|#2, 1984, editor, Stewart Home|
|#3, 1984, editor, Stewart Home|
|#6, 1984, editor, Stewart Home|
|#7, 1985, editor, Stewart Home|
|#8, 1985, editor, Stewart Home|
|#9, 1986, editor, Stewart Home|
|#10, 1987, last issue, editor, Stewart Home|
|#63, 1986, editor, Grauf Haufen, Germany|
|#5, 1989?, editor, Schiz-Flux, Madison|
|#6, nd, editor, Schiz-Flux, Madison|
|#7, nd, editor, Schiz-Flux, Madison|
|no#, nd, Baltimore|
|no#, nd, editor, Interanational Entropy Annex, Maryland|
|Transparent Smile, 1985, editor, tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE|
|Smile Classified (V&A catalogue), 1992, editor, Simon Ford|
SMILE Magazine: Collective Identities
and the Mechanics of Historicization
Between March and August, 1992, the National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, presented a small exhibition titled "SMILE: A Magazine of Multiple Origins." The exhibit consisted of 101 issues of Smile magazine that had been published by editors from three continents during the periodical’s ‘heroic years’ (1984-89). The American section of the exhibition represented a quarter of the total, while the UK contributions made up over half of all the periodicals on display. Smile was an ‘open’ publishing project that was collectively produced by over 30 editors from Europe, North America, and Australia, each of whom published their own periodical called Smile.
The exhibit, organized by Simon Ford, a curator at the National Art Library, represents Smile's first official institutional recognition, and its first formal embrace by the academy. In the introduction to the booklet titled “Smile Classified” that accompanied the exhibit, Ford addresses Smile's publishing model, "Smile magazine is based on a unique proposition: anyone can produce one! This, the object in your hand is a Smile magazine," he further notes Smile’s apparent resistance to the normative structures of the library & museum, and he concludes that…"to a certain extent to dissect, classify, attribute, date, and authorize are anti-smile activities."1
This text investigates the origins of this unique periodical project, some of the strategies activated through it, the relationship of its initiator, Stewart Home, to the avant-garde movement Neoism, and the apparent paradox of an artists' periodical that was simultaneously constructed in opposition to, and for its future assimilation by, institutionalized culture.
Smile magazine's history is inextricably linked to the international Neoist Cultural Conspiracy and the English writer and cultural critic, Stewart Home. First published in 1984, Smile was originally the organ of Home's one-person movement, the Generation Positive. By the third issue (later that same year), Home had come into contact with the Canadian-based Neoist movement, and recognizing that both were virtually identical, adopted the term 'Neoism' for his activities. Home would continue publishing Smile until the eleventh issue in 1989, just before he commenced participation in the Art Strike 1990-1993, and ceased all cultural production for three years.
The received myth of Neoism's beginnings takes place with the initial 1976 encounter in Budapest between David Zack (an American writer and correspondence/mail artist), and István Kántor (a Hungarian medical student and aspiring pop singer). During their conversations Zack outlined his proposal for the creation of an 'open popstar,' who's name would be Monty Cantsin. A year later Kántor emigrated to Montreal and subsequently visited Zack, who at that time was living in Portland, Oregon. This visit confirmed Kántor's new identity as Monty Cantsin 'open popstar,' and soon after returning to Montreal he formed the Neoist movement. Although Kántor is the individual most closely identified with the Monty Cantsin name, the open popstar concept was premised upon the 'multiple name' concept, that is, multiple people using the same name for their creative activities. By utilizing the Monty Cantsin name, anyone could participate in expanding the collective identity of Monty Cantsin, save themselves the money, time, and effort involved in establishing their own artistic identity, and at the same time further the cause of Neoism.
