The Idea of the Avant Garde

The Idea of the Avant Garde - round table discussion


NeMe and curator Marc James Léger would like to invite you to participate in a round table discussion, scheduled for 6.30-9.30pm, on Friday September 21 at the University of Nicosia. The event is designed as an open forum where artists, scholars, NGOs, the press, representatives from MOEC and interested members of the public will be able to discuss issues affecting the Cypriot arts environment and the global arts scene.

ROUND TABLE on The Idea of the Avant Garde

This is an invitation to consider the role of cultural workers – artists, audiences, space-coordinators, educators, curators and administrators – in providing a language to discuss contemporary culture in a rapidly transforming social, political and economic context. Today’s avant gardes are at the forefront of new artistic logics, new media technologies, new material infrastructures and changing social relations. Driven by democratic and radical impulses, they are also “in the flow” of networks that extend communication and (dis-)connect communities around artworks, issues and ideas.

The edited book The Idea of the Avant Garde – And What It Means Today (Manchester UP, 2014) and the second forthcoming volume (co-published by Intellect and NeMe) will have brought together 100 artists and intellectuals from various fields of artistic practice to discuss the merits of the concept of the avant garde and its applicability for thinking through the role of “art” in the age of neoliberal globalization. Based on the two books, the exhibition The Idea of the Avant Garde at the NeMe Arts Centre will extend this process of conceptualization to the Cypriot community. More than 35 of the artists involved in the two books are presenting works that figure as part of a project that will encompass this round table, workshops, a seminar, performances, film screenings and a Class Wargames event. The Cypriot community is invited discuss the matter with the expectation that it might serve to question, or simply recognize, some of the received ideas of the now postmodern culture industries.

Today’s avant garde, according to Marc James Léger, “finds itself in the paradoxical position of not defining itself as avant-garde. This is not only due to the postmodern prohibition of meta-discourses, but to the very prohibition on the prohibition.” As this meta-prohibition loosens, questions like what is an avant garde, what are its histories and how do these inform contemporary practices, become sites of discussion, contention and praxis. Meanwhile, art galleries, museums and many art historians are still generally promoting a language that is based on what Peter Bürger long ago defined as the “institution art,” now extended through art’s expanded field to identities, social work and various discursive realms.

Some points for discussion:

  • What is an avant garde and what does it mean today?
  • Does the avant garde have a core ideology that perseveres to today?
  • Does the politicisation of art lead to its destruction, or, how can art liberate itself from art without abandoning art?
  • Should critical cultural workers alienate or collaborate?
  • How can radical artists resist reification in a world of just-in-time social media?
  • How can autonomy be balanced with solidarity and vice versa?
  • Can any subject or agency speak in terms of revolutionary consciousness?
  • What are the political issues affecting the collective overcoming-erasure of authorship?
  • Are distinctions between alternative and radical, reformist and revolutionary valid?
  • Is this discussion mostly for what Adrian Piper refers to as: “upper-middle-class heterosexual WASP men, the pampered only sons of doting parents”?
  • Does the avant garde offer an effective counterpoint to the narcissism of small differences?
  • Can the concept of the avant garde disrupt the totalitarian temptations of postmodern social constructionism? i.e. Why the return to metaphysics in today’s so-called materialisms?
  • Can culture interfere with rather than serve capitalism’s colonization of everyday life?
  • Do collaborative infrastructures and alter-networks provide a viable alternative for human survival? i.e. Does the small and local challenge bio-capitalist integration?
  • What is the relation between artistic avant gardes and political vanguards and have both of these been displaced by horizontalism, deterritorialisation and radical democracy?
  • Who decides? Who benefits? What is to be done?

The discussion will be in English.


Fine Art Building
University of Nicosia
Michail Georgalla 29, Egkomi

Looking forward to seeing you there


NeMe would like to thank the Department of Culture of the Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture, Alphamega, and Medochemie for their support.

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