Chat conversation between Rafael González and Monty Cantsin Amen July 9 - August 3, 2020
RG - If I say Séance Filliou / Filliou Szeánsz what comes to your mind?
MCA - Well, lots of things, even too many, Rafael, but I will try to sum up everything in a short version. In the Spring 1998 I was touring in Europe with my lover and co-performer, Chinese Canadian poet/performance artist/sex activist, Louise Bak. I can’t remember when exactly we arrived to Budapest, but I got there earlier and she joined me about a week later. We stayed at my family's old home that was then already deserted, almost empty, furnished only with a few leftover furniture which were necessary for me to keep while working on the sale of the large apartment. Our family team I left behind in 1976 was gone. My gramma died in 1989, my mom died in 1991 followed by my sister, Kati, in 1992, and finally my father passed away in 1997. Meanwhile I founded a new family with Krista Goddess in Toronto, Jericho was born in 1990, Babylon in 1992 and Nineveh in 1995. The 90s were both very sad and very happy years for me. Therefore the "Séance Filliou" fit quite well into this ambience.
The idea came right after my arrival, while a visit at Artpool. György Galántai, founder/director of Artpool, proposed me to do something at P60, which was Artpool's gallery space. There was already an installation in the gallery they created to the memory of Robert Filliou consisting of remains of works by Robert, a floor piece and some things hanging from the ceiling, composing the very basic structure of a house. Galántai suggested to me to create an installation inside the Filliou construction. That was kind of funny idea because I was selling my own house while I had the chance to move into the abandoned "Filliou home." So I accepted his proposal and that's where I created the "Séance Filliou" piece.
The idea occurred to me instantly, you know, the fact that my mind was already filled with visions of birth and death and I was surrounded by familiar spirits, was really helpful. I felt strong enough to be a medium and accomplish a seance. The sorceress character of Louise also added to the ambience and I was convinced it was a perfect situation to evoke the spirit of Robert. Galántai also liked the concept and I got into the preparations. Added a few of my own pieces/objects to the installation. Hung a curtain like poem on the wall I had written in Hungarian with a mix of black ink and blood on long folios of computer printout paper. Put some large broken clocks on the floor, all of them stopped at 6. I also put a folding chair inside the skeletal floor structure of the Filliou installation. To the side of the chair I attached a mechanical wheel that I could spin while sitting on the chair and put a "mushroom carpet" under the chair, made from real edible white mushrooms.
The seance took place on June 2nd. I was dressed in one of my father's suits and wearing his shoes, my head was covered by a mask made by my son Jericho from a hat that looked like a funny bank robber or terrorist disguise with bunny ears. On the top of that I was wearing a gold wire coathanger. The performance consisted of a few elements. I made lots of smoke on a small electric heater using some special effect crystals which exploded from the heat, and also lots of noise using my Jamman loopmachine added with my own voice and harsh megaphone sounds. Sitting on the chair, backed by the very repetitious rhythmic noise, I was spinning the wheel attached to the chair with my right arm, and in my left hand I was holding a gold string which I was shaking very vehemently and I basically pushed myself into a hypnotic state, a trance that enabled me to evoke the spirit of Filliou and communicate with him. “I’m calling Robert Filliou, I’m calling Robert Filliou, I repeated in a loud voice. At times I stopped the noise and Louise walked into the scene and then I continued ending with a heavy vocal performance, howling into my megaphone and establishing a transmission. “I hear you Robert, yes, I hear your voice!” At that moment something incredible happened and the long paper parts of the poetry curtain hanging on the wall started to move, float, levitate. Fillious's spirit was in the room, it was a definite sign of that. And finally, after being completely exhausted, I stopped and translated Filliou's message to the people present in the room: "There are 6 bottles of champagne in the refrigerator, open them and serve them to everyone."
RG - It has been a long time but it is never too late to say that I am sorry for your losses and I am happy for the birth of your children. Thanks for telling me about Louise Bak. Are there any other people who are relevant to you on the performance recording?
MCA - I looked at the video closely which I rarely do because I don't really like to watch myself performing due to the fact that I'm always disappointed either for the bad recording or for my bad performance. This was 22 years ago and therefore enjoyed looking at perhaps because the chronological distance that makes it look quite exciting. There are only two people in the small crowd in the room I recognize, one of them is Anna Bálint and the other is Ottó Mészáros, both of them Neoist collaborators, and important participants in historical Neoist events. In the video Ottó can be seen with a video camera, Anna is standing in the back, black medium length hair. Anna just recently died. She was instrumental in many projects, publications, events in Budapest and Berlin. She assisted me with the release of my Ady songs CD, "Heap of Ruins" in 2000 and she co-organized with me the Neoist Department Festival in Berlin, in 2004, among many other things.
Here is a group picture from the Berlin event, Anna is on the right holding a red book with a six o'clock sign. Otto, essentially a poet and performer from Slovakia, also took part in many Neoist events, starting in the end of 80s. In this group picture he is the one squatting next to me, wearing dark glasses, at the opening event of the 1997 Neoist Putsch in Budapest.
