CfP: Before Europe: The Classic Avant-Gardes in the Longue Durée (Leuven, 9-10 Dec 2021; deadline 30 June)

University of Leuven
9-10 December 2021

This interdisciplinary symposium, open to contributions on all art forms, aims to explore the deepest temporal strata of the so-called “historical” or “classic” avant-gardes. Our goal is to chart how these avant-gardes, both within Europe and beyond, engaged with the longue durée, with “prehistory”, with deep time and with civilizations more temporally remote than Greco-Roman Antiquity.

Confirmed invited speakers include Antonia Lant (NYU Tisch) and Maria Stavrinaki (University Paris I Pantheon-

Scholarship of the last decades has stretched the geographic delimitations of the classic avant-gardes both on the European continent and beyond. A considerable amount of scholarly energy in recent decades has gone into articulating a renewed pan-European and decentered view of the classic avant-gardes that leaves behind previous assumptions of centralized loci of avant-garde activity within a handful of major European metropolises. At the same time, research on cognate movements in the arts stemming from the Americas, the African continent and the Middle East, Asia and Japan has further expanded our view of the avant-gardes, demonstrating that the historical avant-gardes were not only a European but also a multifarious global undertaking.

This notable geographical expansion of our understanding of the classic avant-gardes contrasts sharply with our still very limited historical and temporal view of the avant-gardes. Indeed, whereas we have long moved beyond assertions that the avant-gardes were exclusively concerned with the present or the future, or that the avant-gardes responded only to immediately predating, 19 th -century trends, the classic avant-gardes’ relationship to the distant past remains understudied. Certain periods revisited by the classic avant-gardes, such as the Middle Ages and the Baroque, have already figured quite prominently in research. However, more distant time periods still present ample opportunity for investigation.

This symposium seeks to further our understanding of the historical avant-gardes by reconsidering their outer temporal parameters. The European avant-gardes located the founding moment of dominant “European” culture in the Renaissance marriage of European Antiquity and Christianity. Part of their working assumption was, accordingly, that sources for rebooting European culture had to be located in periods before the Renaissance, if not, before the arrival of Classical Antiquity. If we follow this logic, then cultures belonging to pre-European periods abound, both on the European continent (from the Minoans and Mycenaeans to the Etruscans, Celts and Illyrians) and beyond (from what is generically called “prehistory” to Ancient Egypt and pre-Columbian times). Which of these or other pre-European cultures did the classic avant-gardes revisit and enter into meaningful dialogue with? How and why? And which of these cultures did it by and large neglect and why? In a global context, which historical moments did exo-European avant-gardes invoke?

We invite proposals for 25-minute papers that explore the longue durée in avant-gardes launched either from the European continent (Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, Futurism, Dadaism, Vorticism, Ultraism, Surrealism, Constructivism, Neue Sachlichkeit, …) or other from other continents (Mavo, Art and Freedom, Anthropophagia, Estridentismo, Muralism, …) during, roughly, the first half of the 20 th century. Contributions can be focused on case- studies of individual avant-gardists, movements or more comparative analyses. Possible approaches to consider are:

  • Forgotten or neglected primitivisms and deviant ontologies; and the language of primitivism itself – Is the discourse of “primitivism” apt to capture the full complexity of the avant-gardes’ ties to the longue durée?
  • Understudied mediating actors, practices and discourses – how did the avant-gardes come to learn about the pre-European? Who or what shaped their views of it? And what role did scientific disciplines such as anthropology and ethnography, among others, play in lesser studied contexts?
  • Aesthetic representations of the longue durée – how does the pre-European manifest itself in the art forms and practices of the avant-gardes? What role did different art forms and media (and their combinations) play here? What aspects of the pre-European cultures were highlighted? (How) did these representations contrast with those of historians and historiographers?
  • Anachronisms, chronological schisms and temporal vortices, pathways into the past, the archaeological fragment which invites imaginative completion; confrontations of the prehistoric in the present and the foreign in the familiar.
  • Pre-European periods and cultures as manifestations of a different, deep-temporal ecological awareness in the avant-gardes – we continue to see the avant-gardes mostly as products of the industrialized modern metropolis, but (how) did their exploration of the longue durée also not give shape to another understanding of the environment?
  • (How) did the avant-gardes recuperate and co-opt the past? To what extent did they attempt to meld ancient civilizations into contemporaneous cultures (e.g. Europeanizing the ancient Egyptians)?

    Papers presented will be considered for inclusion in an edited volume.

Before Europe: The Classic Avant-Gardes in the Long Durée will take place in the University of Leuven in Belgium.
Given the current health and travel situation, we are open to alternative arrangements in light of contingencies. The
symposium language is English.
Those wishing to attend are requested to send an abstract (max 500 words) to
by Wednesday, June 30 th 2021 as well as a short biography (max 200 words) including institutional affiliation and up
to five previous publications. Abstracts should be in Word format.

This symposium is convened by Sascha Bru and Leanne Rae Darnbrough.
It is hosted by the MDRN research lab of the University of Leuven.