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"This world tries to bring the most radical gestures under its wing: the avant-garde of its subculture serves to make it appear that the S.1. competes with, and is thereby equal to, Regis Debray who equals the Panthers who equal the Peace and Freedom Party which equals the Yippies who equal the Sexual Freedom League which equals the ads on the back which equal the price on the cover. The Barb, the Rat, Good Times, and so on - it makes no difference. Same old show, new markets." "The Practice Of Theory" by the American section of the (specto) Situationist International (included in "Situationist International" 1, New York 1969).

If the term 'art' took on its modem meaning in the eighteenth century, then any tradition of opposition to it must date from this period - or later.

In ancient Greece and medieval Europe, the category 'art' covered a multitude of disciplines - many of which are now reduced to the status of 'craft'. Those activities which have retained the title of art are now pursued by men (sic) of 'genius'.

Art has taken over the function of religion, not simply as the ultimate - and ultimately unknowable - form of knowledge, but also as a legitimated form of male emotionality. The 'male' artist is treated as a 'genius' for expressing feelings that are 'traditionally' considered 'feminine'. 'He' constructs a world in which the male is heroicised by displaying 'female' traits; and the female is reduced to an insipid subordinate role.(1) 'Bohemia' is colonised by bourgeois men - a few of whom are 'possessed by genius', the majority of whom are 'eccentric'. Bourgeois wimmin whose behaviour resembles that of the 'male genius' are dismissed as being 'hysterical' - while proletarians of either sex who behave in such a manner are simply branded as 'mental'. Art, in both practice and content, is class and gender specific. Although its apologists claim 'art' is a 'universal category', this simply isn't true. Every survey of attendances at art galleries and museums demonstrates that an 'appreciation' of 'art' is something restricted almost exclusively to individuals belonging to higher income groups.(2)

Since 'art' as a category has been projected back onto the religious icons of the middle ages, it is not surprising that those who oppose it should situate themselves within a 'utopian current' that they, in turn, trace back to medieval heresies. After the event, it is easy enough to perceive a tradition running from the Free Spirit through the writings of Winstanley, Coppe, Sade, Fourier, Lautreamont, William Morris, Alfred Jarry, and on into Futurism and Dada - then via Surrealism into Lettrisme, the various Situationist movements, Fluxus, 'Mail Art', Punk Rock, Neoism and contemporary anarchist cults. Taking this as our hypothesis - we will not trouble ourselves over whether such a perspective is 'historically correct' - we will construct a 'meaningful' story from these fragments. Whether or not our 'fiction' is factually valid, it can assist our understanding of disparate phenomena.

Medieval expressions of this utopian current have usually been viewed as essentially 'religious' in content; whereas during the present century, this tradition has been seen as primarily artistic in nature. Such categorisation reflects the reductionist strategies of academics: the utopian tradition has always aimed at the integration of all human activities. The heretics of the middle ages sought to abolish the role of the church and realise heaven on earth, while their twentieth-century counterparts have sought the end of social separation by simultaneously confronting 'politics' and 'culture'.(3)

The discursive shift in this tradition, which occurred with Futurism, was necessitated by the development of modem technologies and systems of mass transportation. To satisfy the ideological demands of their paymasters, historians have usually treated Futurism as yet another turn-of-the-century art movement. But Futurism went beyond painting, poetry and music, to create 'futurist' clothes and architecture and, perhaps most importantly, a futurist 'politics' which fused with all other futurist activities in a rediscovered 'totality'. ("We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal omnipresent speed" - First Futurist Manifesto). To dismiss Futurist politics as fascist is as common as it is incorrect. At its inception Futurism was chiefly influenced by the writings of Proudhon, Bakunin, Nietzsche and, especially, Georges Sorel. ("So let them come, the gay incendiaries with charred fingers! Here they are! Here they are!... Come on! set fire to the library shelves! Turn aside the canals to flood the museums!... Oh, the joy of seeing the glorious old canvases bobbing adrift on those waters, discoloured and shredded!... Take up your pickaxes, your axes and hammers and wreck, wreck the venerable cities, pitilessly!" - First Futurist Manifesto).

Dada at its peak gave Utopians a more coherent theoretico-practice than Futurism. Dada began in Zurich but was realised in Berlin. In the manifesto "What Is Dadaism and What Does It Want in Germany?"(4) , Richard Huelsenbeck was demanding the "introduction of progressive unemployment through comprehensive mechanisation of every field of activity" and the establishment "of a Dadaist advisory council for the remodelling of life in every city of over 50,000 inhabitants". In his essay "En Avant Dada: A History of Dadaism" (1920), Huelsenbeck further clarified the relation of his own 'brand' of Utopianism to 'art' by stating that: "The dadaist considers it necessary to come out against art because he has seen through its fraud as a moral safety valve". And further, that "Dada is German Bolshevism. The bourgeois must be deprived of the opportunity to 'buy up art for his justification'. Art should altogether get a sound thrashing, and Dada stands for that thrashing with all the vehemence of its limited nature."

