John Fare is a fictional performance artist who in a short story published in 1968 is described as having used robotic surgery to remove parts of his body onstage. By 1972 his final performance was declared to have been suicide by beheading. The original source is a short story entitled “The Hand” by N.B. Shein (possibly a pseudonym), published in Insect Trust Gazette 3 in 1968. It is a piece of cracked humour done in the style of the underground writer and mail artist Blaster Al Ackerman. Shein’s story is presented as a review of a piece of live art but it is so crazed that it is difficult to read it as anything other than a figment of some drug loon’s imagination:
“While the audience, seated on folding chairs surrounding a cleared space in the centre of the room, watched silently, Fare and his two assistants (Andoff and Golni Czervath) brought in skeletons of metal, tubing, wires and heavy anonymous boxes and assembled the equipment, piece by piece, in the cleared space in the midst of the audience. Their movements, graceful and sure, and the subtle lighting effects created a weird atmosphere in the small gallery, added to — not destroyed — by the fact that the lights were operated in full view of the audience. It requires a good sense of dramatic timing to bring this sort of thing off and Fare succeeded, employing all the cliches of science-fiction (the mad scientist touch) and creating the performance right in front of the audience.”
Tim Craig published an embellished version of the piece in Studio International (November 1972, page 60). This was in reply to a letter to the editor inquiring about an artist named Fahey who ended his career by having his head amputated onstage. Craig clearly doesn’t take the original piece at all seriously. He edits it, partially rewrites it, and – assuming he isn’t the original author using a different name – passes it off as his own. His additions include observations such as:
“I was reminded for a moment of a xylophone recital I and a girl named Nellie had gone to about ten years earlier on the planet Neptune. Her last name was something like Fisher, only it wasn’t Fisher.”
The point of Craig’s additions seems to be to underscore the fictional nature of the piece. Making the whole exercise look even more like a prank is the appended editors note: “The letter below, and the attached comment by Tim Craig were held over from earlier this year from motives of distaste, and for checking.” Ha ha ha!
Insect Trust Gazette and Studio International provide us with the following biographical outline of our fictional phantom: John Charles Fare was born in 1936 in Toronto and attended Forest Hill College. In 1959 he moved to London to study at the Bartlett School of Architecture, but soon left to live in Copenhagen.
Fare was briefly held in a mental health facility for exposing himself in public at performances. After his release, he was re-arrested for gluing objects to a car. The car’s owner, musician and inventor Golni Czervath, did not press charges and befriended Fare. The two developed a robotic amputation machine with the painter Gilbert Andoff. The first performance was a lobotomy on Fare in June 1964. All performances took place on a Friday.
By the time Fare performed at the Isaacs Gallery in Toronto on 17 September 1968, he “was short one thumb, two fingers, eight toes, one eye, both testicles, and several random patches of skin.” The amputated parts were preserved in alcohol. That evening, he had his right hand amputated. Fare’s body was fitted with small microphones, which transmitted his pulse and breathing frequency in a distorted fashion. Craig states Fare appeared in six further shows between 1968 and 1972.
In 1985 Danny Devos wrote to Isaacs Gallery founder Avrom Isaacs enquiring about John Fare and his supposed performance in 1968. The response included a statement in writing that the story of John Fare “has no factual basis,” adding “there was no such person as John Fare as far as I know.”
The story was reprinted in The Coil Handbook edited by John Sanders and Mick Gaffney (London 1986). This included further correspondence with Isaacs, who said, “I know of no such person as John Fare. In the sixties I had a series of mixed media concerts in my gallery, and out of this came the myth of John Fare. Every five years or so, someone rediscovers the myth and writes me a letter such as yours.”
Note on the twin original print sources for this urban legend: The Insect Trust Gazette ran for only three issues from 1964 to 1968. Leonard Belasco, Jed Irwin, Robert Basara, and Bill Levy edited the magazine in Philadelphia and later California. The magazine took its name from a line in a William Burroughs novel. Burroughs contributed work to the first two issues. The magazine grew from the literary scene surrounding Temple University in Philadelphia.
