What is the vernacular avant garde?


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There was a great piece in the NY Times this weekend, “Uploading the Avant Garde,” in which Virginia Heffernan considers the presence, among YouTube’s many microgenres, of what she calls “the vernacular avant-garde.” I’ve never heard this phrase before, and I dig it. What does it mean to put those words in tandem? According to the OED (of course):

Vernacular (adj)

1. That writes, uses, or speaks the native or indigenous language of a country or district.

2. a. Of a language or dialect: That is naturally spoken by the people of a particular country or district; native, indigenous.

6. Of arts, or features of these: Native or peculiar to a particular country or locality. spec. in vernacular architecture, architecture concerned with ordinary domestic and functional buildings rather than the essentially monumental.

Avant garde

1. The foremost part of an army; the vanguard or van.

2. The pioneers or innovators in any art in a particular period. Also attrib. or as adj. Hence avant-{sm}gardism, the characteristic quality of such pioneering; avant-{sm}gardist(e) (-{shti}st), such a person; also attrib.

And so this seems clear enough: we have the home-grown innovator, the local pioneer. But in our current use of vernacular, we usually mean folksy, populist, “normal” ways of communicating, whereas avant garde is all about pushing those norms to provoke and even alienate mainstream popular audiences… So, yeah, I’m still not sure I get how those work together. How can we define such a concept? ( I heart semantics.) Like porn, do we just know it when we see it? Anyone?

So of course I googled the phrase and found few results beyond a couple of uses in reference to avant garde jazz and vernacular architecture… Except, that is, for a couple of  blogs and a SNS who’d posted the same link and video:

Networked Performance

Since the latter part of the twentieth century, and especially in new media artistic practice, we have witnessed a shift from the representational idiom — where art is viewed mainly as a means to represent the world — to the performative idiom — where the practice of art is considered an active negotiation with the world it seeks to address.*

Networked Performance is real-time, embodied practice within digital environments and networks; it is, embodied transmission.

Performance involves the moment of action, its continuity, inherent temporality and relationship to the present.

DocumentTech

DocumentaryTech is a collaborative effort to talk about what makes for the best in the art of the documentary. As a joint project by The Rhode Island Film Festival and several sponsoring universities, we’ll talk about technique, technology, distribution and funding.

Dance-tech.net

Using the most advanced social software platforms and internet rich multimedia applications, dance-tech.net provides movement and new media artists, theorist, thinkers and technologists the possibility of sharing work, ideas and research, generating opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborative projects.

I don’t have much profound to say about all this. I think the phrase is fascinating and worthy of play. And I think it’s cool that there are such fascinated/ing people out there instigating such play.

Yay interwebs.

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2 thoughts on “What is the vernacular avant garde?


  1. Warning: Use of undefined constant user_level - assumed 'user_level' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /home/harlot6/public_html/blog/wp-content/plugins/ultimate-google-analytics/ultimate_ga.php on line 524
    David Beard on said:

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    Can we connect this to avant-garde music (Stravinsky is the paradigm, yes) utilizing folk music for new, avant-garde constructions.

    It would be nice to see an avant garde derive from the vernacular, rather than see the vernacular utilized by the avant garde, if that makes sense.

    Interesting post.


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    Bill on said:

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    I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to make this comment, but I don’t believe we know porn when we see it. Anyone read Shakespeare?

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