"Each decade has Neoists and their situation is
always different. We formed a network to revolt against
oppression, and we hope that our efforts will end with
big retrospective exhibitions in the world's most established
museums, because we know that each revolution ends with
the imprisonment and execution of its leaders and participants."
 (Monty Cantsin)
The Contact Man
The Copper Grill, close to the London Liverpool Street
Station, is a cheap steak restaurant in the style of
the fifties and has presumably not been renovated since
that time. The establishment derives its charm from
the red plastic upholstery and chrome. It was here that
I had agreed to meet with Stewart Home. The restaurant
slowly began filling up with managers from the surrounding
offices. It was lunch time.
Stewart Home is not only the successful author of Redskin
pulp novels, which are largely composed of sampled scenes
of violence and porno. He is, most of all, the speaker
and sole member of the Neoist Alliance, a Neoist fraction
that separated from the main strand of Neoism in 1986.
In his most recent novel, Slow Death, he conjoins both.
In Slow Death, the trendy artist Karen Eliot founds
a secret lodge called the Semiotic Liberation Front
with the aim of smuggling Neoism into art history. She
employs the skinhead Johnny Aggro as contact man. He
instructs the members of the lodge: "Your Lodge
must study Neoism and do everything to promote the movement.
Also, my masters want you to begin a campaign of vandalising
statues and sculptures." 
Fifteen minutes late, the Neoist Alliance enters the
Copper Grill, embodied by Stewart Home, who appears
in Slow Death himself as Bob Jones. The Neoist Alliance
alias Stewart Home alias Bob Jones alias Karen Eliot
sits down, orders tea, and shoves a plastic bag with
unidentifiable contents across the table. In addition
to Slow Death and Red London, I pull the "Neoism,
Plagiarism & Praxis" reader out of it, the
Neoist Manifestos and Art Strike papers, Home's history
of the post-war avant-garde "The Assault on Culture",
the collection of Black Mask material that he edited,
and a series of copied and stapled paraphernalia with
titles like "Analecta" or "Disputations.
On Art, Anarchism and Assholism". I was already
familiar with most of it.
The conversation soon turns to not yet published or
at least not yet edited material. Stewart Home sips
his tea. Should I want more material, he tells me, I
would probably be best off in the Tate Gallery Library
or in the National Art Gallery of the Victoria &
Albert Museum. There I should contact one of the curators,
Simon Ford. He has allegedly been of great service in
archiving Neoist material that has been passed to the
museums through the Neoists. Sometimes something has
even been purchased. Pete Horobin, the earliest English
Neoist, is also reputed to possess an extensive collection
and is additionally capable of counterfeiting required
material at any time.
After an hour, Home indicates that he must take his
leave. He says he has a sound studio for a few days,
where he is working on sound experiments for his readings,
and he has to take advantage of the time he has there.
We pay and leave the Copper Grill. Chrome flashes behind
us. From the Copper Grill, I go to the Victoria &
Albert Museum to check on Home's suggestions. In the
tube, I begin to have doubts -- and vague memories.
Premonitions. Had I not been through all that before?
Or read it? I pull out Slow Death and browse through
On page 31, Karen Eliot meets with the Marxist art
critic Jock Graham in a pub in Camden. She explains
to him that in addition to money and fame, her main
interest is in historification processes. At Eliot's
suggestion, Jock Graham makes his way to the National
Art Library and begins researching Neoism.
On page 47, Karen Eliot meets with the head of the
"Progressive Arts Project", Sir Charles Brewster,
at Monmouth Coffee Shop in Covent Garden. She arrives
late. Together they think about how Neoism could be
publicized using money from the project. Brewster notes
that Neoism is custom-made for historification because
of its avant-garde link: "Neoism is an art critic's
On page 52, Eliot gives a talk at the CIA (Home's anagram
for the ICA) on "Neoism and the Avant-Garde of
the 1980s". In response to a question from the
audience about where the best archive sources on Neoism
are to be found, she says: "You'll find basic materials
are lodged with the Tate Gallery Library and the National
Art Library. Between them, these two institutions hold
most of the books and magazines you'll need to consult.
To do really detailed research, you'll need to get in
touch with individual members of the movement. As far
as British Neoists are concerned, Pete Horobin and Bob
Jones have the most extensive collections of material."
On page 91, the Semiotic Liberation Front swarms out
to track down Neoist material. Not unsurprisingly: British
Library, Tate Gallery, National Art Library. In the
latter, a member of the SLF meets Jock Graham again,
who has meanwhile decided to write a history of Neoism,
which will rank him alongside such giants as Winckelmann
and Ruskin, who changed the course of art history.
And so forth.