Defining Neoism or indeed 'classifying' it, is to encounter its paradoxical nature. Quite literally, Neoism means "New-Ism," which establishes its modernist/avant-garde lineage, positions it as something that is always in the process of becoming, and establishes its refusal to commit to any specific formal or theoretical positions with which to achieve its ends. One Neoist has described it as "a movement to create the illusion that there's a movement called Neoism."2 Kántor, when pressed for a definition of Neoism in 1993, replied that:
I have thousands of definitions but none of them are good for anything, and perhaps always the newest one is the best.3 (my italics)
On the beginnings of Neoism, Kántor replied;
The birth of neoism took place as follows: there was a name, and I said 'let's give it a try,' and whatever comes out will be called neoism.4
Contrary to Neoism's etymological basis in 'newness' is its refusal to generate new objects or ideas. Neoism's strategy is one of appropriating previously extant activities and ideas as it's own. Kántor elaborates on this signature characteristic of Neoism;
It uses 'ready-made' ideas. It does not necessarily have to invent a form. But the form that has already been used can be re-used by Neoism and turned into something else. If you look at the principles of Neoism actually you can immediately see that inventions are old and boring. The Neoists don't want to invent things, the Neoists want to apply things better than anyone else. Originality, uniqueness and the term 'new' are not what's important anymore. What is important is that we completely recycle all the ideas that already exist, as if somebody had recycled the whole of the 20th century.5
Stewart Home was also interested in recycling previously used ideas, in particular, the idea of the avant-garde and critiques of the institution of art. In 1985 his impact on Neoism's history would take a decisive turn. After returning from the Ninth Neoist Festival in Ponte Nossa, Italy, he announced his split from Neoism in his "Open Letter to the Neoist network and the public at large;"
My approach to art, life and politics has not changed, I simply feel it's no longer feasible for me to be a 'neoist.' Splits and schisms are essential to my conception of neoism and any public slanging match between an ex-neoist and the remaining members of the movement is worth twelve dozen great works of art. Ultimately what all neoists should aim for is an acrimonious split with the movement. To leave neoism is to realize it.6
Home's paradigmatic avant-garde split with Neoism took place on a number of different levels. Frustrated over the Neoist strategy that deliberately obscured this anti-art movement’s aims, Home wanted to introduce a clarity in its theoretical position and situate it within historical precedents.7 To achieve the former he linked Neoism with Situationism and Fluxus, two post-WWII groups he felt constituted part of this century's 'utopian current,' and for the latter he made the historical connection explicit when he wrote that Neoism "…is an illegible note that Tristan Tzara allowed to fall from his breast pocket prior to a performance at the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916."8 At the same time Home used the split to position himself as the architect of a rehabilitated Neoist 'avant-garde,' one that would be constructed in such a way that it could successfully be introduced into the historicization process. A critical component in this strategy was his insight into the pivotal role that texts play in the construction of avant-garde movements. Home states;
When I hooked up with the Neoists, I thought certain aspects of the movement were underdeveloped. For example, there wasn’t enough text. This was one of the things I wanted to introduce in vast quantities... As a result [of this lack], the Neoists were in danger of losing their avant-garde identity and becoming just another part of the underground. While its members were madly documenting [their] events...there’d been a failure to grasp the central role that written reports played in the process of historicization.9
As a result, Home renewed his original call for the use of Smile as a multiple name in the context of periodical publishing, and in a direct challenge to Kántor, proposed the name Karen Eliot as a counter multiple name. With the implementation of these two strategies, Home cemented his split with Neoism, and through the promotion of Smile as an 'international magazine of multiple origins,' created a mechanism for the collective production of “vast quantities” of printed matter.
For David Zack, the author of the multiple name concept, it was a strategy through which “…people can share their art power."10 For Kántor and Home, it was a form of collective resistance to the construction of the individual;
Kántor: By giving the same name to different people we create a kind of confusion that makes control impossible—because everybody has the same name there is no control possible.11
Home: It is in Power's interest that each individual has a unique name, thus making them easily identifiable. Without these classifications Power cannot control because it cannot differentiate, divide and isolate.12
Thus, multiplicity was seen by the Neoists as a way of thwarting capitalism's construction and reification of the individual, and the means through which to create a non-hierarchical and collectively constructed identity. Implicit in this position is a critique of a string of related concepts, recognized by both Kántor and Home, that are associated with the construction of the 'individual' and valorized under capital, some of these are; genius, originality, artist/author/producer, ownership and copyright.