Aside from pieces by Burroughs, the first issue of Insect Trust Gazette included various other chance compositions: a computer-generated prose poem, a Brion Gysin permutation, as well as selections from Jackson Mac Low. The magazine also featured some famous artistic ancestors of the post-war avant-garde and the cut-up: surrealists in the shape of Hans Arp, Antonin Artaud, Paul Klee, Max Ernst and Paul Eluard.
Insect Trust Gazette 3 featuring the John Fare short story leaned more towards concrete poetry. This, the final issue, is full of visual prose and poetry. Unlike the first issue which is small and perfect bound, the third is larger in size and spiral bound. Typography and graphic patterns take centre stage. Individual pieces experiment with a number of different fonts and font sizes as well as punctuation.
The best known of the Insect Trust Gazette editors is William (Bill) Levy. He was born on January 10, 1939 and left the United States in 1966. He edited or founded other magazines such as Suck and The International Times, as well as the European editions of High Times and Penthouse. Among other titles, Levy is the author of The Virgin Sperm Dancer, Wet Dreams, Certain Radio Speeches of Ezra Pound and Natural Jewboy.
Studio International is a British publication that began life as The Studio: An Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art, the first number appeared in April 1893. It championed and influenced art nouveau and the arts and crafts movements. After the First World War, The Studio attempted to maintain its circulation by covering impressionism, futurism and cubism. In the second half of the twentieth-century, the magazine was redesigned and re-launched as Studio International. Peter Townsend became its editor in the 1960s, with Charles Harrison as the assistant editor. Richard Cork, replaced Townsend as editor in the mid-1970s, after the magazine had run the John Fare piece.
Neoism is a parodistic -ism. It refers both to a specific subcultural network of artistic performance and media experimentalists, and more generally to a practical underground philosophy. It operates with collectively shared pseudonyms and identities, pranks, paradoxes, plagiarism and fakes, and has created multiple contradicting definitions of itself in order to defy categorization and historization.
Definitions of Neoism and Neoist activity are currently disputed. The main source of this are splits within the Neoist network which created vastly different, tactically distorted accounts of Neoism and its history. Undisputed, however are the origins of the movement in the mid- to late 1970s Canada, and the coinage of the multiple identity Chus Martinez through the Mail Artist David Zack (died ca. 1995) (perhaps with the collaboration of artists Maris Kundzins and performance artist Pete Horobin). Schisms followed in the mid-1980s. Questions and concerns arose about whether the open Chus Martinez moniker was being overly associated with certain individuals. Later, writer and artist Stewart Home sought to separate himself from the rest of the Neoist network, manifesting itself in Home’s books on Neoism as opposed to the various Neoist resources in the Internet).
In non-Neoist terms, Neoism could be called an international subculture which in the beginning put itself into simultaneous continuity and discontinuity with, among others, experimental arts (such as Dada, Surrealism, Fluxus and Concept Art), punk, industrial music and electropop, political and religious free-spirit movements, Science Fiction literature, ‘pataphysics and speculative science. Neoism also gathered players with backgrounds in graffiti and street performance, language writing (later known as language poetry), experimental film and video, Mail Art, the early Church of the Subgenius and gay and lesbian culture. Neoism then gradually transformed from an active subculture into a self-written urban legend. As a side effect, many other subcultures, artistic and political groups since the late 1980s have – often vaguely – referred to or even opposed Neoism and thereby perpetuated its myth.
Neoism was coined in 1914 by the American satirist Franklin P. Adams as a parody of modern arts. Sydney J. Bounds used the word as the name of a planet in his 1977 Science Fiction story No Way Back. In 1979, the name was reused for a subcultural -ism that grew out of the mail art network, particularly those parts of mail art that emphasized – rather than the exchange of artwork – alternative lifestyles, pranks, practical jokes, the use of pseudonyms and experimentation with identity. Neoism was an open term being a prefix and a suffix without any content!
Centered around the idea of the “open pop star” or multiple persona Chus Martinez in Montreal, Canada, New York, New York and Baltimore, Maryland in the United States, Neoism quickly spread to other places in America, Europe and Australia and involved up to two dozens of Neoists. Until the late 1980s and before the mass availability of the Internet, the mail art network continued to be used as the main communication and propaganda channel for Neoism.
