Chat conversation between Rafael González and Monty Cantsin Amen — September 12 – November 02 , 2020
RG - Why didn't you go to the USA with Zsuzsa? Have you had any news of her
MCA - Zsuzsa is from a family of Holocaust survivors. After our arrival to Paris she got support immediately from an organization that helped jewish refugees from Eastern Europe to immigrate to the USA. Her brother already lived there. So six month later she was gone. I stayed and continued my struggle living under horrible circumstances.
Of course it was also a powerful learning experience, you know, the fascinating misery of a beatnik dropout street singer. What kept me alive were the phone calls with Zsuzsa from a public phone booth where you could make long distance calls with only one franc for hours. The trick was to attach a thread to the coin and hold it back from falling. Meanwhile I applied for permanent residency in France and I also signed up for immigration to USA, Canada and Australia. Canada was the fastest for organizing my papers. A couple of weeks before my departure I also received my permanent residency in France. But I was already determined to leave. I auctioned my belongings to friends and took a plane from Brussels to Montreal. Oh, and just before I left I have seen an amazing Duchamp retrospective at the Beauburg (Centre Georges Pompidou). That was my reward for all the torment in Paris.
Zsuzsa visited me in Montreal not too long after my arrival. But by then she had a new boyfriend and I think she came only to test if she was still in love with me. The test happened to be negative. Later I realized that Zsuzsa's mission was to lead me out from a hopeless existence and take me on the road to Neoism.
Zsuzsa and me, selfie, 1973, bed-in action, Budapest.
RG - You recently celebrated the birthday of your daughter Nineveh. What cannot be missing on a Neoist, birthday? Is it possible to turn something as endearing as a loved one's birthday celebration into a Neoist event?
MCA - It's inevitable. My kids were born into Neoism and they were always part of it. Their births were Neoist celebrations and they grew up holding up flaming irons. We are a renegade Neoist family also known as the Kantor Family Circus. We participated at many international performance art events always joined by other Neoists. Fire is always part of a Neoist event in some forms. Fire, the first and most important technology in human history, was plundered by Prometheus from the gods and he gave it to humans. For his prank he was sentenced to eternal torment. In this greek mythology you can find some of the basic components of Neoism: sacrifice, plunder, prank, torment, fire, blood…
RG - Is it important that birthday parties are held at six o'clock?
MCA - Yes, I mean no. I mean it cant even be otherwise 'cause in Neoism it's always 6oclock!
RG - Have you ever used the I Ching as a method of creation, like John Cage did, but in a Neoist way, or does Neoism have its own method of guidance and divination or this matter is incompatible with you?
MCA - Here we go, a very essential question. Yes, the I Ching, translated in English as The Book of Changes, included in the list of many, maybe endless number of books, forming the base for Neoism. I mention always that Neoism greedily wolfs down everything only to get sick and puke. It's not because we are often unrespectfully bitching and assaulting but rather because we want to suck in everything possible that can be reused under the term Neoism. And if you analyze Neoist philosophy you will remark the essence of divination through the mythological engagement of the 14 Secret Masters of the World as well as the importance of numbers which is also remarkable in Neoism just like in I Ching.
Just to bring up two examples. But I cant say that we worked with I Ching as a method of creation like John Cage did. No. You know these ancient philosophies like Taoism and Buddhism are very visible dominate Neoism. When I met John Cage on January 16th, 1979 in Montreal after a talk/concert at the University of Concordia I handed him my homeless passport to sign it at the visa section. First he said "No, I cant do that, you might have trouble at the border." "I already have trouble at the borders" I said "Your signature will be my permanent visa." He laughed and signed it. He obviously preferred humour and wit over authority, which is also a Duchampian position, and for sure an irrefutable substance of Neoism.
In spirit and certain concepts John Cage is part of Neoism, in methods we are quite different. However, I can point to such Neoist conspirator like tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE who is definitely the closest example for exploring John Cage's methods in his compositions and writings. Neoism is about constant changes so it's impossible not to be connected to I Ching. At least in cognitive perception of the fucked up world.
RG - You have already told me about tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE , but not in
relation to the method close to John Cage ... is there a document or recording available as an example of what you are talking about?
MCA - There are tons. He produces all the time, ceaselessly. I mean he is a perfect example of the “everything is art” concept
This might be familiar:
RG - What can you tell me about Drazsé Expressz? Do you remember the musical equipment, songs, performances and reactions from the public and the authorities?
MCA - After each show we got banned. Soon we were banned from all the clubs. That was, of course, our ultimate purpose. Mission accomplished. Drazsé Expressz was basically a prank band, an anti-music orchestra, devoted to criminal mischief. Very few of us knew how to play music and those who knew had to play on an instrument they were not aloud to play on it. Sometimes we were a rock band and sometimes an extended quartet playing on acoustic instruments. But most of the time it was an out of control chaotic happening ending with the aggressive interruption by the club managers. The most interesting part for us was to convince them to let us play. We usually told at the door that that we were a new band and we would like to play during the break for a short time. Then the manager came and we explained that we just started a new band and we needed experience on stage and of course we play for free. It usually worked. When we were on stage we immediately untuned all the instruments, pushed the amps to the max. Usually we started with "Speedy Gonzales", our favourite song, which of course we played in our own "arrangements." Sometime before we could even finish the first song we were already forcefully pulled off from stage by security and immediately kicked out. That was our greatest success. The public actually often liked us for raising hell on stage, they thought we were part of the programme. Other time we ended up with fights. But we always disappeared in time before the police would come. However the group was broken up when we became watched by secret police agents and our gang infiltrated by informers and agent provocateurs. It was a tragic demise. The golden years of Drézse Expressz were between 1969 and 1972.
