The Avant-Garde as Network

– In a Nordic context it is actually only when you recognize the transnational networks that you discover the avant-garde, says Tania Ørum.

Asta Nielsen (1881-1972). Still from Dirnentragödie (Bruno Rahn, 1927).

Whatever happened to the avant-garde? If, at least from the 1960s and onward, the avant-garde has been the site of intense artistic, political and scholarly struggles about art’s relation to life, new technologies, social movements and transformative politics, the concept has seemingly disappeared from the discourse around contemporary art. At the same time, the past decade has seen a proliferation of research networks devoted to historiographical avant-garde studies, with new nodes emerging as we speak. If the word “central” still has any meaning under such networked conditions, Tania Ørum would surely qualify for the designation, at least in a Nordic context. It’s been ten years since she, together with Marianne Ping Huang, founded the Danish research network “The Return and Actuality of the Avant-Gardes,” which soon evolved into The Nordic Network of Avant-Garde Studies. More recently, the European Network for Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies (EAM) was established. In 2009 Ørum, Associate Professor at the Department for Cultural Studies and the Arts at the University of Copenhagen, published her tour de force tome on the Danish Sixties, De eksperimenterende tressere: Kunst i en opbrudstid (The Experimental Sixties: Art in Times of Upheaval). This spring will see the launch of an even bigger publishing venture, A Cultural History of the Avant- Garde in the Nordic Countries. With Ørum and Ping Huang as the head editors, four volumes will be published by Rodopi over a period of two years. The first installment covers the period 1900–1925 and includes more than 30 articles on topics ranging from the movie star Asta Nielsen as an icon for the avant-gardes to Les Ballets Suédois, Nordic periodicals, and a general rethinking of the avant-garde’s relation to the market.