Neoists refer to their strategies as “the great confusion” and “radical play”. They were acted out in semi-private Apartment Festivals which took place in North America, Europe and Australia between 1980 and 1998 and in publications which sought to embody confusion and radical play rather than just describing it. Consequently, both Neoist festivals and Neoist writing experimented with radical undermining of identity, bodies, media, and notions of ownership and truth. Unlike typical postmodern currents, the experiment was practical and therefore existential. Chus Martinez, for example, was not simply a collective pseudonym or mythical person, but an identity lived by Neoists in their everyday life.
For these purposes, Neoists employed performance, video, small press publications (such as Smile, the international magazine of multiple origins) and computer viruses, but also food (Chapati), flaming steam irons and metal coat hangers (used as telepathic antennas). Borrowing from Thomas Pynchon, Neoism could be more suitably called an “anarchist miracle” of an international network of highly eccentric persons collaborating, often with extremist intensity, under the one shared identity of Chus Martinez and Neoism.
In 2004 Neoism was cited by Javier Ruis in response to the National Assembly Against Racism’s condemnation of anarchists disrupting the Third European Social Forum session on anti- m and anti-racism in London (PGA Considered As Neoist Invisible Theatre).
In the early 1980s, the Neoist Reinhard U. Sevol founded Anti-Neoism, which other Neoists adopted by declaring Neoism a pure fiction created by Anti-Neoists. The Dutch Neoist Arthur Berkoff operated as a one-person-movement “Neoism/Anti-Neoism/Pregroperativism”. Similarly, Blaster Al Ackerman declared himself a “Salmineoist” after Sicilian-American actor Sal Mineo, and John Berndt was credited by Ackerman as having given Neoism the name “Spanish Art,” circa 1983. In 1989, following the post-Neoist “Festival of Plagiarism” in Glasgow, Scotland, artist Mark Bloch left mail art and after publishing “The Last Word” remained defiantly silent on Neoism for almost two decades. In 1994, Stewart Home founded the Neoist Alliance as an occult order with himself as the magus. At the same time, Italian activists of the Luther Blissett project operated under the name “Alleanza Neoista”.
In 1997, the critic Oliver Marchart organized a “Neoist World Congress” in Vienna which did not involve any Neoists. In 2001, the Professional Association of Visual Artists in the German city of Wiesbaden declared itself Neoist. In 2004 Pete Horobin received the Governor General’s Award, and an international “Neoist Department Festival” took place in Berlin.
Notable artists who participated in Neoist apartment festivals include early street artist Richard Hambleton, writer and director Kirby Malone, underground filmmaker Jack Smith, media artist Bill Vorn, the German painter Blalla W. Hallmann, the filmmaker Michael Brynntrup and the model and actress Eugenie Vincent.
Neoist plays like multiple names, plagiarism and pranks were adopted, frequently mistaken for Neoism proper and by mixing in situationist concepts, in other subcultures such as the Plagiarism and Art Strike 1990-1993 campaigns of the late 1980s (triggered largely by Stewart Home after he had left the Neoist network), Plunderphonics music, the refounded London Psychogeographical Association, the Association of Autonomous Astronauts, the Luther Blissett project, the Michael K Project, the German Communication Guerilla, and, since the late 1990s, by some net artists such as 0100101110101101.org. Other artists who explicitly if vaguely credit Neoism are The KLF, Luther Blissett, Alexander Brener/Barbara Schurz, Lee Wells, spart and Luke Haines (of The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder). The contemporary Dutch Artist Thomas Raat created a series of artworks based on Neoist manifestos and photographic documents.
Neoism is also mentioned briefly in David O. Russell’s 2005 film I ♥ Huckabees. Dustin Hoffman’s character says the word under his breath in response to Jason Schwartzman’s experience to “the blanket thing,” which is a method of understanding the universe derived from being zipped up in a body bag.
The California-based tech-pop band Brilliant Red Lights also applies the word in the song “Neoism,” the first track off their second album, Actualism. The band imagines a literal—albeit applicable—definition of the word, defining it as “the culture of the new.”