On the small blue Drazsé flyer it reads: "We only profit from 10% of our cognitive power."
It was six years before the explosion of punk and they were parallel events with western happenings / fluxus subculture. Yes this photo from much later, 1996 in Budapest at one of my returns with two original members, New-New and Misi, both of them unfortunately dead .
If we are already here we might just continue exploring the roots and talk about early experiences in music in Hungary. But of course it's your turn to come up with a question.
RG - I think it's correct. Sometimes I jump from the search for roots to aesthetic theory, Neoist in this case. Were there more projects in Hungary similar to the one developed by your band or was this an isolated case? Was there an audience for this kind of music and / or art, people organized performances, publishing fanzines, etc?
MCA - Drazsé Expressz was pretty much a unique and isolated activity in its time. It was a method of art in the form of noise based subversion. Of course in visual art this type of anti-art was practiced by a larger subcultural, underground community. The theatre works of Peter Halász and the happenings of Tamás Szentjobi were probably the most significant. You can find information online about the 60s and 70s Hungarian avant-garde art. Before zines there were samizdats, typewritten, completely handmade publications distributed from artists to artists through networks of friends. Mail art also played an important role in this. As I said before I didnt know about mail-art until I met David Zack in 1976 when he visited Budapest, but other artists of a somewhat older generation
practiced it already in the late 60s early 70s. Because Eastern Europe was cut off from international communication by the "Iron Curtain" information about what was happening elsewhere was delayed or unavailable. And when something new was initiated it was immediately censured and banned. But in spite of all there was a strong underground art community in Hungary, a very inspiring counter-culture that is now part of art history. But interestingly enough the Drazsé Expressz didn't made it into this official written history. It mostly remained an oral legend. One of the reasons for that perhaps is the fact that most of the Drazse aficionados later on became doctors and lawyers and left the arts. And most of those who didnt then turned into alcoholics and lost interest. I was lucky that I escaped and took the Drazsé spirit with me . I’m still motivated by it.
RG - I understand that Drazsé Expressz was primarily a live action project, but were you able to do any recording?
MCA - In those times of the Drazsé Expressz live recording was not easy to produce like it is today. We didnt have digital technology yet, and the old expensive analog portable equipments belonged to professionals. So no, we don’t have sound recordings of live shows. Though a couple of times some radio reporters recorded our happenings and very short parts were diffused on radio as horrible examples of juvenile behaviour by talentless musicians, which made us laugh. Plus their commentaries actually made us more infamous. Not doing recordings at our shows was also a certain protection for us. Remember that this happened under dictatorial rules and any art that wasn't celebrating the political system was considered treacherous, subversive, criminal act. We were the enemies of the State. Remember the term "degenerate art" used by the nazis, the communist police system used the same kind of vocabulary.
And in any case if we have recorded in a studio it would never reproduce the ambience of our live guerrilla performance. Many years later, at some of my return, we did some studio recordings of songs in the name of Drazsé Expressz but for me they always sounded like betrayals of the original concept. The Drazsé was slaughtered by the authorities. Some members were pushed into misery, some even killed themselves because they were harassed, black mailed by the secret police. There is no way to resurrect the Drazsé, but it survives in the history of Neoism. Some of the recordings we made with the Monty Cantsin ISM.b.band and SMEGMA in 1978 in Portland have the Drazsé spirit, just like many 80s noise bands like DEMO-MOE in New York or PHYCUS, the Neoist Machine Group, in Montreal (originally from Halifax).
RG - Why did David Zack go to Budapest and why him specifically?
MCA - When David came to Budapest he was already an internationally known
communication artist and had an important position as a mail-art propagandist and writer. But nobody knew that David was sent to Budapest by the 14 Secret Masters of the World on a special mission to find someone for the Monty Cantsin open-pop-star role. He was not only a mail artist but also a secret agent hired by the 14SM and sent to Hungary to look for the right person, someone like me, who had lots of free time and energy to waste on seemingly useless ideas and who could be instrumental to convince the rest of the world to become Monty Cantsins. Of course he never told me this, I figured it out on my own and a few months after his visit I was on my way to join him and start working on the open-pop-star project. "There's only one Cavellini, but there can be millions of Monty Cantsins." Yes, I was sure that eventually we will persuade everyone to team up with us and get involved in our mission to change the world.
RG - I understand that Zack was contacted by the Young Artists’ Club people, right?
