Istvan Kantor in Chiang Mai

Note: Find my photo’s of the event over at Flickr.

At the minimal gallery, we were presented with five videos and a live performance. Three videos documented art projects Kantor participated in or initiated and two were original video works, that is, works only existing on video.

A diverse artist with a strong, perhaps constructed, anti-establishment focus, Kantor, since creating his initial works in the late 70s, went through a series of interesting provocative stages and is most well known for his protest actions, using his own blood to deface galleries displaying high profile artworks (although not, so it seems, defacing the artworks themselves). Wikipedia has a good write up on Kantor.
Istvan Kantor also is one of the founders of Neoism (good Wikipedia write up, Neoist website), considered an “underground philosophy”, with strong anarchist, existential and industrial undertones. Neoism (since 1978) promotes the use of the name Monty Cantsin (Wikipedia article) as a ‘multiple-use name’, a name which anyone can adopt, Cantsin being like an “open pop star”, open, interestingly, in the sense of the free software and open source movement.
Kantor himself uses the moniker “action based media” for his work.


The live performance was a bit of a melange of existing work, some of which we were introduced to through the videos we were shown prior to his performance. Kantor touched on a series of subjects, including the definition of art as dictatorial tool, Kantor’s own formative years when he visited his father in Paris while still living in Budapest, contemporary art in Thailand and the Hungarian revolution of 1956, while using many themes and icons from the Neoist movement and his own identity as an artist.
Kantor did his performance wearing a red armband. I figured this a reference to Nazism, perhaps as a play on Neoism. However, Kantor also plays in a musical troupe, the Red Armband.

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The performance, highly energetic, destructive, violent, was also well choreographed, if not a bit chaotically managed, and saw an interesting interaction between projected videos and Kantor’s own action. This started with a video of Kantor’s defacing of a wall in what must have been the the Hamburger Bahnhof contemporary art museum in Berlin, while he was actually defacing a wall in the minimal gallery in Chiang Mai where this show was held.
Perhaps Kantor’s main statement as a performance artist seems to be his stance against what is generally accepted as art, in a way an extension of the Fluxus movement. With using typical Thai foodstuffs (sticky rice, dragon fruit, …) in one of his impromptu art pieces I’d say Kantor was suggesting that in Thailand, too, it’s possible to fight the system and that ‘Neoist‘ doesn’t have to have the same implementation in Thailand as his interpretation has in Canada.

The first video saw three artists, one of which was Kantor, the other two being Alexander (Sasha) Braun and Richard K., strip naked inside the Art Gallery of Ontario, where, at the time, a temporary exhibition was on with David Cronenburg as guest curator and titled “Supernova: Stars, Deaths And Disasters”. One of the works on show was “Red Disaster” by Andy Warhol.
One of the three artist sang the (socialist anthem) The Internationale, another convulsed on the floor and Kantor went through his papers, talking with one of the guards, confusing her. Kantor had tied vials of blood to his naked body and at some point smears some of the blood from the vials on his body.
One of the three artists proceeds to read part of a manifesto (“The spirit of Andy Warhol told me to do it… The spirit of Sandor Petofi told me to do it…”) before they’re collectively thrown out, booked by the police and charged with a series of smaller crimes.
At the time, the obviously shocking actions got all the attention (here’s a reasonable news article with photo), but the strength of this intervention didn’t come from the activity, but from the underlying manifesto, the supposed reason for this intervention.
The manifesto states that the art world is suffering from a dictatorship run by international arts institutions, deciding for the public what can be considered art and what not, and that nothing short of a revolution by the people, that is, the artists themselves, would allow for breaking this impasse.
Interestingly, just before this intervention happened, it was announced on a livejournal blog.

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The second video was a short but heavily edited clip of a musical performance by Kantor, some of it recorded in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Kantor’s soundscaping is strongly based on industrial man/machine interaction and this clip was a typical example of that.

The third video was a well edited registration of a series of performances where Kantor used filing cabinets as a metaphor for today’s computers as an extension to man’s abilities. Kantor believes that today’s society is driven by sex/lust and technology. We use supercomputers but even then still file information in cabinets, printing out important documents to create a safe hardcopy based filing system.
Using an example of one person taking a document out of a filing cabinet, scanning it, mailing it, the recipient printing the document and filing it, Kantor compares this mechanism with sex and created a performance where the movements of a series of filing cabinets are directed by a filing cabinet operated by Kantor or individuals from the audience.
Kantor’s activity in this area is well captured by the term MachineSexActionGroup.

Istvan and Ong

The fourth and fifth videos were original productions and accusations against Canada’s policies towards the arts and the poor, who both saw funding slashed about half a decade ago. The first of the two, it’s musical style and contents, strongly reminded me of works by Kraftwerk, where Kantor’s imagery often reminded me of H. R. Giger’s. The latter in his use of the body (mostly his own) as a receptor for mechanical inputs, through tubes, wires, restrainers and whatnot.

Kantor’s presence in Chiang Mai was facilitated through the artist residency at ComPeung, half an hour out of Chiang Mai and, it is said, the first not-government run artist residency program in Thailand. Kantor’s statement on the ComPeung website is a bit rich, but also supplies a nice insight into his own struggle:

I want to learn about how to internalize revolutionary ideas. To work with the images and identity of our internal revolution, the way in which we conceive of ourselves and society and thus, in creating this inspiration for self and mutual understanding that motivates us to live revolutionary lives.