Interview with the founder of Neoism, Hungarian born video and performance artist Istvan Kantor. He’s amazing.
In the city of Yogyakarta in Java, in the cultural capital of Indonesia and the Mecca for artists and academics – flames arise in front of hundreds of deep brown eyes. I see ten hot women dancing in monotonous electronoise. They dance as none of us is used to see the women in the beginning of 2011 in moslem-dominated Indonesia. Istvan Kantor, the agitator and founder of the neoist artists network, rises up on his arms and walks on his hands towards the light – and this fire is in red flames. As a dextrous 62-year-old somersault he falls into the fire, that swallows the sign: “I SWEAR TO GOD I’LL NEVER MAKE ANY BORING ART”. He sticks the spike into his vein and sucks out some red capsules of blood (he also has papers in medicine).
Blood. That’s what Kantor loves.
Then he turns his ass towards the audience, reveals his buns and sticks the blood capsule to the anus. The secret police hiding in the audience observes it with frustration and calls his boss. Ten dancers in the style of femme-fatale turn into girls whose dignity has somehow suddenly been violated. Here in the moslem mainstream the body has completely different meaning. And also one of my dearest friend Kiwa, a recognized Estonian artist and curator, possibly a neoist himself, is right here. For the first time he flirts with the idea of inviting Kantor over to Estonia.
Kantor is damn good in it – to bring some scandal in the art world. He has been playing tricks in the museums around the world, splashing crosses of blood on the ‘holy’ white walls of galleries, but possibly also on some drops spilled on the works by Picasso. But definitely it’s not only scandals that have caused him some haunting fame. By using various mediums his works deals with downspirals of the technological society, body corporeality, he criticizes mainstream thought (or the lack of it), and seeks for rebellion against authority.
He signs all his works as Monty Cantsin and warmly welcomes all of us to use the name already since 1970s, when the open pop star Monty Cantsin came to life. All different kinds of Monty Cantsins are drawn together by the principle of anti-authority.
Kantor is a legend and a somewhat syperstar – but the one whose fame has not been so easily convertible into money. He condemns the expensive Toronto, although he has risen up three kids over there. But how the hell could a man, who’s guiding line is “REVOLUTION OUT OF CONTROL” accumulate anything else than ideas, fresh and bloody ideas?!
Visiting borobudur temple in java with kiwa and istvan, february 2011
One and half years after our meeting in Indonesia (we three with Kiwa and Istvan even visited the holy Borobudur temple together, see the pics above), Kiwa indeed brought Kantor to Estonia. Rebellious technorobotism, machine-like sexuality and The book of Neoism, which includes all the information in the world conquered Estonian contemporary arts museum (EKKM) with the exhibition “Rebellious neoist” (17.06-18.07), but there were also some neoist action happening around Tallinn, Riga and Pori. Bitter flavor of burnt blood was floating in the air during the opening night. We had bodies turned into zombies, that were exposing signs such as 24H BRAINWASH or BURN BABY BURN, calling up to rebel against sexualized corporeality, lighting up some irons in flames.
We all turned into Monty Cantsins. It was always six o’clock.
Istvan Kantor, EKKM, Tallinn 2012
In the booklet IRVE (see here) that was produced for your exhibition in Tallinn, among other things there was also published your writing about how Monty Cantsin came to be. There was a passionate description about sexual activity, topped with a question – does it change the activity when you change how you name it or you change the context?
In the book of Neoism I use lots of porn texts, which get plundered and changed into Neoist theoretical writings. Sex and Neoism go hand in hand. The work of Wilhelm Reich was always very important for me, as an inspiration. He was the one who made the statement, that sex is the driving force of the society. I added that sex and technology are the driving forces of the society. When he said that sex is the driving force of society it was a very radical statement to be made in the 1930s. He was a student of Freud, a psychoanalyst, who went deep into research of sexuality. His work has been an inspiration for me to create some performances with “Machine Sex Action Group” which explore technology and sex.
You can plunder things from other people, you learn something and you change it into your own theoretical ideas and rename it, which is almost same thing, but it generates more interest, because all ideas with old names become boring. For example, when you take a work of a painter, like Picasso, you are already bored to look at Picasso! But when you add something to Picasso or you take the image and vandalize it, it becomes very interesting. It renews the work and puts it into different perspective and changes people’s perception.
If you do something under the name of Monty Cantsin, what will happen with the substance?
We just let people to use the name of Monty Cantsin. But you have to be conscious about this. All those who use Monty Cantsin can be part of the endless game that can always bring out new ideas, because each Monty Cantsin is different. They are just using the same name. When you use the same name for different people, then control is impossible and total freedom rules.
Just to provoke some thoughts – if you say that name yourself Monty Cantsin and do everything in the name of Neoism – does not that itself sound a bit authoritarian?
No, it is not authoritarian. I’m not demanding that you do that. If you want to call yourself Monty Cantsin, call yourself Monty Cantsin. In the context of Neoism there is no rules. If you don’t want to use the name Monty Cantsin, you don’t have to. If you don’t want to do everything in the name of Neoism, you don’t have to. It’s just that if you want to be part of the game, that’s the way it goes, because otherwise there’s no background for it. Basically there are two names that determine the situation, but it’s not anything forceful.
When a baby is born, then the baby doesn’t have a name but we give a baby a name to be defined. But this name doesn’t mean anything until this baby grows up and through history creates content for that name. That’s the same with Monty Cantsin. It becomes more important when it’s in use. Without the use it doesn’t mean anything.
You strive towards revolution out of control – this is one of the principal guiding forces in Neoism. If I were to name myself Monty Cantsin, then I would do it, because chaos is also part of me. And revolution out of control - isn’t it the most chaotic thing?