RG - I really liked "Séance Filliou", everything from my personal taste is perfect: I like the action performed, I like the sound part, I love the mask ... and the appearance of Louise Bak is like the intervention of a magician or medium. Has magic influenced in any way or at specific moments in your work, do you believe in it?
MCA - I'm having a very busy weekend here but I try to take some time to answer to this "magic equation." However before I would do it let me add just a couple of things to the previous one. I also called up the spirit of Blaster Al Ackerman during the Blasterthon in June 2013 in Baltimore (he died March 17, 2013), doing a similar type of Neoist incantation while also showing a video in which I captured the walking reality of Dr. Ackerman. I also proposed to Mark Bloch to do a Cavellini seance for the Cavellini100 in NYC but apparently there was no budget for my bus ticket from Toronto to NYC. In any case all these spirits are still quite alive and if people want to get in touch with them they should search through their own psychotronic transmission devices and not the internet.
Well, I'm back here again to tell that I have finished a message today about my relationship to magic and then deleted it by mistake, shit, and I tried all the abracadabra and hocus pocus without success. Anyway, I'll do it again in the morning.
No I won't wait until the morning, I can finish it now, maybe it will be a shorter version, but just as good. Magic bring up memories of childhood. I got a book of magic tricks when I was around 10 years old and I learned a bunch of them and performed them for my family and friends. The kids in school loved them. And I learned how to disrupt people's focusing not to reveal the secret of my tricks by using counter-gestures. In later life this skill helped me to execute illegal actions in museums by taking away the attention of the guards by using deceptive manoeuvres. I never really liked the theatrical abracadabra and hocus-pocus magician oratory, you know, those words to convince the audience about the serious business of stage magic. It made me only laugh, for me it always seemed to be a poetic joke. But I actually liked incantations and prayers and explored them in my performances. And I also like the shamanistic relations Beuys developed in his art just as well as Filliou's simple gestures of changing hats but keeping the same serious face. I also enjoyed stories about sorcerers and witches. I also employed the alchemy of Neoism, like turning blood into gold, plus my interest in body modification and sexual explorations are already enough signs to think that I am a follower of black magic and the occult philosophy of Aleister Crowley. But surprisingly enough I'm not and I never have been. Everything about him and his ideas was always too serious and religious to me, too magisterial, high-toned elitist and excessively theatrical. Though I like his motto like sentence "Do what thou wilt" but it sounds way better to me when added with "in the name of Neoism." Do what thou wilt in the name of Neoism!
RG - On several occasions, the name Robert Filliou has appeared in our MESSENGER NRP. I honestly didn't know anything about him until recently, I practically only know his business with paper hats. I'm sure some of the potential readers of our conversation will completely ignore Filliou ... What did this person mean to you, is he perhaps one of your main references? If you think you have a specific reference.
MCA - I always learned from older friends starting in my teens and throughout my early or considerable early days many older artists played important parts in my life. My friendship with Robert was extremely significant for me. We met at a time, in 1979, when I reached a stage in my life when I finally could do things I always intended to do. I was 29 years old, recently initiated Neoism in Montreal when Filliou suddenly appeared in the city to give a talk. I went to the talk and I introduced myself to him and I invited him to Vehicule Art and that's how our friendship began. I actually have written a paper about our first meeting in Montreal for a catalogue and I attach it here. I think it explains well what his friendship and collaboration meant for me.
RG - I have understood you perfectly. I think you have not told me about Vehicule Art before, was this linked to Neoism and more focused on video creation? Who murdered this and why?
MCA - I arrived in Montreal on September 14, 1977. I wasn't impressed by the city at first glance, but later I learned to like it. It was way less authoritarian than Paris or Budapest. Vehicule Art was located in downtown and a few days after my arrival I went for a visit. I already heard about it from artist friends before coming to Canada, they all told me to check it out.
From the street door a long staircase led up to the gallery space which was quite huge, especially in today's sense when only commercial galleries can afford large gallery spaces. Vehicule Art was an artist run centre, part of a network of similar non-profit organizations across Canada. These organizations were created by a new generation of artists frustrated by the lock of exhibition and promotion of their work. In opposition to the old fashioned, outmoded mainstream galleries, these new independent centres introduced the new profile and vision of experimental, interdisciplinary arts. This whole thing started in the mid sixties, Vehicle was founded in 1972 as the first of such centre in Montreal. When I arrived in 1977 Vehicle Art was THE hot place to hang out at openings and other events.
It took me only a short time to get to know everyone and get involved as active contributor. It started with poetry readings and performances. I remember exactly my first appearance at an open mic reading where everyone could read three poems in a limited time. I went to the mike and said: “I am my first poem / You are the second / And the time is the next” and repeated that for a while. Then in late 1978, after my return from Portland, I proposed an international mail-art show. I already had the brain-idea for the concept, it was accepted and I got into organizing it with full speed.
The title "Brain in the Mail" was basically a reference to mail-art as a nerve centre, the nucleus of communication, a substance of cells. But actually it also had other inspirational sources like my medical studies in Budapest and my interest in the brain as a device for direct transmission. Therefore while the main exhibition took place in the large gallery space, I also created an installation in a smaller space located next to the large one. There I displayed the conceptual basis of the exhibition, including my notes, sketches, objects and a video, all in connection of my "Brain Building and Cerebrite Project." While the "Brain in the Mail" show was an almost monumental presentation/demonstration of mail-art, my "Brain Building and Cerebrite Project" was a rather obscure, enigmatic, sci-fi manifesto of Neoism. Lots of people came to see the mail art show, it was very well received in the media, but only very few people remarked the installation in the small space which actually included the Portland UFO, the inspirational object of Neoism.