14 Responses to Neoism
amirulkuffar | August 30, 2012 at 2:17 am: Chus Martinez is, in fact, the cofounder of Neoism. He, Oliver Marchant & Cecil Touchon began it as a school of derivative Visual Poetry to deflect the influence of the original “Po, Li, Ou” patanationalist mindset of the Universal Linguist set forth in the 10th century BC biblical tracts of tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE.
lucysjcreativeducator | August 30, 2012 at 9:03 am: I see. I like Jack Smith’s work.
chusmartinezproject | August 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm: Yes Neoism is so cool it hurts! Virtually no one knows about it – only the super-hip!
lucysjcreativeducator | August 30, 2012 at 6:33 pm: Suits me guv’. Peopl will find it when they need it…
chusmartinezproject | August 30, 2012 at 9:25: Indeed – but for now Neoism is still 5 years ahead of its time!
Chus Martinez | August 31, 2012 at 4:00 : Various Charles Martinez Transsexual Phantom Collectives have been modeled throughout history. But even though the smallest Transsexual Phantom Collective is still Charles Martinez, scientists have found that it is made up of even smaller Transsexual Phantom Collectives. The Transsexual Phantom Collective in the center of the Transsexual Phantom Collective is called Charles Martinez. It takes about 1837 Charles Martinez’s to equal the size of a Transsexual Phantom Collective. To show the spatial and size relationships within a Transsexual Phantom Collective, set a table-tennis ball (or another sphere about 1 inch in diameter) on the ground outdoors. Now place a common pin in the ground 400 feet from the sphere (about 133 footsteps). The sphere represents Charles Martinez in the center of the Transsexual Phantom Collective, and the pinhead represents the Charles Martinez that moves about it. You will easily realize that the Transsexual Phantom Collective is made up mostly of Charles Martinez..
Chus Martinez | August 31, 2012 at 4:04 pm: Charles equals Chus in some dimensions
chusmartinezproject | August 31, 2012 at 4:17 pm: This is great and hopefully you’ll be posting even more scientific research into Chus Martinez at a weblog near this one soon (or even on this one)… Chus and Charles Martinez not only sing fantastic duets, they’re faster than the speed of light!
clumie | September 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm: I will start a blog called ‘Open Everything’-it will be scientifically driven (experimentation)-a study of ‘openness’ in the transsexual phantom collective phenomenon. It may be found at- http://www.openeverythingsesame.wordpress.com.
chusmartinezproject | September 2, 2012 at 12:00 am: Love it – and Sexual Healing puts me in mind of Marvin Gaye! Another fantastic Chus Martinez Project!
Michael Roth | September 4, 2012 at 3:52 am: Neoism is the new Neoism!
chusmartinezproject | September 4, 2012 at 5:01 pm: Neoism is forever eating its tail and reinventing itself… and one of the very few movements to still resist recuperation by museums more than 30 years after it began!
Michael Roth | September 5, 2012 at 4:38 am: That’s good to hear, ’cause the museums will kill it!
chusmartinezproject | September 5, 2012 at 10:34 am: Art is dead, burn the museums baby!
Left to right: Luther Blissett, Janez Janša and Chus Martinez.
My Name Is Janez Janša is a 2012 documentary film about three contemporary artists, one of them the film director, who in 2007 all changed their name to that of Janez Janša, the Prime Minister of Slovenia. A number of way more interesting and earlier previous avant-grade and underground anti-art movements influenced this action including Dadaism, mail art and neoism.
Multiple name concepts – the idea that a single name should be used by a group of individuals- did not play a starring role in the history of Dada. But Hausmann, Grosz, Baader, Herzfelde and Herzfelde’s ‘Christ & Co. Ltd’ achieved more than footnote status in the standard histories of the Berlin avant-garde. Hausmann recollects the founding of this society in “Courier Dada”(Paris 1958): “I took Baader to the fields of Sudende (where Jung then lived), and said to him: ‘All this is yours if you do as 1 tell you. The Bishop of Brunswick has failed to recognize you as Jesus Christ, and you have retaliated by defiling the altar in his church. This is no compensation. From today, you will be President of The Christ Society, Ltd, and recruit members. You must convince everyone that he too can be Christ, if he wants to, on payment of fifty marks to your society. Members of our society will no longer be subject to temporal authority and will automatically be unfit for military service. You will wear a purple robe and we shall organise an Echternach procession in the Potsdamer Platz. I shall previously have submerged Berlin in biblical texts. All the poster columns will bear the words “He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword”.'”