MCA - Basically yes. It was Laszlo Beke who contacted David. Beke was a severe
looking bearded curator at the Young Artists' Club. Beke was a mail-art aficionado with a very special scientific interest in Marcel Duchamp as well as in the Warhol gang and the Vienna Actionists. Beke was navigating in dangerous waters in a dictatorial country ruled by a degenerated soviet version of social-realism. The Young Artists' Club was infiltrated by informers and agent provocateurs. David arrived into this highly controlled ambience from Regina, Canada, but before visiting Budapest he spent some time in Geneva where he also had a mail-art show at Ecart.
By that time in the mid 70s David was already very well known in the mail art underground. Previously he was more known as a poet, writer and art critic. He was part of the Nut Art movement in California in the late 60s. He has written articles for important art mags, among them Art In America which published his landmark article “On the phenomenon of Mail Art” in 1973. He also traveled quite intensely.
RG - How were your exhibitions at the Young Artists Club, what were your aesthetic interests at that time?
MCA - I was interested in all the avant-garde, revolutionary artists and poets. I wanted to be one of them. I was writing poetry, I had a band, I explored the forms of conceptual art, pop art and happenings.
RG - Graffiti on the snow and plastic brains?
MCA - Those came later, after my arrival in Montreal. The fact is that each time I moved to a different place my life has changed according to the new environments, new experiences, new friends and lovers. So obviously my art activities, expressions, methods, styles, aesthetics, basically everything kept changing. Budapest, Paris, Montreal, Portland, New York, Berlin Toronto were my main living headquarters, but besides Europe and North America I also traveled through other parts of the world and stayed for shorter residencies in China, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico,... but I have never been a tourist, I only traveled for assignments, for different undertakings, for Neoism. My early days in Hungary was marked by the fact that we were cut off from the rest of the world by the so called Iron Curtain and there was a constant political tension that was emotionally exhausting and and physically unbearable. Those Drazsé happenings were reactions to these oppressive forces. I escaped to the country side as often as I could, wrote a lot, made art from found objects, old junk, experimented with
actions and body art in and around our cottage, in Surány, located on an island in the Danube. It was a very productive time in almost complete separation from the rest of the world. Nothing ever got published or exhibited which increased the beauty and strength of creation.
Of course when David Zack came to Budapest he brought with him a new kind of
aesthetics, the aesthetics of correspondence art / mail-art. That was huge impact on me, both as an art form and as a movement. His own formal expressions were also very different from everything I have seen until then. It was like an alarm for me, an emergency signal. I realized that for all the crazy shit I was doing for which I was mostly harassed by the Hungarian authorities maybe I could get more progressive reactions elsewhere and meet new comrades in crime, like David. And since that was also David's goal we signed a pact. Soon I was a subway singer in Paris. Armed with the newly discovered mail-art aesthetics and living in a totally different culture my art also changed a lot. Since I didnt have much money I used whatever I could obtain for free, mostly from the streets. I cut up cardboard boxes, pasted them with ripped newspaper pieces, and scribbled some nonsense sentences and signs on them. The influence of Paris and mail-art is evident on these works.
Here I'm adding a few more to the Paris collage works.
Let me return to snow graffiti and plastic brains you mentioned above as marks of my aesthetics. Very true. Both subjects closely connected to my everyday life in Montreal.
Yes, my aesthetics was always shaped by everyday life events. During my first Montreal winter in 1977 / 78 I was very busy with trying to make some money while studying French and learning about Montreal. I tried many immigrant jobs, from dishwashing to elevator boy and finally through a student at the French language school I frequented I got a job in a factory as machine operator. I worked in nightshift, slept 5 to 6 hours and went to school during the day. It was a plastic manufacturing factory with many large plastic injection molding machines. I was operating one of them during the night. Very robotic work that also required full concentration to never miss any mechanical movements and keep a steady speed. The machine injected melted plastic into a mold which then had to be taken out. I repeated this all night and thus also turning into a machine. When a mold was finished and and a different color plastic had to be used for the next mold then the foreman let the rest of the melted, liquid plastic spill on the concrete floor. That's how the plastic brains were created. They were waste material and I kept many of them, all kind of different color plastic brains. Loved them. Planned to do a show with them. During the weekends I went up to the mountain that is in the middle of Montreal called Mont-Royal, carrying a few cans of spray paint in a business case. I made snow graffiti. I also did it in the streets but they got cleaned up too fast, while on the mountain they remained longer. At around the end of my stay in France I fell in love with a blond girl, Cathy, and, among others, I made huge red graffiti signs on the snow "MY LOVE CATHY." It looked quite silly and corny but graffiti often has that character anyway.
So let me continue the Plastic Brain Factory and snow graffiti story as important marks of my aesthetics according to you. It's true, in Montreal these things were remarkable new signs of activity/research/experimentation. Here are some newly scanned photos, including some mask works as well. This was in the winter soon after my arrival, 1977/78.
RG – Continuing still in Hungary, I think you had a folk music project... Is Hungarian folk music very important to you in your creative process? I mean if this music has a special meaning for you.
MCA - Yes, extremely important meaning.