But in any case, going up on that staircase for the first time after my arrival to Montreal felt very much like the beginning of something new, like there was a secret world at the top of the stairs. But it was only an empty gallery space, nothing on the walls or on the floor. I went into the other room and there was a video on a small b/w screen. It was an art video exploring certain aspects of the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec/Quebec Liberation Front), the militant rhetoric of the separatist paramilitary group. Of course in my mind it was immediately translated to my memories of the Russian occupation of Hungary. My affinity with the French Québécois art community started right there without having contacts yet, without knowing anyone yet.
RG - Do you still have that sensation of going into something secret when you see something new or when you go somewhere else? Or has that capacity for surprise disappeared from art and from the world in general?
MCA - Your question is good even if it somewhat interrupts my subject. Yes, I'm looking for surprises, sensations, all the time. Surprise is one of the foundations of life. I'm quite surprised that I'm alive, after so many years of struggle for reaching the top of the stairs. Haha. If that would disappear from art then art would also disappear. I traveled extensively throughout my life and there were no shortages in surprises. It's not even about secrecy, it's about searching, experience and learning. Always searching for something new is a Neoist attitude, even if there is nothing new. "Everything is new, everything is old, gold turns into blood, blood turns into gold" is a Neoist axiom, perhaps also a cliché. Vehicle Art was a great surprise for me in 1977, but unfortunately it disappeared about six years later.
I opened the Neoist Research Center (NRC) under the umbrella of Vehicule Art in 1980, in a tiny part of a storage room, just big enough for a small desk and a couple of chairs. Those were the idyllic times of Neoism, I mean when negation triumphed. We lived in a kind of revolting illusion that our takeover will become actually victorious and the art=life formula will replace reality. This is still a work in progress. But that small room became the centre of a world wide network, the nest of Neoist Spider Web, the HQ of the conspiracy. If it wasn't documented and it wasn't witnessed by so many collaborators probably nobody would believe it because the official system of art and culture always tried to make it look like that it was just some insignificant rebelliousness of a few punks.
Let me finish this section and end the story of Vehicle Art for now. Because of problems with administration and some hard time between members of the board of directors, the organization got criticized from both the local art community and the Canada Council of the Arts. It was a huge mistake and very dictatorial decision from the Canada Council to cut off all the help immediately and without much negotiations, and basically kill an organization that was one of Canada's leading non-profit art centre with an important history. I started this discourse with that FLQ video and now end it with this disaster in which Canada's leading corporate art advocates played a principal part.
RG - But, is it not preferable that art is independent of public administrations? Here in Spain, I think that in many other countries, there is the disease of subventions. Can you imagine Neoism sponsored by the Canadian government or by UNESCO?
MCA - Yes I can. But only in a fully creative, innovative, pioneering society without a government as we know it. Neoism could be sponsored by public funding, but we don't live in this kind of imaginary, idealistic, utopian society. In any case Neoism has never been an officially established organization, we were always completely independent, doing everything on our own as a group of people without being bond by law. All the Neoist events were always independently organized by individuals using whatever available means. We never made any profit and if we made some money that was immediately invested in projects and used up for daily survival. But that's not to say that artists should not receive money for projects and living. The fact that an artist always has to live under the worst conditions and must have a second job to survive really sucks. Fuck that. Why do I have to do construction work or house painting or serve in a bar or drive a taxi or be a sex worker or sell drugs to survive, to pay my rent and eat? Why can't I be just a good for nothing artist? Less money should go to the military, to the secret police, to authoritarian government organization and bureaucratic officials, to big corporate businesses and more to creative, revolutionary individuals. With the technology and resources we have today we could create a paradise where everybody could live at a high standard. But greed and stupidity makes it impossible. The world is fucked up. Fuck the world!
RG - Now everything seems calmer but ... Has COVID-19 conditioned your art or have you been thinking about this pandemic and future ones?
MCA - Epidemics were part of my childhood. In the 50s polio was the most threatening one that left a huge population of children disabled. In Hungary a monster wave of infections happened right after the disastrous events of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution which was crushed by the Soviets. While tons of people escaped to the West from the Soviet military invasion, a massive epidemic of poliovirus descended on the already suffering country increasing the national tragedy to the maximum. We kids were lined up in school and received the vaccine that was basically a weakened live virus that created an immune reaction. Of course our parents feared that it might not work but rather spread the disease. So these early disastrous situations trained my generation for more future catastrophes. Growing up in a country of destruction, blood, ruins and epidemics it was therefore normal that I became sensitive to the vision of apocalyptic events. This strong childhood experience surfaced in my youth through my ways of thinking and rhetoric, and ruled my poetry, art and philosophy, and, finally it lead me to Neoism. So this Covid situation is not really new for me, my work was always about disaster. My early Neoist manifestos are filled with warnings about disasters. In fact that was the motto of the recent May/2019 event commemorating 40 years of Neoism: TOTAL DISASTER. And here it is. And there will be way more, more massive and devastating events, you don't have to be a Nostradamus to foresee it, all the Monty Cantsins around the world can confirm it.