Definitely revolutions are very controlled, and basically that is what destroys every revolution at the end, because when the revolution is very victorious, then the system changes the revolution into different system that wants to present this force to the people and will basically subject them to that authority. That’s why I always say that only the failed revolutions are real revolutions, because they never loose revolutionary ambitions because they never get corrupted. It’s because every revolution gets corrupted after the victory. Hungarian revolution was a failed revolution, so it never got corrupted. But for example, the Cuban revolution degraded into system that today is not serving at all what it was supposed to. It’s only serving the dictator that keeps the system going and people are not really happy with the situation.
The revolution that you express in your artworks rarely wants to exceed the world within art world.
Basically when I talk about revolution, it’s not always an organized kind of system that would have all the necessities what a revolution needs – that is a conspiracy to get rid of the old system. When I talk about revolutions I’m not necessarily talking about political revolution, but I’m dealing with smaller communities where everybody has some place, especially in culture, arts, in the creative parts of the society. I’m opening up questions and discussions and want to keep talking about revolution, which seems like in the society that is so much about control and authority, is obsolete.
But in today’s system it’s not obsolete, because there are newly organized somewhat victorious revolutions going on all around the world. It’s interesting to have this discussion to bring history in today’s situation and to deal with art system as a place where revolution is needed. It’s a smaller system that also has all the structure that the political system has. The artists are the slaves and museums and galleries are basically the government. They all relate to each other in a similar way that the political system works. I’m interested in the system, how artists can find themselves and keep themselves free from this kind of authority.
It’s also interesting that your struggle becomes most real within the institution that is the closest to you – that is the art world. Is it because this is the closest authority you have to face with? Or you feel that you have the authority to fuck it up, because you are an artist?
I don’t have any authority. The only authority I have is how I define Neoism or create my own works. But besides that we don’t have any authoritarian system or corporation, not even a registered group. Everybody shares the same space. We communicate with each other in a brotherhood type of way, that obviously uses certain iconic images and ideas of dictatorships and religious faces, all kind of conceptual ideas that makes it look like an organized system. But in fact it’s not – it’s a kind of fake science.
But based on the current exhibition and your previous activities we could see that this is the sphere where your revolution becomes most real – this fight with institution of museums and galleries.
I’m not fighting against them, but I’m fighting against their way of dealing with artists. I find museums are important places for communication and they should be like temples. But they are not, because they are taken over by banks and corporations, by all kind of rules that the board of directors would present, how things have to look like and be exhibited. They create their own esthetics that is very much like mainstream and similar to television and other communication systems that are serving mainstream culture.
One of these days I was visiting you in EKKM. You were making a mural and you said that you don’t want your work look too finished. I added that they should remain open.
I understand that artist have some sort of authority, that an art has to be finished in some ways and that it represents a certain authority and determine certain esthetics and makes a statement that would provide people with the way of thinking. But that’s the same with philosophy and science or anything else that concerns thinking and communication.
To leave the artwork open for interaction, for somebody else to continue the work – that’s what’s happens when you plagiarize or plunder. That’s what already Marcel Duchamp introduced first by taking any random object from the street and calling it artwork or vandalizing a postcard of Mona Lisa. Today when we talk about Neoism then that would open up the situation and we would like to see every artwork open. In the museums also, they artworks should have different access not like as today under total control as if the museums were prisons, as they are guarded by security and surveillance, absolutely alienated from people.
You have the concept of open time also – why it’s always 6 o’clock?
This is the basic concept of Neoism. We see the whole system of communication at different perception. It’s not linear anymore – we are not talking about the history that happens at certain year. So we are not going on the axis of X, but we take the Y, which is vertical. It’s basically a visual representation of this idea that everything accumulates and gets bigger and bigger. This is how I imagine this 6 o’clock time – that past, present and future are not separated, but they are happening at the same time.
When you cut a second in film into frames – you get 24 frames. Usually we watch the movie from the beginning to the end, so it follows the linear time. But if I cut the film into frames and throw them in the air (he takes some coins and throws them in the air), I can see the whole film at the same time.
For me, your works often communicate the very essence of creation, the really deep essence that is always about chaos and destruction. Am I reading you right?I don’t think it’s about chaos and destruction actually. I definitely have to recognize the fact when I was a child and the Hungarian revolution happened. I came out from the shelter and I saw all the destroyed streets, buildings, all the dead people and fire and blood all over the place. That had a big effect on me and ever since that’s the kind of esthetics I like. I like decay, I like ruins, death, all the destructive landscape. But this is not something unusual, because that exists in today’s technological society. It’s not that you would see dead bodies and ruins everywhere, it’s hidden, but when you enter the junkyards and you see all this trash and wasted material, you are shocked. But this is the landscape of our society – destruction. The whole idea of technological society is built on this destruction, because all the nature has to be destroyed in order to build cities and rebuild cities.
I was stunned by one feature in your art practice. What is a stripbot?
Stripbot is a stripper robot. These are very exotic creatures. If you go to strip bar you will see all these exotic dancers and in real life they are also extended by technology, they relate to music, especially when they are dancing. They relate to the beat.
I see them as robots, just as much I see fashion models as robots. Stripbots in my work represent the changes in this technological society where everybody is extended with technology and uses technology to change their body. Use silicon to create different body and all kind of little devices to make your heart work better or change bones, even your brain soon. So people are becoming more like androids. People are really changing in the relationship with technology.
I pretty much see people as technological units and machines. There’s nothing new in that, because I think in history people were more robot-like than they are today. I think that the brain got diminished and we have forgotten some ways of communication like telepathy that was used when people were more like machines.
Neoist disaster performance, Kiwa with accordion
Stripbot, EKKM, Tallinn
The book of Neoism, EKKM, Tallinn
Oh mirror mirror, who’s the greatest neoist in this world?