Perhaps my experimentation in music was always my most important driving force. And Hungarian folk was my vital source from an early time in my life. I learned music on my own. I wanted to learn piano but my father decided that my sister should take piano lessons not me. I was already about 20 years old when I started lessons with a piano teacher who actually lived next door to us. My father didnt know, I kept it secret, because even then he was totally against my musical ambitions. But my mom got me an acoustic guitar for Christmas when I was 13 years old and I learned to play very fast. Almost immediately started writing songs. My mother supported my ambition. When I was a small child she often sung me old Hungarian folk songs. And my grandfather had quite a big collection of records, both classical and popular music and my sister and me kept listening the whole collection on our old fashion gramophone. Opera arias, cabaret songs, military marches, French chansons, dance music, folk songs...I picked up a whole repertoire. I had a good voice and my music teacher in elementary school often asked me to entertain the class. So I would go to the front and sung folk songs and popular songs, just improvised whatever that came to my mind.
And soon, early in high school I already formed bands with other students, but that was just copycat English style rock music mainly to impress girlfriends. It took me a few more years to turn more seriously toward folk music, not only listen to it, but also play it. I formed my own folk band the Kantor Group and then changed it to Kantor Inform. That was perhaps my most successful musical experience in Hungary. We played everywhere in small clubs and large festival events. Received awards but soon also got into troubles for performing songs which were considered politically inciting and agitating against the system. Soon we ended up playing only in our own apartment. Our last public event was in a communist camp and we got kicked out by the organizers.
That also meant that the album "Blasphemies" we were working on never got produced. I restarted Kantor Inform in Paris with two French musicians, we played in folk music clubs and, in the Spring of 1977, we recorded an album of songs in a studio of RTF (Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française), but before anything could happen with the recordings I was already on my way to Canada. And that was the end of Kantor Inform. And also my life in Europe.
RG - We are back in Canada-USA. Can it be said that Monty Cantsin ISM.b.band was a continuation of Drazsé Expressz or were there quite a few differences, stylistically speaking?
MCA - Yes, the spirit of Drazsé Expressz was definitely preserved in The Monty Cantsin ISM b. band (short for International Street Myth Blues Band), no question. But conceptually they were very different. The Drazsé was an anti-music gang characterized by audacity, aggressive style and harsh humour. The ISMb.band was more on the side of poetic disorder and clever disruption. If the Drazsé was more Dada then the ISMb. band was more fluxus. Like breathing heavily on stage was one of our Monty Cantsin ISM b.band songs and turning the volume up to the max to create feedback was a Drazsé gesture. But I kept the Drazsé term "syphon music" to describe also the ISMb. band. The name came from the soda syphon bottle which was very important to heal ourselves after a long night of drinking.
And the soda syphon bottle is not only a beautiful object but also based on injection pressure system just like the machines in the Plastic Brain Factory, or my file cabinet machinery or the simple but very useful spray cans.
RG - Of course, this is related to your first graffitis in Canada, right?
MCA - Yes, exactly, you are right, it was all about Syphon music. I carried the past with me. But when I returned from Portland to Montreal in November'78 I abandoned my struggle with the past. I changed completely, got rid of all the old ghosts surrounding me and initiated a new phase.
RG - And now what phase are you in? I imagine there have been new additions to Neoist mythology.
MCA - We reached the phase of Permanent Disaster. You know Robert Filliou liked to use the term Permanent Creation and Beuys's concept was the "social sculpture." For Neoism the leading concept was the Great Confusion, open to anyone to participate.
These ideas are now dead, we stepped on the stage of Total Disaster, our final stage. I know this sounds depressing but this is today's only reality. Of course the Neoist mythology stays alive in the ruins and a new world will be born in a few million years.
RG - Yes, we have already talked about TOTAL DISASTER ... then is it unthinkable that a message of love and joy changes everything to TOTAL HAPPINESS?
MCA- We know well the history of mass extinctions and we also know that the world is right now in the process of self-elimination, becoming extinct. The hippies's message of love and joy in the 60s failed completely and was followed by a menace of nuclear catastrophe. Through art we can assess the spirit, impressions, ambience of the world throughout human history and the most powerful artworks were always about disasters. Jeff Koons's "Made in Heaven" is not about love and joy but the elemental weapon of destruction: the power of money.
RG - Who made the film / video ANTI-CREDO?
MCA - I did. It's a super8 film.
RG - Ah yes, sorry, the information is in the credits of the video. What exactly was the Rivington School? What was your relationship with these people?
MCA - The RS was a large gang of street artists, sculptors, welders, performers, noise bands, trouble makers and Neoists who took over abandoned lots and buildings in New York’s Lower East Side in the 80s and turned them into junk gardens, welding workshops and performance spaces. Basically anyone who was part of the New York underground in the 80s was in some ways associated with the RS. "Make Shit Happen!" was our slogan added with a sixoclock sign. Today the RS is a Lower East Side legend based on the group's insurgent, unconventional, pioneering art activities. Of course many of the RS members are still alive and active. You know the LES was gentrified and all the street activities were stopped by the authorities, all the sites where we used to hang out were eliminated by developers. It's a different world now, street art has very little to do with it...I was a founding member of the RS and also its spokesman. There is a beautiful book "Rivington School - 80s New York Underground" which I edited and it was first printed by a British publisher, Black Dog, in London in 2016. Now I'm in the process in reprinting it with the collaboration of Autonomedia in New York.