RG - Consulting the term poetry on the internet, I obtain this definition: Literary composition that is conceived as an artistic expression of beauty through the word, especially that which is subject to the measure and cadence of the verse. What is poetry for you, if this can be explained?
MCA - Poetry is the essence of everyday life from getting up in the morning to going to sleep in the night, singing revolutionary songs throughout the day at home or in the streets, it is the motherboard of hunger, misery, ruins, riots, graffiti, shit, crap, blood, disaster, sex, inhaling and exhaling, and everything else, without end, cribs and gravestones, accumulation, a monolith with all the accumulating information, confusion, chaos, disorder, the tower of Babel, fuck it, fuckoff, long live the unexplainable poetry of Neoism!
RG - What about flowers opening in the early hours of a sunny day, a flock of migratory birds at the end of summer, raindrops gently pounding on the window panes of a dim room, watch carefully as the tide rises, bivalve mollusks traveling in it next to shrimp, algae, pieces of crystals polished by thousands of erosions while the reflected light of the sun tells you: sleep?
MCA - You seem to be in a very fairy tale, exotic mood, Rafael. Maybe the remote island where you live has an idealistic atmosphere. Here, in the post-urban-jungle the struggle goes on and on and on. Never sleep! Like the immortals in Akademgorod, the Promised Land of Neoism. They never sleep. I tried a couple of times but four days was the max.
RG - That must be true. We have already talked a bit about this ... psychogeography and the like, I think. I had never heard of Akademgorod ... what is this land like?
MCA - In 1982, during the 5th Neoist Apartment Festival in NYC, Napoleon Moffat, a poet and an early member of the Neoists in Montreal, proposed "the crusade for Akademgorod."
In his short text "The Legitimacy of Akademgorod" he wrote: "I am in search for Akademgorod. I'm still searching for Akademgorod. Akademgorod is the city of scientists in Russia, in Siberia. It is a city built for destruction. It is also a city where all the brains of Russia thinks and creates the END." The vision of the end of the world was part of our everyday reality in the early 80s, you know, the nuclear apocalypse, the Cold War. Napoleon proposed to find the city of Akademgorod "and by being there justify the city." He declared that "Neoists are living, are surviving by eating high technology." Let’s feed us with high technology instead of killing us, very paradoxical, sarcastic idea.
His proposal was accepted by everyone. We were at Washington Square, standing right at the gate while Napoleon read his manifesto, it was kind of gigantic moment. The most provocative part of his declaration was that we all knew that we'll never get to Akademgorod, because it was impossible. But we accepted it because it was a perfectly Neoist concept. So I added to our next Five Year Plan to find the City of Akademgorod, the Promised Land of Neoism. And thus Akademgorod became a central speculative, cognitive basis of Neoism. And still it is.
RG - Are there plans, travel books, articles, photographs of Akademgorodok?
MCA - The reality of Akademgorod (or Akademgorodok) always remained fictional and as such a speculative place, and it inspired Neoists to create the mythology of Akademgorod. Boris Wanowitch of CGC (Computer Graphics Conspiracy) especially put efforts into the design of the city based only on his own fantasy and Neoist principles. Boris aka Pierre Zovilé, was born in Paris, studied architecture at the University of Laval in Québec city, joined Neoism in 1981 in Montreal at age 25 and became a main protagonist of the movement. My co-habitant at the Neoist Embassy for several years, we collaborated on the blueprint of the Neoist cosmogony, that included the architectural plans of the City of Akademgorod. The idea that Napoleon provided with his poetical introduction in NYC developed into a Neoist fabrication, a visionary urban folklore promoting the theory of "open situation" a concept that was similar to T.A.Z. (Temporary Autonomous Zone) formulated by Hakim Bey, in 1985. And indeed there are many different speculative articles written about Akademgorod, including also the real story of the city but always reshaped through Neoist rhetoric.
RG - What has been the neoist performance or action that you are most satisfied with or that you still have in mind? I would also like to know what has been the most frustrating moment, artistically speaking. Frustration is also a good boost, right?
MCA - Today actually I was contemplating on past events, works, my relationship with the art world. I actually made some notes because my show at Howl! Happening in NYC is supposed to happen at the end of September /2020 and it is kind of stressful situation because of the present disaster at every level of life. Who knows if this show will happen, it's uncertain like everything else. I actually feel very privileged that I could spend most of my life with making art without being stressed about exhibiting in museums or sell my work to collectors. I feel very lucky that the art market and the related art system is absolutely unimportant for me, for my everyday life, for my survival. Being critical of it is another thing, a different aspect.
I had a few larger exhibitions from time to time in different countries in Europe, North America and Asia and received awards as well, but most art I created is in my own storage and studio spaces and I really enjoy this rare situation of being able to permanently live and perform in my own retrospective exhibition.