While recognizing that these are important features of the multiple name concept and integral to Neoism's position, I want however, to turn my attention to Home’s role in the application of this concept. I would suggest that Home's active promotion of the use of multiple names (for individuals and periodicals), was another key element in his 'avant-gardization' of Neoism, and that through this double application of the multiple name concept, he was able to influence how and in what manner, Neoism would be manifested, and equally importantly, how it would be documented.
Furthermore, it was only through the activation of the multiple name concept and the establishment of a collective identity that Neoism could be perceived as an avant-garde movement. Multiple names gave a collective form to the 'form-lessness' at the center of Neoism. Home's investment in this strategy is clear, if Neoism was not perceived as an avant-garde movement then his plans for its eventual historicization would not take place.
One of the ostensible reasons for Home's split with the Neoists was his observation that István Kántor had become over-identified with Monty Cantsin and was therefore diminishing the revolutionary potential of this strategy. Kántor himself suggests that this critique was substantially correct in the following statements;
Because I was the first person to become Monty Cantsin and I created the name Neoism, I was completely beholden by it, and I put all my life and energy into it.13
This Monty Cantsin job is one of the most difficult ones I ever got, and it is not easy to accomplish it and balance the fictive and real parts.14
This 'over-identification' on Kántor's behalf gave Home added incentive to insert his own multiple name, Karen Eliot, into the Neoist context. For Home, multiple names were to be approached as 'open contexts,' as situations, rather than 'jobs;'
Karen Eliot is a name which refers to an individual human being who can be anyone.The name is fixed, the people using it aren't.Anyone can become Karen Eliot simply by adopting the name, but they are only Karen Eliot for the period in which the name is used.Karen Eliot was materialized, rather than born, as an open context in the summer of '85. When one becomes Karen Eliot one's previous existence consists of the acts other people have undertaken using the name.15
The Karen Eliot 'open context' generated a substantial amount of texts and actions in her name, as well as revitalizing the collective use of Monty Cantsin. It is interesting to note that although Home put forward Karen Eliot as an 'other' to Kántor's Monty Cantsin, there was no discussion on his behalf, or others, around issues of gender.
Home's original proposal in his own Smile #2 (1984), for the use of multiple names in the context of periodical publishing and his renewed promotion of it a year later in conjunction with his introduction of the Karen Eliot multiple name, must be seen as his one 'original' contribution to Neoism. As it turned out, the Smile project was extremely successful with approximately 50 titles and an estimated 150 issues published across three continents. The accelerated activity undertaken during these years by cultural refuseniks using the multiple name strategy established Smile as a printed matter site that played a mobilizing role in activating and networking an international network of participants. Home, by collapsing the use of both Monty Cantsin and Karen Eliot into one periodical, and through his own numerous published writings, established himself as a pivotal, if contested, theorist of Neoism. It is not incidental that after Home’s break with the Neoists, and in order to amplify his position, that later issues of his own Smile (#8-11, 1985-89) were offset printed in contrast to a number of the early issues that were photocopied, and the final issue (#11) was printed in a new & larger tabloid format.
The Smile catalogue for the Victoria & Albert exhibition includes the most authoritative checklist of the Smiles published during the years 1984-89, and this list reveals that 101 issues were published by 32 editors from 8 countries (England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, USA, Canada & Australia).16 Sizes for the majority of these Smiles are divided between A5, with slightly more in the A4 format, and the printing method is almost exclusively photocopy. Print runs for the vast majority of Smiles were small and in most cases probably no more than 50-300 copies were printed of individual issues. The six years covered by this checklist mirror the publishing life of Home’s Smile, although Smiles were still being published during the 1990s. The years 1984-89 constitute the most active period in Smile’s publishing history.