RG - Was the Demo-Moe band within this artistic collective?
MCA - Yes, Demo-Moe was part of the RS. There were many other bands also
associated with the School but Demo-Moe played a terrific noise, a very characteristic scrapmetal music, the true insane RS style.
RG - I am discovering that powerful sound by watching a video made by you about this band. I am especially impressed by the guy who hits some plates or metal pieces. Who is he, what memories do you have of him?
MCA - Ha! Yes! DJ Steve aka Steve Hagglund, I'm happy he inspires you. The way he played scrapmetal noise was extraordinary, totally unmatched. He developed that style using threaded steel rods, metal sheets and oil drums. He used the metal rod like a violinist plays with a bow drawing it across the edges of metal sheets. It was also the special way he was using his hands, arms, his whole body that made the performance very intense, explosive. Unfortunately he died quite a few years ago. He lived in the East Village and sold books and records in the streets to survive. He and me also formed a band "Hungarian Folk Music" in '86, he played scrapmetal and I yelled Hungarian songs into a megaphone. The kind of noise we produced earned us a reputation and we played quite a lot in clubs like the Limelight or new music concert venues like the Clocktower and toured in Québec, always producing turbulent reactions...It basically ended when I was forced back to Canada around '92. But my partner Krista Goddess learned Steve's style and we continued playing scrapmetal noise as a duo and also with a newly formed band "Coup d'état" in Montreal.
RG - I understand that during the making of the Anti-Credo film and the Demo-Moe video you resided more or less regularly in NYC, right?
MCA - Yes, I lived in New York, in Manhattan, basically throughout the 80s. I had my own studio space in the East Village on 10th street from 1985 to 1992. It was Carlo Pittore's place but he moved out from NYC and sublet it to me. Before that I stayed at different friends's places, shorter term sublets, but I was in NYC starting 1982 when I organized APT5, the 5th International Apartment Festival, that took place in different parts of Manhattan, mostly in the Lower East Side, East Village and West Village. Anyway, I shot Anti-Credo in 1986/87 on super8 film. The background music is a mix of different bands from NYC and Montreal, including Demo-Moe. At the same time I also kept my place in Montreal but rented half of it to a friend. From 1990 I also lived in Toronto, so I shared my time between these three cities. Those times rents were still cheap so I could afford this luxury. Flights were also very cheap. $79 return from Montreal to NYC on Chechoslovak Airline. I think I already mentioned it that you could buy a bottle of vodka on the plane for $1.
RG - And did you contact Rivington School through your Neoist events, Correspondence Art included?
MCA - I met some of the RS people in New York before the RS started during a Neoist event in 1982. At that time there was a space called "A"'s ran by Arleen Schloss, a performance artist. She was also one of the initiators of No Se No, a very small social club on Rivington Street. It was basically a bunker kind of place where local artists were hanging out. It was there where the Rivington School gang was formed, through performance art, exhibitions and punk rock. There were also mail artists hanging there like Ed Higgins, Buster Cleveland, Carlo Pittore. It was a very mixed crowd, we were having an amazing time. Photographer/artist Toyo Tsuchiya documented everything.
But the RS was not specialized on mail-art but rather street art, graffiti, sculpting, welding, and junk art.
Naturally Neoism also became part of the activities of the RS and we had another Neoist festival in 1988. I think we discussed that before.
Let me note here that the RS is attached to the name of Ray Kelly, sculptor, who is considered to be the official initiator of the RS. He was the one who sat down at the corner of Rivington and Forsyth streets on an empty lot sometime in the summer of 1985 and declared the lot for the RS. This was a very Neoist gesture. He dedicated it to Geronimo, a homeless Puerto Rican friend who lived at that corner and died in the same year. Ray was the one who nominated me to become spokesman for the RS. As a Neoist I also had the title "Self-appointed leader of the people of the Lower East Side."
RG - Returning momentarily to Hungary, it occurred to me to ask if you did any samizdat. I ask this because since we already talked about your Neo Zines and other publications that you have already made while residing in Canada and the USA previously and I believe that the publication of underground zines has been an important activity for you.