I'm basically satisfied with everything I have done, all the shit I have created, long term projects like my Blood Campaign and especially all things I have done in the name of Neoism and Monty Cantsin. I can tell you that I'm not frustrated at all and I rather feel today that staying overlooked and being outlawed is my greatest accomplishment, something I earned with lots of efforts and struggle.
Of course I'm part of an important network of creators, the independent, semi-underground artist web where I like to belong. I call myself a submerging artist and I enjoy my days in deep shit. I also have fun performing in the remaining small venues where the kind of crap and noise I like to do is appreciated.
Arrests can be frustrating but they are necessary parts of my museum interventions, and I actually get a kick out of them, you know, being arrested is quite a captivating performance and I enjoy the whole process of the spectacle.
RG - I hope your show at Howl! can be done. I imagine that you will always have several projects in mind. Do you conscientiously plan your projects or many times chance intervenes decisively?
MCA - Most of the time I plan my projects before executing them, especially my museum interventions, as you can read it in the above Köln Gift document, as an example. Of course chance intervenes no matter how well you plan and execute. It's part of the deal, you have to incorporate it into your action you like it or not, that's how it works. And most of the time unplanned moments are the strongest parts of the final piece. I embrace them, leave place for them. I can also always adjust details as I go ahead with the action. Even when you do an officially organized gallery installation things never turn out exactly according to plans. It's not like hanging a framed painting on the wall. Let me also include some visual examples.
RG - If you had not been Istvan Kantor - Monty Cantsin Amen who would you have liked to have been?
MCA - First let's clear this up if it wasn't clear until now: Monty Cantsin is only a name, anyone can use it and do everything in the name of Monty Cantsin, that's important to know. I also use many other names besides Monty Cantsin and Amen and Istvan Kantor, I think we already talked about that. I'm fine to be known by any or all of these names. These names signify a person that is me and I'm fine to be me. You spend a whole life developing yourself through learning and to train and sculpt yourself through exercising. I always had many idols and heroes, men and women and all kind of "extraterrestrials" I met through my wanderings. I admired them and I learned from all of them. There were so many different people, fishermen, revolutionaries, soldiers, scientists, artists, beggars, musicians, cooks, philosophers, paramedics, criminals, indigenous people, strippers, runners... I always had a hard time to decide what to do with my life. My father told me to focus on one thing only but I wanted to do everything. Most of all I always wanted to be a revolutionary. Che Guevara was one of my greatest idols in my teens. I wanted to become somebody like him. But I also wanted to be a shepherd, like the one I used to see every morning from the window of our country house as he was conducting a herd of cows to the bank of the Danube.
RG - Yes, it was clear that Monty Cantsin is just a name ... but I wanted you to tell me, as you have, about some of your heroes or the people you would have liked to be. From your words I deduce that you are not only surrounded, in your private life, by artists and conspirators, but that many of your friends have nothing to do with art, right? Or is art everywhere?
MCA - Here we are facing the ultimate concept of Joseph Beuys: everybody is an artist. He meant that we are all creators, creating our social sculpture, our society. He pushed art further than Duchamp did. But for most people this idea remained very unclear since for them the term artist meant a painter or sculptor or anyone who makes decorative objects. To make this situation less complicated, or maybe more complicated, we just dropped the terms art and artist and I started using the terms Neoism and Neoist, therefore we ultimately got rid of the problem of art. And always made sure to tell everyone that Neoism was NOT a new art movement and it's not part of the historical Avantgarde. The term Neoist describes somebody who is not necessarily an artist, but a creative person working in any kind of fields. So instead of calling someone a pizza artist, someone who makes new kind of creative, edible art, we call this person a Neoist. Or instead of calling a doctor, who heals people through a new kind of treatment, a healing artist, we use the term Neoist. "Wow, doctor, you are such a great Neoist" we compliment his/her work when we get out from the hospital. On the other hand, to be a Neoist you dont have to do something different and extraordinary, you can do the same old shit but you have to do it in the name of Neoism. So you see Neoism is also a platform to get things done. While nobody was interested in your water-colour paintings on paper when you were a landscape painter, now that you are making them in the name of Neoism and signing them Monty Cantsin you get many invitations to exhibit your otherwise meaningless water-colours. I'm of course, as you probably realized it, joking and making fun of things which is also an essential part of Neoism. When people think too traditionally and insist on old fashion ideas then creativity gets diminished, reduced to nothing. Like thinking that by exhibiting in a museum you are a great artist is one of the biggest mistakes. Museums are outmoded institutions copying each other, constructing prison or mausoleum like buildings which usually cost them hundreds of millions if not billions of dollar. It's not very creative and not Neoist at all. Neoists usually use very little money and they can make art in the streets, and basically anywhere. This whole art and artist idea is way overrated, overblown. Art stars are the most ridiculous people, greedy and stupid. Didn't Duchamp also say it somewhere? Maybe he said it in a different way like "stupid like a painter" which is an old French insult "bête comme un peintre." All the misery in the world is caused by greed and stupidity. When I launched my Neoist slogan "Stop Misery" with a poster campaign in the streets in NYC, in 1986, I also meant "start revolting" because that's the only way to eliminate misery, greed and stupidity.
Monty Cantsin and Gen Ken on WFMU
RG - Do you remember when you started using the megaphone? What does it mean to you?
