*a Dadaist raffle
*Avant-garde dress code (optional)
The Future of the Avant-Garde
The term ‘avant-garde’, with its evocation of the military front line, suggests a ‘militant’ of sorts, who, in each great culture war, stands out in front, faces their enemy directly, and because of this, risks the greater casualties. The avant-gardist is a pioneer, whose innovations push them to the front of the battlefield. It is in this respect that avant-gardism is often fundamentally linked to the future. The avant-gardist is a visionary, whose innovations push forward towards a different world. Although often applied to artists, writers and musicians, the label could also be applied to innovators in science, philosophy, politics and technology. The avant-gardist pushes forward something new that challenges the remits of society as we know it.
To many ears the term ‘avant-garde’ will bring to mind the art and music of the early half of the twentieth century. We are reminded of Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism and Situationism. It tends to signal to the breakdown of genre, bringing associations to the weird, unexpected, otherworldly, experimental and discordant. Likewise, it tends to open us up to a world where transgression, edginess and irreverence rule supreme. It tends, at times, to link the spirit of bohemian non-conformism and the romantic idea of the genius, with the revolutionary longing of anarchists, communists and socialists.
Yet contexts change and it is today questionable to what extent these associations hang together, to what extent they are still connected to the socialist left, and to what extent these tropes have been absorbed into the mainstream and emptied of subversive value. Of course, a cursory glance at history, from Marinetti’s endorsement of Mussolini to Ayn Rand’s entrepreneurial hero Howard Rawk, should attest to the fact that the celebration of innovation is ideologically broad. However, in a context where the slogan ‘Conservatism is the new counter-culture’ is gaining traction, it is important to ask who, today, holds the mantle of avant-gardist and counter-cultural currents.
This leads us to the question of what the avant-garde is today, and what kind of new visions would be needed for the future. What subjective freedoms need to be secured to protect the avant-garde visionary tendency towards dissent? In what sense is the defence of the avant-garde linked to the defence of free speech and free expression? In what respect is today’s avant-garde to be found within the technological innovations of Silicon Valley or online platforms, and to what extent do these need to be critiqued, or surpassed? Is the idea of the avant-garde in any way still related to a radical emancipatory agenda, or does the right today carry the torch? What artistic and intellectual explorations are really pushing the frontiers?