Fiction or Fucking Up
In an interview with the V & A curator Simon Ford
in 1994, Home already announced a novel about the historicization
of Neoism: he considered that it would be appropriate
for the Neoist historicization process to be published
first as fiction, before too many art historians seize
on Neoism by themselves. Home thus maintained that fiction
must precede science in time (Slow Death is therefore
a kind of pulp version of the Lacanian thesis that truth
is structured like a fiction. And it is consequently
stated in Slow Death: "`Truth is a fiction!' Karen
barked. `People who want hard facts will have to make
do with fabrications!'" )
It is an assertion, with which Home risks repelling
the "serious" historians, on whom he is in
fact dependent with his historification process. And
he even defends himself against accusations of selling
out from the ranks of fundamentalist Neoists with the
argument that they simply did not recognize that it
was precisely by playing with open cards, and precisely
with his sledgehammer self-historification that he repelled
So should we read Home's endeavors to heave Neoism
into the canon of art history as a practical reflection,
as the cognitive counterpart, so to speak, of a practical
joke - a joke on the "art-historicization"
of the avant-garde, and less as a serious attempt at
self-historification? As cheerful fiction and less as
science? Or is Home in fact carrying out a variation
on the fact that the so-called serious art canon actually
constructs and fictionalizes its subjects to the same
extent, but far less openly and playfully? The fact,
however, that history is not written once and for all
time according to positivist criteria of alleged evidence
is proven by the case of Fluxus and its sudden overwhelming
presence since the retrospective at the 1990 Biennale,
or the case of Situationism and the flood of publications,
translations and new editions.
From the beginning, Neoism was not exactly the logical
candidate for a box seat in the art history of the 80s.
Its (mostly male) followers stem from so-called marginal
milieus, only in rare cases from art colleges. Its greatest
historification success so far has been an entry in
the Glossary of Art, Architecture and Design Since 1945.
Home himself had to lend a hand in smuggling Neoism
into his own history of the post-war avant-garde, The
Assault on Culture, and place it in a venerable succession
from Lettrism to MailArt.
Research and Fake
Regardless of the question of whether art history can
ever be written "neutrally", the starting
point for an even halfway objective description of Neoism
is strikingly unfavorable, if not even practically impossible.
This makes Neoism an interesting extreme case and thus
a test case. Neoism itself practically leaps into the
face of a "correct" representation. In preparing
this book, I received a number of offers from Neoists
that they could fake and predate Neoist works and materials
as needed. This uninhibited way of dealing with their
own history is not at all kept secret, nor does it have
anything to do with plagiarism or appropriationism (what
they fake are their own works), but rather is located
within the manifest Neoist philosophy: if every history
is a manipulation, as Neoists maintain, then there are
as many histories of Neoism as there are manipulations.
Fakes, plagiarism, self-subversion and self-manipulation
consequently become central Neoist strategies.
The theoretical basis of assertions of this kind appear
obvious: that historiography constructs its subjects
to the same extent that this construction is disrupted
by these same subjects, so that it can never entirely
comprehend or construct. As relevant as this may be,
its consequence is nevertheless not an arbitrariness
of historical "facts", because although the
essence of these facts is contingent, it is not arbitrary.
Here I refer to the distinction between contingency
and arbitrariness as proposed by Ernesto Laclau and
Chantal Mouffe. Contingency means that a historical
political position cannot necessarily be determined
by a different register (the laws of history, economy,
etc.). A hegemonial situation is contingent to exactly
the same extent that it is not determined by nature,
but rather is the result of struggles and practices
of negotiation, which could have been resolved this
way or in a different way and are therefore principally
capable of rearticulation. On the other hand, this certainly
does not mean that the situation is arbitrary, i.e.
that "no reasons" are to be found for why
a certain hegemony predominates, that the current situation
is the result of a game of chance. [...]
Neoism itself stands in a window of time -- the pre-future.
If Hal Foster made it the central definition of the
neo-avant-garde that it subsequently fixes the meaning
of the avant-garde, then Neoism intends to show how
one can subsequently fix one's own meaning. The Neoist
self-historification mania thus has the effect of a
trivial illustration of the post-structuralist standard
insight, namely that the meaning of a subject is always
subsequently attributed to it. In the case of Neoism,
through self-historification. Does Neoism exist? It
will have done.
[Preface to Oliver Marchart's book "Neoismus.
Avantgarde und Selbsthistorisierung", published
1997 by Selene-Verlag, Klagenfurt/Vienna]
Translated by Aileen Derieg
 Monty Cantsin§:
Neoism, in Dyer, Simon (Ed.) Rapid Eye§: art, occult,
cinema, music. Brighton§: Rapid Eye 1989, p. 48.
 Stewart Home,
Slow Death, New York / London, High Risk Books, 1996,
 op.cit., p. 146