Home's insertion of himself into the Neoist movement and his restructuring of its theoretical and historical context illustrates one of his major investments in the movement—preparing Neoism for, and actively participating in, the process of its historicization and its eventual assimilation into institutionalized culture. Central to this whole operation is the activating role he created for himself, "What's crucial to any avant-garde group is you have to have at least one theorist to try and formulate the whole thing as a movement."18 It is in this context that Smile (particularly Home's), can be seen as one of the more significant artefacts to be produced by Neoism. The texts that Home published in his Smile, ranged from Neoist texts to his own fiction and poetry, to surveys of post-WWII art movements, cultural criticism, as well as promoting the two major projects that he was involved with from 1985 onwards—the Festivals of Plagiarism and the Art Strike 1990-1993. As a strategy for bringing together a wide variety of texts and, to a lesser extent, images generated by multiple Neoists, Smile magazine provided a broad umbrella for these collective activities.
One particular tactic that helped fill out the pages of many Smile magazines, was the use of 'positive plagiarism.'19 Implicit in the Neoist position and popularized by Home, this strategy enabled Neoists to creatively re-use each others' texts as well as found and ready-made texts, all the while amplifying and extending the printed matter basis of Neoism. It is also not surprising to discover that large amounts of Home's texts are to be found re-used throughout many other Smiles. As Home made clear in an earlier statement, he viewed the production of texts as integral to establishing Neoism's avant-garde credentials. While this is undeniably correct, it also reflects an activity that remains central to Home's own oeuvre, and that is his career as a writer and cultural critic. It is here that two rather interesting stands of Home's strategy intersect; the imperative to publish more texts and Home's own ambition to 'author' the movement. For, while Home had encouraged the production of texts by multiple 'anonymous' authors, he was, through his own growing publishing profile, able to construct himself as the 'author' of a revitalized Neoist movement, through a medium he clearly had an investment in, and in a form (Smile) that he had initiated and done so much to propagate.
Home's success was the entry of Smile, and by implication himself, into the academy. It remains to be seen however, whether the process of historicization will confirm Home in his carefully constructed role, one that he summarized in a 1986 article as, "Theorists start out as authors and end up as authorities."20,21
Stephen Perkins, 2008
1. Ford, Simon. Smile Classified (exhibition booklet/magazine). National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum: London, 1992, p. 1.
This article was originally published in: Kairan, #2, Japan, 2000, & reprinted in: Der Heidenlårmer, 20(6), USA, 2002.
Of his choice of the name Smile for his magazine, Home states: “Incidentally I called Smile that name for a number of reasons, one being a play with/on General Idea’s File. When I chose the name I was not aware of Vile or Bile. If I had been more rigorous in my thinking I would have named it File but it’s too late now!” In: Smile, Vol. 63, Artcore Editions: Berlin, 1986, p.5. [excerpts from a letter by Karen Eliot to Grauf Haufen, May 23, 1986]
2. Convenience, Tentatively. History Begins Where Life Ends (pamphlet). Baltimore: Self-published, nd, p. 5. In this article Convenience credits this statement to John Berndt.
3. Pain, Paddy. "István Kántor," (interview), Kinokaze, #2, 1993, p. 17.
4. Perneczky, Geza. The Magazine Network, Koln: Soft Geometry, 1993,
5. Pain, Paddy. "István Kántor," (interview), Kinokaze, #2, 1993, p. 18.
6. Home, Stewart. "Open letter to the neoist network and the public at
large," Smile, #8, 1985, p. 1.
7. On Neoism’s obscurantism Home writes: “In '84 after I met the Neoists...I just started reading more and more of the Situationist stuff...and thinking yes I want to put more of this kind of stuff into the group because it's too kind of loose and floppy and soft and István's saying I don't want to define what we're doing, anything can be Neoist, and this became slightly tedious...it wasn't like anything could be Neoist because it was a very specific thing but it was pretending it wasn't and it was refusing to explain it to people on any level, and also I think avant-garde groups have very limited lives...the whole thing was playing with trying to historicise things...most of the group had a very sort of ambiguous attitude about being taken into museums and I thought...what we have to do first of all is kill the movement because things don't get historicised until they are dead.” In, Pain, Paddy. "Stewart Home," (interview), Kinokaze, #2, 1993, p. 26.
