering Jew, cursed to ceaselessly walk on earth. Through this work I basically explore the image of restless, troubled individual, the homeless fugitive, that is a rough portrait of me. I am The Wandering Jew. Meanwhile almost finished a new short video that is also adds to this portrait through poetical statement about death and revolution. A book I have written about the life and art of Richard Hambleton, best known for his street art and especially for his shadowman paintings, is just about to be officially launched. And I suppose to have a solo exhibition of my recent works at HOWL! in NYC in the Fall, but, because of the pandemic, it remains unconfirmed. Also perhaps my most important project is exercising every day. I do this since childhood, two hours per day. I keep notes of my daily accomplishments in a diary composed of "Pushup Books."
RG - Apart from your bad experience in Paris, what has been the most hostile city with you and Neoism?
MCA - Most cities are hostile to Neoism in some ways. I always have trouble in every cities during Neoist events for doing street actions, posting signs, creating blood related gallery performances and illegal museum interventions, trespassing and defacing private property, using fire in public without permission, disturbing the peace… I already gave some examples above in our conversation but here are a few selected cases from various time periods. Budapest, Hungary, 1972-1975, kicked out from university, my band Kantor Inform banned, our club outlawed. Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, 1982, my exhibition banned on the opening day, performance prohibited, organizers arrested. Baltimore, Maryland, USA, 1983, arrested and jailed during a Neoist apartment festival for posting Neoist flyers in the streets and making "communist propaganda." Montreal, Québec, Canada, 1989, internal police raids and searches Neoist Embassy, looking for signs of blood rituals and sex orgies, followed by eviction. Budapest, Hungary, 1997, arrested, beaten up and jailed by the police for giving a speech in the street during a Neoist event without permission. Berlin, Germany, 2004, severely beaten up and arrested during a museum protest/intervention at the Hamburger Bahnhof. Wuhan city, China, 2014, police interrogation for spreading subversive ideas in art school as teacher. Tianjin, China, 2019, police surrounds and raids our hotel looking for evidences of subversive activities in the streets, they seize cell phones and cameras. But the most hostile city to me was Budapest during my youth, until 1976, when I finally ran away at age 26. I guess I was also cursed to wander around the world.