MCA - The megaphone has an important history in my experimentation with music / voice / sound / noise and it is a dominant instrument in my live performances since the 80s. It resulted in a major audio-visual production "THE ANTI-CYCLES OF MEGAPHONY (1986- 1996") exploring the megaphone as a voice based communication device and hyper-sonic "musical" instrument. I have written a lot about my various explorations of noise and I'll attach here an essay "Accumulations" that explains everything from "bureauphony" to "megaphony" and "frigophony" and even more, and perhaps way better than I could do it here right now. Unlike a violin or even a guitar the megaphone was always a problematic instrument to travel with as at the borders they you are a suspect for carrying a megaphone for obvious reasons, you know, the megaphone suggesting trouble, protest, disorder, agitation, revolt or disturbing the peace. Of course for me too it means all these and way more, and that's one of the main reasons why the megaphone is so representative of our epoch and so fitting as a stage instrument. But I use it in a different way than most people. I don't just talk or yell into it but I use my lips and tongue on the membrane of the megaphone and blow it like it was wind instrument, like a trumpet. Unfortunately the new types of megaphones use newer technology which don't work this way because the metal membrane and piezo pickups were changed with plastic cover and tiny microphones and these won’t create the same sound than the old fashion megaphones did when you licked, sucked and blew the membrane.
RG - Nineveh and Babylon? What are these ancient cities doing in Neoist mythology?
MCA - Hey Rafael, this question again relates to a complex project and years of life events. Yes, Nineveh and Babylon are ancient cities from Mesopotamia, a part of the world that is also known as "The Cradle of Culture." But I have to add also Jericho that is also part of my trilogy of "lost cities" or, as I titled the finale work: The Anti-Cities Trilogy. It's basically three medium length new media videos, but they represent much more. Jericho, Babylon and Nineveh are also the names of my three kids, born in the 90s in Toronto, now they are in their mid and late 20s, actually Jericho just reached 30. Anyway, I'll tell you more later when I get back to my office and can pull up some documents from my computer. I'm in one of my garage studios right now trying to create some order in my archive which eventually always turns into even more disorder.
RG - It's true, I remember the names of your three kids... but the names of these cities (Jericho also, yes) I have seen them in several of your documents and I wondered about their importance and meaning within the Neoist activities.
MCA - So let's continue with the ancient cities and my new family, Jericho, Babylon and Nineveh. By the mid 80s the new technological explosion started dominating every aspect of life and I got more and more involved with technological aspects of art as well. I became particularly interested in the ultimate technological organization: the city. This interest was especially strong because of the negative sides of living in the city, the increasing problems I had to face with daily survival because of gentrification. We, artists aka low or no income people, started losing our living spaces because of the victory of bulldozers, I mean real-estate. They started erasing the old warehouse buildings where we lived paying cheap or no rent. This very disturbing situation led me back to the ancient world, to the beginning, the forming of technological organization and I started researching "the cradle of civilization." Of course civilization started also at many other parts of the world, like for example India, China or South America, but I had a particular interest in Mesopotamia. To analyze the destructive nature of creation first I "visited" Jericho, well known for being the first large city surrounded by a wall. I translocated the biblical legend to contemporary society with an illegal alien, Joe Shoe (Joshua), in the centre of the story, who was of course me. My son Jericho who was born while I was working on the project got the same name and he became also part of the storyline. I told the story through the use of computer animation, employing a personal computer, which at that time was a very new way of making video. I finished it in 1991 and with that I basically began not only a new decade but also a new project and working period. "Jericho" was followed by "Babylon" in 1994 and "Nineveh" in 1997. Let's note that Jericho, my first child, was born in 1990, Babylon, my second son, in 1992 and Nineveh, my daughter, in 1995. Their mom, Krista Goddess, was my long term partner in crime starting in the 80s, an excellent dancer / model / performance artist. But nothing stays for ever, cities disappear, relationships end.
Here are two video stills from Jericho, and photo of me at the site of the remains of the ancient city and I attach a pdf of the Trilogy catalogue page.
And with the kids.
And production stills of Babylon and Nineveh. Performer in Babylon is Alexander Chapman, in Nineveh is Angela Idealism, and she and me.
RG - I'm going to try not to look for many meanings but now I can't help it ... burning irons, six o'clock and hangers.
MCA - "burning irons, six o'clock and hangers", well, we are going into the endless landscape of Neoist Cosmogony... I'll try to do a brief summing-up, sometime soon, maybe tomorrow, too much history, theory, philosophy, ...
If you already had the chance to look through the previous pdf I sent you "Accumulations" in that I explained my interest in the coat hanger. "In my
interpretation the coat hanger as headgear-antenna represents my increasing fascination with extrasensory communication (telepathy, psychotronics, psychokinesis) as well as my continuous resistance to the domination of technology."
I also gave a short outline of the history related to this commonly used object, a post-Duchampian boring readymade, turned into an iconic and exciting Neoist accessory. So I guess there is no need for more explanation, but I can add that I still love to wear the hanger as a head gear and psychotronic antenna. Try it!