In a later essay, "Dada Lives" (1936), Huelsenbeck provides the clue as to why it has been possible for historians to treat Dada as an art movement. He says: "Tzara, in Paris, eliminated from Dadaism its revolutionary and creative element and attempted to compete with other artistic movements... Dada is perpetual, revolutionary 'pathos' aimed at rationalistic bourgeois art. In itself it is not an artistic movement. To quote the German Chancellor, the revolutionary element in Dada was always greater than its constructive element. Tzara did not invent Dadaism, nor did he really understand it. Under Tzara in Paris Dada was deformed for the private use of a few persons so that its action was almost a snobbish one".

Paris Dada was later renamed Surrealism. Under this title it became the most degenerate expression of the Utopian tradition during the pre-war years .Whereas Berlin Dada rejected both art and work (themes that were later taken up by the Situationist International), the Surrealists embraced painting, occultism, Freudianism and numerous other bourgeois mystifications. Indeed, if Surrealism had been a movement in its own right, rather than a degeneration from Dada, any claim that it belongs within the Utopian tradition would be open to question.

From these pre-war movements the essential features of twentieth-century Utopianism become apparent. The partisans of this tradition aim not just at the integration of art and life, but of all human activities. They have a critique of social separation and a concept of totality. From the 1920s onwards Utopians were conscious of belonging to a tradition that stretched back at least as far as Dada and Futurism, and were aware that in previous centuries similar 'beliefs' had been manifested in certain 'religious' heresies. There is a samizdat (self-publishing) aspect to the tradition, that enables it to remain - at least partially - autonomous of the cultural and commercial institutions of the reigning society. For these reasons New York 'Neo-Dada' and European nouveaux realisme, which were organised around critics and galleries, cannot be considered a part of this tradition, despite the fact that art 'historians' often treat them as being historically derived from Dada. Even Group Zero, who were involved in self-publishing and self-organised exhibitions, cannot be considered Utopians because they limited their activities to 'art'.

In the twentieth-century, those adhering to Utopian principles have worked between 'art', 'politics', 'architecture', 'urbanism' and all the other specialisms that arise from separation. Utopians aim to 'create' a 'new' world where these specialisations will no longer exist.

Throughout the text I assume that the reader understands that while the movements I am writing about situated themselves in opposition to consumer capitalism, they also emerged out of societies based on such a mode of organisation and thus do not entirely escape the logic of the market place. This is particularly obvious in relation to the obsession many of them display over the concept of innovation, which reflects perfectly the waste inherent in a society based on planned obsolescence. However, the movements with which I deal do not always fail to break with the ideology of the reigning society, and while they often deal with the same problems as serious culture, they tend to do so from a different perspective.(5)

As well as emerging from the dominant society, it should also be understood that these movements are, at least in part, a reaction to the long period of Bretonian glaciation, whose negative influence on the utopian tradition was not dissimilar to the effects of Stalinisation on the workers' movement.

I have not written at length about the relation between the utopian tradition and the dominant modes of organisation because I believe the contemporary reader is perfectly capable of making such a comparison without my assistance. I must, however, emphasise that just because I have isolated certain currents from the totality of social activity, this in no sense implies that these currents exist in isolation; my intention being to provide a brief history of a politico-cultural phenomenon whose achievements have - to date - remained either unknown, or completely mystified, in the English speaking world rather than a full description of the position they occupy within the dominant society.


1. See "Great Art and Great Culture" section in Valerie Solanas, "SCUM Manifesto" (Olympia Press, New York 1968). Jayne M. Taylor has elaborated the point made by Solanas in conversation with the author.

2. For a detailed statistical analysis of the relationship between art, social class and profession, see Pierre Bourdieu, "Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste" (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1984).

3. The term 'art' is used in a number of contradictory ways in this text. When used in its strict sense, it refers to the high culture of the ruling class. However, some of those who I write about use it to denote cultural productions which posit themselves in opposition to ruling class culture. While there is no fixed link between the signifier and signified, in its current, popular, usage, the term 'art' tends to denote serious culture (the high culture of the ruling class). This meaning is implicit - rather than explicit - in the popular perception of art as the expression of individual genius ("deep stuff'): I deal with this argument in more depth in chapter 7.

4. This manifesto was co-signed by Raoul Hausmann.

5. Grant Kester, writing in the October 1987 issue of "New Art Examiner", had the following to say about one of the movements with which I deal:

"Neoism is of particular importance because it engages many of the same issues treated by recent Postmodern work. The critique of "originality" or commodification taken up by artists like Sherrie Levine and Jeff Koons, however, is waged from within the art world itself, through the production of art objects. Neoism, coming out of Fluxus and Situationist roots which privilege non-objective activities, offers a valuable alternative model. Neoism manages to advance a convincing critique of commodified art productions, while at the same time sustaining a support system that allows for an ongoing process of theoretical and practical dialogue."

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