8. Smile, #7, 1985, p. 4. Home outlines the aims of the 'utopian current' by stating that "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." In, Home, Stewart. The Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War. London: Aporia Press & Unpopular Books, 1988.
9. Home, Stewart. Neoism, Plagiarism & Praxis, AK Press:
Edinburgh/San Francisco, 1995, p. 170.
10. Letter from David Zack to Grauf Haufen (1986) in: Cantsin, Monty.
Neoism Now, Berlin: Artcore Editions, 1987, unpaginated.
11. Pain, Paddy. "István Kántor," (interview), Kinokaze, #2, 1993, p. 18.
12. Home, Stewart. Smile, 36, 1984, p. 4.
13. Pain, Paddy. "István Kántor," (interview), Kinokaze, #2, 1993, p. 19.
14. Kántor, István, in Smile, #23, nd., p. 9.
15. Home, Stewart, in Smile, #11, 1989, p. 1.
16. This total includes issues that were realized in unconventional formats that included a T-shirt & postcard, tape cassettes, a unique single issue, two Smile supplements in the periodical Vague (UK) and a 17 1/2 minute film. Numbers of issues published in the different countries breaks down as follows: England/45, Scotland/1, Ireland/1, Germany/17, Italy/3, USA/28, Canada/5 & Australia/1.
17. Sub-masthead text, Smile #4, 1988?
18. Pain, Paddy. "Stewart Home," (interview). Kinokaze, #2, 1993, p. 23.
19. It could be argued that Home’s development of the term ‘positive plagiarism’ is merely an embellishment of the post-modern appropriation strategies adopted by many artists during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Home in the following quote seeks to distinguish between the two when he writes, “‘Post-modern appropriation’ is very different to plagiarism. While post-modern theory asserts that there is no longer any basic reality, the plagiarist recognizes that Power is always a reality in historical society.” (Home, Stewart. Neoism, Plagiarism & Praxis. Edinburgh/San Francisco: AK Press, 1995, p. 49). In another section of this same book (p. 180) Home reprints a letter recounting a trip to New York and details a meeting with an artworld insider who keeps asking him what he thinks about different mainstream artists. Home takes particular delight in her surprise when he responds “...that I wasn’t familiar with this stuff, that I had no interest in the ‘mainstream’ artworld.”
It would be naive to believe that Home was not aware of the more immediate trends in the history of the contemporary artworld at this time, and I would posit that it was Situationism that was the more direct influence in his development of the concept of ‘positive plagiarism.’ Home’s writings of this period are soaked through with references to Situationist texts, indeed they’re plagiarised and incorporated into his writings of this time. The concept of ‘detournement’ is much closer to the politicized strategy employed in the term ‘positive plagiarism’ than the aestheticized strategies of the art world appropriationists, and Guy Debord & Gil J. Wolman’s 1956 essay “Methods of Detournement” reads like the founding manifesto of ‘positive plagiarism.’
20. Home, Stewart. "From Author to Authority," Smile, #9, 1986, p. 14.
21. Despite the somewhat academic stance that this article takes, I feel it necessary to declare my own involvement with the Neoist movement. I met Home during late summer of 1985 in London, and at this time he encouraged me to adopt the name Karen Eliot and to publish a magazine called Smile. While reluctant to give up my ‘individuality’ to a project I knew little about, I was nonetheless intrigued by his proposal. As a result of this encounter, and upon my return to the USA, I adopted the name Janet Janet for part of my cultural activities. Between 1986-89 she published texts and visual works in a number of international artists’ periodicals, presented performances in the S.F. Bay Area and participated in shows organized by the international correspondence art network. From 1985-89 she published 14 issues of Schism magazine. The name Schism was chosen from Home’s reference to ‘splits and schisms’ in his 1985 “Open Letter to the Neoist network and the public at large,” published in this article. As a result of these connections, as well as Schism’s oblique similarity to the word Smile, Schism is considered part of the Smile publishing project and was included in the National Art Library’s Smile show. Janet Janet ceased all activities at the beginning of the Art Strike in 1990.