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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 were always disputed. The main source of this is the undefinable concept of Neoism which created vastly different, tactically distorted accounts of Neoism and its history. Undisputed, however are the origin of the movement in the late 1970s Canada. It was initiated by Hungarian born Canadian performance and media-artist Istvan Kantor aka Monty Cantsin in 1979, in Montreal. At around the same time the open-pop-star identity of Monty Cantsin was spread through the Mail Artist David Zack (born New Orleans, June 12, 1938, died presumably in Texas ca. 1995) with the collaboration of artists Maris Kudzins and performance artist Istvan Kantor. Schisms followed in the mid-1980s. Questions and concerns arose about whether the "open pop star" Monty Cantsin moniker was being overly associated with certain individuals. Later, writer 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, as a name for a different context, 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 reinitiated by Istvan Kantor aka Monty Cantsin 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.
Centered around the idea of the "open pop star" or multiple persona Monty Cantsin 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. Monty Cantsin, 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 Monty Cantsin 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 Istvan Kantor 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, media artist Niels Lomholt, visual artist Peter Below (www.blitzableiter-horizontal.de)), media artist Bill Vorn, the filmmaker Michael Brynntrup and the model and actress Eugenie Vincent.
Neoist "play" such as multiple names, plagiarism and pranks were adopted, frequently mistaken for Neoism proper and by mixing in situationist concepts, by 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."