Both the wire coat hanger and the iron surfaced as Neoist performance objects in 1980. Both objects were used before by others in earlier times, like for example Man Ray's iron with the nails on its bottom and the wire hanger as TV antenna or a perfect arts and craft material for kids. What I mean is that their value is not in originality but in their reuse. In that sense recycling Duchamp's original readymades would be the ultimate Neoist performance. They already have lost their values as art objects anyway if we follow and accept Duchamp's 50 years sentence. I think I already over-explained the steam iron's Neoist function earlier in this conversation, didn't I ? Let me add that the iron is an altar-object in every Neoists' home. The Neoist Altar has to be in a conspicuous place in the living room. The main objects on the altar are the iron, a bottle of rubber cement and matches. But you can also display other things on the altar according to your own choice. Visitors are encouraged to set the iron on fire with the use of the rubber cement. They can smear some rubber cement on the bottom of the iron and then use the matches to light it on fire. The rubber cement is very flammable substance but it's easy to control from dripping and from burning down the house. The flaming iron is a perfect revolutionary torch for housewives sentenced to ironing men's shirts throughout their lives. Here is a short video clip of a flaming iron ceremony on YouTube that.
Here is a pdf with more info about the flaming iron and other Neoist antics.
Here on this picture my Neoist conspirator, partner in crime, theoretical writer, Eszter Jagica, holds a sixoclock sign. What is to decipher in this picture is the other sixoclock arrow on her pregnant body between her breasts and genital. The double sided vertical arrow of the clock was originally the Rivington School’s official insignia, and when I joined the School in 1986 I adapted it for Neoism. It symbolizes the end of linear history and introduces vertical reality. Past=Present=Future. Everything is happening simultaneously at “sixoclock.” 6 o’clock is happy hour when everything ends and begins. 6 o’clock is when you do what you like, what you want. It’s always 6oclock!
And let me attach another document that is an interview with me from 1983 which I altered somehow, changed names. If you have time to read this you will remark some differences in my expressions about Neoism then and now but you'll also remark that all the basic ideas were set quite clearly. You might find some parts controversial and even unacceptable but you also have to consider the time frame. The early 80s were very different times, there was a strong emerging disgust among young people because of the sickening authoritarian society.
RG - I have seen a photo of you with Jonas Mekas. I do not know the situation behind this photo, although it seems a happy moment ... What was your relationship with this film director, did you do any collaboration?
MCA - Oh, yes, well, you know, let me say first that I was lucky that I've met many of those artists I idolized when I was young and they were already "Great Artists." He was one of them. And what is also kind of interesting that basically I never run after these iconic heroes, but I meet them by chance. That's how it happened with Jonas Mekas, we met at the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen / International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen, Germany, in April/1993. One of the festival curators, Günter Minas, introduced us. We both received some special awards, I got the INTER-FILM AWARD for my video "BARRICADES." Jonas has shown one of his amazing flickering, jumping, out-of-focus, deliberately "badly made" beautiful Super 8 films which was one of the featured short films. Maybe you saw our picture in the Brooklyn Rail article written by Daniel Baird?
RG - On your website too but this is a great article/interview.
MCA - The Mekas film was one of his many diaries, fully including all the avant-garde /underground qualities he was famous for, sorry but I can't remember exactly which one. My video was about the infamous Tompkins Square Riot, or rather its post-mortem event when the police barricaded the entire park for weeks, or rather months, maybe for a year? I can't remember, but I made this video from a car riding around the park and showing the policeman and police barricades around the park. It was a pure, perfect, authentic fucked up moment of total disaster. When a park is surrounded by armed policemen is a sign of totalitarian dictatorship. Anyway, Jonas invited me to submit some of my new videos for his program at Anthology Film Archives in NYC which I did and they were all shown. Back in those days in the late 80s and early 90s I also got into touch with Alexander Kluge basically through similar way. I mention this because Kluge had an important part in the post-war German cinema and he was the one who initiated the "Oberhausen Manifesto" in 1962. So Oberhausen was a very important place in the history of new German filmmaking. I was lucky to meet Kluge and work with him on several video /performance projects in the 90s. He invited me to his Munich studio which resulted many short videos and interviews. They were all shot in a small kitchen in his office/apartment in Münich. I was very impressed by that, it was true Neoist style filmmaking. Some of them were shown in his television series. I even got paid really well. He planned to make the short pieces he produced through the few years of our collaboration into a feature length piece but then he got busy with other projects and I guess it wasn't done.
RG - Thanks Monty, I must confess that I did not know Alexander Kluge. Did you also make some movies with Gérard Courant? I have been able to find one on YouTube.
MCA - Haha, Rafael, thanks for the discovery, I have never seen this. I can definitely see that it was shot in my studio on Richmond street in Toronto, but I can't remember it, fuck, or maybe I do, yes, but it's very hazy, he just ran into my studio and he said he only had a few minutes to make a movie with me and I said ok, let’s do it. And I never met Gérard Courant again…unfortunately. However it's a perfect visual for our current subject matter, you know, from iconic Neoist objects to collaborations.... I love it!.This is the only "production" I probably have done with him.
RG - When was the last time you saw Anna Banana?
MCA - Anna had a show here in Toronto in the fall/2017 organized by Kunstverein Toronto and we met at the closing event, on oct 13th. This attached picture tells more.
