The last season of the avant-garde
by Kelvin Smith
The Last Season of the Avant-Garde is a (presumably fictional) work of the (real) Berlin artist Bastian Schneider, part of Documenta 13 as it is reimagined and reviewed by Enrique Vila-Matas in The Illogic of Kassel. As the author meanders round the diverse artworks he encounters Schneider’s work twice, which had “a small machine attached to it that looked like an old wall-mounted telephone, but was in fact a tiny, peculiar printing press“.
On the first occasion he reads a poem attached to the work and then sees that if “you pushed the button on the little machine beneath the word fröhlich, it would crank into motion and spit out a scrap of paper on which Schneider gave his opinion that the contemporary artist these days was in the same position as the traveling artist of the pre-Aufklärung (the period before the German Enlightenment), writing not for an established community, but rather in the hope of founding one.”
The second time he presses the button, “the text warned that at night, when there was no one there, the place was taken over by beings wearing Polynesian masks, singing songs from the future, songs that will be sung six centuries hence in a very different Germany, but one where Lichtenberg will still be read, even if it is only out of respect for that passage in which he expressed his conviction that, without his writing, such different things would be discussed ‘between six and seven on a certain German evening in the year 2773’.”
The theme of this Documenta is Collapse and Recovery and the little printing machine, with its comments on creating communities and the longevity of print, gives us a view on the collapse and recovery of publishing in the post-Enlightenment digital world.
Enrique Vila-Matas, The Illogic of Kassel, 2014