MCA - Self-publication was always important activity for me. In my time when I lived in Hungary as a child, teen and young man up to age 26, I had very little access to selfpublishing. The samizdat movement became really active in Hungary only in the late 70s and early 80s when I was long gone. Among my high school friends we exchanged handwritten pamphlets of short stories, poetry and porn. What I can claim is that I used a typewriter and carbon paper to make multiple copies of some of my poems, words of my songs and tracts of manifestos in very limited numbers to give them to read to close friends. Printing of information was highly under control, censorship was huge. Once a copy was out of your hand anything could happen and you could find yourself being investigated. When photocopy became available in the early 70s it was of course also under state control and, if I remember well, you could only make a limited number of copies, maybe maximum six at once, maybe less or few more, I'm not sure now. You also had to leave a signed copy at the copy shop with your address on it. And there were only like a couple of these places in downtown Budapest. So it was very much under state control. But I used this method to distribute the words of my songs to the audiences at our Kantor Inform concerts. The lyrics of my songs were politically charged and thus represented danger. I also made small booklets, more like single copy book art products to show them to friends and partners in crime. Here I also have to mention that the mailart products of David Zack were kind of samizdat publications and I was extremely impressed by them. In his show at the Young Artists Club in Budapest he exhibited tons of small color xeroxed booklets. That was the first time I have seen color Xerox and that was like a miracle for me, hahaha, yes, seriously, it made a huge impression on me and inspired me to leave the country right away and make color copies, hahaha. I also learned that David had his own copy machine in his kitchen. For me it was something unbelievable. After my arrival in Paris I became addicted to copy machines. And this addiction became stronger after my arrival to Canada. In Montreal finally I could freely develop my self-publishing and it became one of my main activities. I joined the small press and zine network through mail-art. That was somewhat different from what samizdat was in Eastern European countries, a political weapon, because even though samizdat simple translates as self-publishing the term got attached to censorship and prison sentence. I'm not saying that censorship didnt exist in North America or elsewhere, but in different forms.
RG - Have you been censored in the USA, Canada or other “free” countries?
MCA - Of course, many times. There is censorship everywhere. Different types, publication, live performance, visual art or even physical appearance fashion and
haircuts. Authorities are everywhere and always want to control everything according to their philosophies, political ideas, religious believes, code of ethics, etc, etc. I have been through tons of problems because of my origin, education, expressions, interest, friendships, and principally because of Neoism.
Neoism and the related subjects which means basically everything. And what is always strange that even people with the same interest, like organizers of performance art festivals, are the most bureaucratic control freaks. I think everybody who are in the arts can tell examples, stories of censorship, so I won't bore you with my cases, I probably already told you some while talking about other things like border detentions or art interventions.
RG - Yes, that’s true. One thing ... does anti-art made in conventional art galleries and museums stop being anti-art and become simply art or official art?
MCA - Answer to this is that true anti-art NEVER gets into museums or not until the artist died or already old enough. Let's look at Duchamp for example. In 1963, the Pasadena Art Museum mounted his first retrospective museum exhibition under the pressure of young artists like Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. His original readymades were long time destroyed by then and he was better known as a chess player. He was 76 years old by then and died five years later. Today because there are lots of huge art businesses, art markets, extremely rich art collectors and also very monumental museums therefore the worldwide art system needs lots of actors. These actors often are originally hedge fund managers disguising themselves as famous anti-art artists, you know, and use their financial power for their art career or find other investors for their artistic advancement. Today you can sell any anti-art art shit because there is a big market for it. Art is totally under the control of money, in the hand of millionaires and billionaires, mostly real estate agencies. But for example such great anti-art artists as Robert Filliou, David Zack or dr Ackerman never became part of this system. Or let's take Louise Bourgeois as an example, she kept her position in the anti-artist section and not because she wanted to sacrifice herself but because there was no interest in her work until her late age. And she never became a servant for money-terrorists or a devotee for market dictators.
You see that's why my idea was to change art to Neoism, because the whole system of art is totally oppressive, intolerable, insupportable.
RG - Can you imagine an anthological exhibition at MoMA about Neoism? I am almost convinced that this is going to happen.
MCA - You mean because revolutions always end with the public executions of their leaders and participants? I could easily imagine such event at the MoMA or any other similar premises since displaying information about contemporary creative movements is among their tasks, except that they ignore us. But in spite of all in 1988 I already created a big show representing my action based art at MoMA by spilling some blood in the Picasso section. I was arrested and jailed and spent more then two years defending myself at the Criminal Court of New York City for causing 10million$ damage to a Picasso. This was a great moment to talk about the long time lost revolutionary status of the arts. But an anthological exhibition entitled "Neoism: Total Disaster" of course could not happen without the participation of the entire membership of the World Wide Neoist Network, dead or alive, ending with a final pandemonium. Do you think any museum would like to have this trouble?
RG - How did you meet and start collaborating with Gen Ken Montgomery?
MCA - I met Gen Ken right after he opened his sound art gallery, the Generator, that was located on East 3rd street, at ave "B." This happened sometime in June/1989. We probably crossed each other earlier, I'm sure, but that was the time when we became friends and collaborators.
I was biking through the Lower East Side like I did it every day, looking for thrownaway art material in the street or doing graffiti, posting signs, or just patrolling my favourite sites hoping to bump into friends. So I saw the new sign of the Generator and popped in. What I have seen was a great surprise, oh yes, it was amazing to see the store inside packed with records, cassettes, zines, posters, art, and of course everything was about the current movements and trends, really great stuff!
I dont even have to say that we instantly became friends and from then on we probably saw each other almost every day or so. He was just installing his shop and was at the beginning of organizing events. And I basically started my megaphonic noise performances in his shop. I mean I used my megaphone for a long time to yell in it during performances but from then on I started using it as a trumpet. The idea actually occurred to me after seeing John Zorn playing sax. His ways of using the sax was quite unusual, blowing and sucking it a different way than other sax players. So I realized that I could lick and blow and suck the membrane of my megaphone just like musicians do with wind instruments. And from then on I explored the megaphone as a kind of trumpet. A trumpet of doom!