I just returned from NYC the day before where I was going to meet Richard Hambleton, but unfortunately it didn't happen. As always Richard again postponed our scheduled interview. But I had a nice time with Anna. We actually got to know each other at about the same time when I became friends with Richard Hambleton, also through mail art, around 1976/77. And all this happened because of David Zack who pulled me into mail-art. Another proof that mail-art was a such a powerful network!
And the magazine, VILE, we are holding also had a lot to do with mail art. The name VILE basically derived from FILE, another marginal/underground publication by the Toronto based artist group General Idea. It was a networking magazine and its look was a parody of LIFE magazine. VILE was initiated and published by Anna and her then partner in crime Bill Gaglione, in 1974, in San Francisco. Both FILE and VILE were spread fast as alternative, marginal, underground publications and became popular among mail artists. This resulted other similar kind of publications like BILE and NILE magazines for example, and, in the mid 80s, the Neoist propaganda zine SMILE took over the scene and induced another series of home made, self-published, cheaply produced mail art zines. I have a large collection of these in my archive. That was a brilliant time, the bloody age of plagiarism.
RG - Were you involved in SMILE? I always thought that this zine was made in London.
MCA - Yes, of course. I mean I organized the 1984 Neoist Apartment Festival in London, better known as APT 8, with the collaboration of R.U.Sevol and Pete Horobin. I'm not going to tell the story of APT 8 here, I just note that one of the results of the event was the publication of SMILE magazine by Stewart Home, a very ambitious smart kid, who joined Neoism during APT8 to became a traitor to Neoism about a year later at the 9th Neoist Apartment Festival in Ponte Nossa, Italy. Stewart was able to fuck up the Neoist Network within a short time and initiate an alienation process between the Neoists. I approve that his SMILE magazine was quite a smashing publication that definitely increased the subversive potential of Neoism, however his attack on me and the early gang of Neoists broke up our unity. Home was very influenced by the historical avant-garde and especially by the Situationists, if you read his SMILEs you can immediately remark that. I learned my lessons about avant-garde art movements but never gave a fuck about their ways of doing things. Home was fascinated by the fights between the Situationists and especially Guy Debord’s concept of expelling from the movement those he didn’t like. My concept was "Once Neoist Forever Neoist," I didn't want to break relationships with my conspirators or expel anyone from Neoism, you know, I grew up in a Communist country and learned enough about how the party members killed each other and also their own people, I saw the Soviet tanks invading Budapest and crushing the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. Home was clever enough to subvert our network and to gain immediate personal fame out of his dogmatic/pragmatic texts. That gave him access for publishing books in which he starred himself as the principal ideologue of Neoism. I wouldn't give a fuck about it but unfortunately many of my really good friends and conspirators broke relationship with me under the influence of Home and they temporarily or forever became my enemies. However and in spite of all this shit the Berlin event in 1986 was an amazing accomplishment in every sense of Neoism. Under the local leading force of Graf Haufen we created a one week Neoist manoeuvre monument that spread through all the underground venues of Berlin. By then SMILE magazine was an internationally published publication independently from the London based Smile, printed and distributed by many different Neoist conspirators, each adding their own individual concepts to it.
As you can see Neoism and its history always remained in underground darkness and that's a very good sign because it means that it was never institutionalized and forced under economic authority which always happens to artists and art movements. Of course it was also our own purpose to keep it this way, far away from the mainstream culture but being part of collaborating networks of the same kind. Of course most of the movements of the historical avant-garde were against the mainstream at their very beginnings but then they got protected by museums, galleries, collectors, etc because they wanted to get out of their misery and the institutions needed to fill their exhibition spaces with new stuff. What saved us from that is probably our firm anti-institutional resistance to never become part of any art systems, stayed away from the Avantgarde history, in fact always declared that we are NOT artists. One of my favourite recordings of this declaration of is on an album by the Portland based underground noise band SMEGMA, “GLAMOUR GIRL 1941.” It includes a song/statement by me “I AM NOT ARTIST!” which I improvised with the band in their basement studio during my time in Portland, in 1978. And our love of misery also helped a lot!!! And also because we always insulted them, rejected their ideas, made them look stupid, and defaced their walls with blood. However, in spite of all, when we all will be gone they will dig out our remains, pull out all the shit from our coffins and create a huge pile of shit, a heap of ruins, I mean a retrospective exhibition. Uh, well, we can already laugh of that, the ending part of our Permanent Disaster, our final demise. hahahahabruhahahagrioehehejehujahujasnndklaksbduehjbas cjhbwjdcjsbnc j xk xjhahaha........
P.S. Let me just add that actually it's way harder NOT to get into museum collections than to be exhibited in their "new acquisitions" display / it takes way more efforts to be left out from featured group shows than to be a selected participant / it's a way bigger challenge to give them the finger and say fuckoff to their retrospective exhibition proposal than sign an actual contract as a slave… / As a young artist you might dream about to see one day your monumental self-portrait on canvas in the middle of the entrance hall of a world renowned museum, but the real glory is when next to the museum security desk a fading b/w photocopy of your mugshot is pinned to the wall.