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Gustav Metzger and the Anti-University of London

February 26, 2014

Anti University, Rorschach Audio Archive

In March 2002 I wrote an opinion piece for “Sound Projector” magazine (issue 10, page 138, published May 2002), which was largely inspired by a cache of documents that had, to my surprise, come to light among my dad’s possessions – namely a book and information sheets relating to The ICA’s “Cybernetic Serendipity” exhibition, and 3 catalogues of the “Anti-University of London”, which opened in February 1968, more-or-less equidistant between the site of a much later, now much-lamented bar and art-space called The Foundry, on the corner of Old Street and Great Eastern Street, and Iniva’s Rivington Place gallery, just round the corner. As the first catalogue explained – “The Antiuniversity of London has been founded in response to the intellectual bankruptcy and spiritual emptiness of the educational establishment both in Britain and the rest of the Western World. It seeks to develop the concepts and forms of experience necessary to comprehend the events of this century and the meaning of one’s life within it, to examine artistic expression beyond the scope of the usual academy and to promote a position of social integrity and commitment from which scholars now stand aloof. The Antiuniversity of London of London will be a meeting ground for discussion, discovery, rediscovery and revelation. It is intended as an ongoing experiment in the development of consciousness and will be related to other revolutionary experiments in universities, communities, communes and direct action now taking place in Europe and America”.

If the words of that opening statement sound, by today’s standards, somewhat of-their-era, it’s sobering to note how many Antiuniversity lecturers were, or were to become, acknowledged as experts and even world-leaders in their fields. Among many others, “Psychology and Religion” was taught by the radical psychiatrist R.D. Laing. “Psychology and Politics” was taught by David Cooper. Courses were taught by “Black Jacobins” historian and cricket-nut C.L.R. James, by The ICA director Michael Kustow, and by art-science pioneer John Latham. Stuart Hall (see earlier post) is often primarily thought-of as having been a sociologist and cultural-theorist, however he was also an important communications theorist and peace campaigner, who went on to become the back-bone of that most socially-idealistic and pragmatic of institutions, The Open University. Visiting Faculty included William Burroughs, Hans Enzensberger, Allen Ginsberg, Adrian Henri and Carolee Schneemann.

The 2nd catalogue advertised Pop Art pioneer and former electrical draughtsman Richard Hamilton, as giving 2-hour lectures on the art of Marcel Duchamp, and International Times founder (now cultural historian) Barry Miles as lecturing on “Underground communications theory”, and Yoko Ono as lecturing on “The Connection” (reserving however “the right to interview and choose a limited number of students before the session begins”). In relation to the general subject matter of the “Rorschach Audio” project, it’s also interesting to note the 3rd catalogue advertised (medical doctor and peace activist) Rachel Pinney as offering courses in “Creative Listening”. John Keys was lecturing on… (one word)… “Everything”!

Of particular interest here however was the involvement of the artist and campaigner Gustav Metzger, who I’d briefly met through mutual association with gallerist David Clegg, when David curated the first Disinformation sound-installation into the “Sound Proofs” exhibition at The Museum of Installation gallery in London in July 1997. I was extremely grateful for the abrupt but very encouraging comments Gustav made about my work, and (particularly in light of the self-annihilating and nuclear-flash related imagery produced by the Disinformation exhibit “The Origin of Painting”) was then stunned to read the Antiuniversity catalogue entry describing Gustav Metzger’s talks. “Auto-destructive art is an advanced form of kinetic art. Metamorphosis, destruction and creation are the central features. Instead of painting a scientific view of the universe in ceaseless flux, the artist presents phenomena that are undergoing constant physical change, and is obliged to use advanced technologies to do this. Auto-destructive art mirrors reality; it is clearly related to capitalism in decline. It is also a weapon of social change. Large self-destructive sculptures, made with the latest technologies, that rot and fall apart in public, can modify the attitude of many people to war, waste and destruction, and undermine a suicidal faith in the benefits of technology”. A biography adds “Metzger comes from Germany, and is now stateless. First auto-destructive art manifesto, 1959. Founder member of Committee of 100, 1960. Initiated DIAS – Destruction in Art Symposium, 1966. Exhibition in Filtration Laboratory Swansea University, 1966, featured atomized water, compressed air floating structures, liquid nitrogen, electronically controlled liquid crystal phenomena.”

Special thanks to Colin Banks

Joe Banks, 26 Feb 2014

Gustav Metzger, myself and Stewart Home were interviewed on Resonance FM, 24 Feb 2003 – http://www.youarehear.co.uk/shows.html (scroll down through page)

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