From then on I often just showed up at the shop and improvised noise performances. We also played together, he on prepared, untuned violin and me on megaphone and voice. We also played other places, like ABC No Rio, CBGB Gallery, Roulette... We were pretty much exploring the same spirit of improvised noise, what I would call a skilled unskilledfulness, and we perfectly understood each other. Of course we also shared interest in mail-art, small publications, junk art, electronic music, etc, I can go on...we even started families about the same time. Eventually I was kicked out from my East Village studio and moved to Toronto. And Gen Ken moved to Italy for a while.
RG - I understand that you and Gen Ken collaborated doing performances especially, right?
MCA - Yes, and no. Of course live performances were an important part in our collaboration but we also spent lots of time just socializing, hanging out and talking about things we both were interested about. Our common interest, common friends, similar kind of philosophy and living style turned us into friends and and therefore also collaborators. We lived the "everything is art" kind of life so there was no need really to make difference between doing together let's say a gallery performance or eating a slice of pizza.
And that still remains the same. We are a new breed, we are neogenic creatures. I hope this explains it.
These pix of an HFM (Hungarian Folk Music) performance at the CBGB Gallery can partly illustrate our collaborations with Gen Ken. I'm sure that I already mentioned it before, but let me just shortly note, that this concert at CBGB gallery commemorated the 1988 Tompkins Square Riot after which the police barricaded the entire park for about a year.
RG - After you left New York and returned to Canada have you lived anywhere else since then?
MCA - That's not how it happened. I kept going back to NYC and I also kept my studio in Montreal. I kept my NYC studio until 1993 and my Montreal studio until 2007. After moving out from New York my main residency was in Toronto where I lived with Krista Goddess, who became the mother of our three kids, Jericho, Babylon and Nineveh. Meanwhile I kept going back to NYC where I stayed at friends's places. I had difficulties to cross the border because of my criminal records and usually we drove through in our van with Krista at Buffalo. We said we were going only for a day to visit a museum and a second hand store. There was no much risk there for passing only for a day. Then we continued driving to to NYC or couldn't come with me she drove me to the train station or to the airport and then she returned to Toronto. We had to be cleaver at the border.
So this went on for a while like this, but after our separation in 1997 things became more complicated. By then I basically moved all my stuff back to Canada and stored everything in Montreal. In Montreal the rent was really cheap so I could keep my studio.
I'm proud that I could live in both provinces, Québec and Ontario which I think rarely happens with artists in Canada. In fact I had way better relationships in the art world in Québec than anywhere else. My best friends were living there, my early Neoist collaborators.
After 9/11 border crossing to the US became way more difficult and I got rejected quite often but always found some ways to return. In 2005 I took my whole Kantor Family Circus with me to a performance art festival in New York, including my three kids and 4 or 5 collaborator artists on the train from Montreal. That was an amazing experience with lots of trouble at the border but somehow we passed. Those days my family was a traveling circus.
RG - I understand that you did several performances or actions with the Kantor Family Circus, right? Have your children told you about their memories of this? I mean, I imagine that Neoism will have been crucial in the growth and development of your kids.
MCA - Now they are grownups, between 25 and 30, but the family circus is still going on in some ways. Each time we get together, which happens quite often, it's a Kantor Family Circus show. And the other day they just mentioned that they actually would like to watch the video documentations I have in my archive. But everything is on VHS or other old formats and therefore would need digitizing. Eventually it's going to be done as for a long time I plan to create a large installation piece exploring the complete material in an extreme visual chaos imitating life.
Yes, Neoism is a constant subject at our family meetings. They probably know more about it than I do as they are in a close communication with the new generations of young people. Of course Neoism is ageless and timeless, we live in the 6oclock zone where permanent creation and permanent disaster are happening simultaneously, at once.
I'm having coffee at a small neighborhood cafe sitting outside, enjoying the sun, it's a great day. In these moments I'm able to absorb everything that is around me and mix it up with the already archived memories. This is the accumulationist theory that I often talk about and that is a basic system for Neoism.
RG - What was the RADIO CENTRE DE RECHERCHE NEOISTE?
MCA - The RCRN diffused information about Neoist activities taking place in Montreal and elsewhere. It was basically a conceptual radio as we didn’t have our own station but each time we used the waves of other radios in the name of RCRN. This was actually way more Neoist than having a steady wave length. This way we were taking over always different radio stations, community or commercial, in the name of RCRN. You know, it was a pirate style communication.
I have a publication that sums up our radio concept and activities maybe I can find it and put it online. I'm so behind digitizing and uploading information simply because it's an unending and boring job. I dont think that any other movements before us produced so much paper work, including mail-art, zines, diaries essays, program notes, project outlines, manifestos, news articles, insults, applications, you know, we had this constant urge to document our daily activities. It was an obsession.