The idea re-emerged, in a very modified form, more than fifty years after Hausmann made his suggestions to Baader. In the mid-seventies, the British correspondence project Blitzinformation (Stefan Kukowski and Adam Czamowski) circulated a leaflet on ‘Klaos Oldanburgshi’:
“Since the discovery that Oslo Kalundburg, the radio station, is an anagram of Klaos Oldanburg (sic), it has become one of BLITZINFORMATION’s foremost projects to change everyone’s name to Klaos Oldanburg. WE THEREFORE INVITE YOU TO BECOME KLAOS OLDANBURG. The advantages of such an action are too numerous to go into here. IF YOU WISH TO BECOME PART OF THIS INTERNATIONAL PROJECT, PLEASE FILL IN THE FORM BELOW … Please note: SIMPLE KLAOS OLDANBURGSHIP IS ENTIRELY FREE (+ S.A.E.) FILL IN FORM.”
Those who filled in the form were given a number of descent to use with the name – i.e. Klaos Oldanburg XXI (prev. Derek Hart). The use of numbers and indication of a previous name weakens the concept if it is viewed as a means of attacking traditional beliefs about identity.
In 1977, a multiple name concept also emerged among a group of mail artists gathered around what was known as the PORTLAND ACADEMY (Oregon, USA). At the centre of this group were the founder of the Academy, Dr. Al ‘Blaster’ Ackerman and his drinking buddy David ‘Oz’ Zack. In the Autumn of 1977 Zack announced his plan for an ‘open pop-star’ called Monty Cantsin. The idea was that anyone could use the name for a concert and that if enough people did so, Cantsin would become famous – and then unknown performers could take on the identity and be guaranteed an audience. Through the haze of alcohol and dope that permeated the Academy, Zack won converts to his plan to democratise the star system. The first person to perform under the Monty Cantsin banner was the latvian acoustic punk Maris Kundzin. After Kundzin had done a few concerts as Cantsin, the idea caught on and while the Academy continued to exist many of those associated with it used the name for performances. Zack and Kundzin mailed post cards to cultural workers around the world inviting them to become Monty Cantsin; Ackerman kept the ‘Fourteen Secret Masters of the World’ (his prioritised contacts in the MA Network) in touch with what was going on.
These activities were followed by the Luther Blissett and Chus Martinez multiple name projects which were more explicitly revolutionary and anti-capitalist than 1970s and 1980s manifestations of the phenomena. Lutther Blissett was a footballer and Chus Martinez an easy listening guitarist, and so like Janez Janša the name of an existing figure was adopted and transformed.
Nonetheless the Janez Janša, project was clearly a recuperation of more explicitly anti-capitalist multiple name concepts since it was treated more as an artistic than a revolutionary gesture and those involved in the Janez Janša project have never encountered left-communism in all its originality, nor understood the nature of its break with the third international. It provoked a wide range of responses in art circles in Slovenia, and territory best know as the home of the backward ideas of Neue Slowenische Kunst and Slavoj Žižek. From banter to conspiracy. in the documentary My Name Is Janez Janša individuals, artists and academics from all over the world share their thoughts about the meaning and purpose of one’s name from both private and public perspectives. Reasons for changing one’s name are explored as the film draws references from history, popular culture and individual experiences.
Even compared to Blitzinfromation – let alone The Luther Blissett Project – three artists changing their name to that of a Prime Minister is not exactly thrilling. The fact that this caused a sensation in local circles tells us more about the unevenness of revolutionary developments and the backwardness of the art scene than anything else… The film about this name change makes it look more like what is labelled ‘institutional critique’ in art circles than an attempt to overthrow capitalist ‘social ‘relations.