RG - Why did all of you have that need to spread the activities of Neoism at that level, maybe there was something messianic about it? Or maybe that diffusion is part of the creative process?
MCA - Yes, the messianic aspect was there, not maybe, but definitely. Our first small group in Montreal was like a secret bunch meeting up late nights in a greasy spoon called Eldorado to make plans to change the world. The Eldorado Manifesto is a good example.
But let me continue with RCRN which was your main question. Of course we needed diffusion and one of them was mail-art as we already discussed that. But mail art was a specific kind of international community dispersed all over the world. We also needed local dissemination and RCRN served that purpose. Let me attach the pages of the RCRN publication I told you about.
I think this early document shows well our resolute determination and spirited
commitment that reflects that messianic persistence.
And here I can also add another document that is also about "spreading the gospel." It's the book we published after the 1st Neoist meeting in Europe, in Germany, in 1982. It's a 50pages publication but here I only attach now the first few pages I just digitized this morning. I do the rest as well sometime soon. This interview is really good for stimulating me to do this boring scanning job which I wouldn't do otherwise.
RG - What are the fundamentals, if any, of your Black Mirror installation? Where has it developed?
MCA - The Black Mirror is a true Neoist invention. When you paint a mirror black it ceases to be doing its original function and stops reflecting light. But under the black surface the mirror is still there as a dysfunctional object, it doesn't reflect the light anymore. It is now an anti-mirror, it reflects nothing (let's note that you have to use nonreflecting matt black paint). This absurd, nonsense mirror is now a device for meditation. Of course the fact that you know that under the blackened surface there is a mirror it enhances, intensifies your meditational process and helps you to focus on your ideas. Being in a dark room, using a blindfold or closing your eyes won't produce the same result.
So here is the Black Mirror in its special, small enclosure with a chair. The way the mirror is framed makes it evident that it's a mirror. Or let's rather say that it was a mirror in gold frame before I painted the mirror black. So when you look at it you know that you look at a mirror that is black. And this is your inducing perception. It is up to you now to use this device the way you think it serves you the best. What you see in the black mirror nobody else can see.
RG - And what can you tell me about your last installation in the parking lot of the Galleria?
MCA - Ok, let's jump from my small private space to the large parking lot of a shopping centre. "Galleria" is the name of the shopping centre, located in the central part of Toronto. I had my eyes on the parking lot for several years because of two large billboards on its sides. It was in my plans to eventually use those two billboards at a good occasion for an unofficial art installation. So the good occasion came this past weekend and during Friday night I hung two dozen paintings on the back sides of the billboards. I announced the unofficial opening for 7am. And luckily everything happened according to my plans. It's of course important to mention that all the paintings were part of my "Free Art Giveaway" project and anyone could take any of them for free. People showed up early and by noon everything was gone. This was the 6th in a series of surprise outdoor events I installed in the streets, parks, parking lots during the past two months and more are coming.
A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed about my "Free Art Giveaway" project by a local radio Newstalk 1010: why do I gave away my art for free? I tried to explain in this short interview that I want to make people understand that art has to be free from the monetary dictatorship of hedge fund managers, real estate agencies, art markets, banks, and all other financial institutions, not only because they have bad taste, but because art should not only be measured by art market prices. Now that galleries are under the blockade of pandemic, it's a perfect situation to talk about this issue in the open and free outdoor places, in the streets, parks, parking lots and elsewhere, way better than inside the squareness of white walls. Thanks to Covid19 the Art Market is presently dead.
Maybe only temporarily, but hopefully forever. Of course art was already dying before the Covid19 invasion but now it's much more evident of what's happening. Art was partly eliminated by the art system itself many years ago by giving the leadership to hedge fund managers, real-estate magnates, billionaire collectors, etc, you know the ultra rich with really bad taste. There was also a pact between the art institutions and the commercial art system known as the art market. So now that the system is in quarantine, paralized, blockaded, nothing is happening. But for us nothing was happening before either because what we are doing is not part of their system. We are renegade Neoists banned from their galleries, museums, institutions. They don't like what we are doing. I was giving away my art for free already long time ago. Remember my blood donations to museums for example, they silenced me for those. But now it's more visible what I'm doing because nothing else is happening and this brings Neoism back to the frontline.I think we reached the end of art now, which, in many ways great because we get rid of the fucking outmoded gallery system, useless dysfunctional museums and the power of curatorial bullshit. We knew this disaster will come, we predicted it in May/2019, during Neoism40, when we gathered under the red banner of TOTAL DISASTER in Montreal.
From there we carried the flag to Toronto, Hong Kong, mainland China, New York, Paris, Budapest and Ghent (Belgium). Back in the days in the late 70s and early 80s under the threat of a nuclear catastrophe we broke away from society and experienced freedom in ruined, abandoned buildings. Neoism is an ongoing explosion. We absolutely dont know what Neoism is. When Neoism explodes hard enough, we wake up and think about ourselves. Sometimes we just get very haunted by Neoism. That's when we learn about living. In the middle of explosions. Free art give-away shows in the streets, parks, parking lots are way more interesting than hanging works on white gallery walls. We are the beneficiaries not the victims.