The Centre for Avant-garde Studies


The Centre for Avant-garde Studies

The Centre for Avant-garde Studies is an international framework for scholarly research on different aspects of the aesthetic avant-garde from the early 20th century up to the present day. The field of avant-garde studies has been growing rapidly in recent years and has attracted numerous scholars from different disciplines. The research field has come to play an important role in generating new approaches to the emergence and evolvement of modern art and literature. As more recent scholarship has shown, an important characteristic of the avant-garde is the transnational and transaesthetic scope of its activities, which calls for extensive international and interdisciplinary research. The centre aims at enhancing individual and scholarly work dealing with manifestations of the avant-garde in all artistic media as well as its cultural, social and ideological implications. The centre is open for scholars from all disciplines who are engaged in exploring the avant-garde and its cultural activities. The research activities are meant to cover five different areas, which are described below. The centre brings together a number of experienced and esteemed specialists and aims at attracting new ones, as well as generating international collaboration and providing a fruitful working environment for PhD students.

Main Aims

a) Research – collaboration, conferences, grant applications
b) Teaching – facilitating teachers’ exchanges, seminars, doctoral programmes
c) Publishing and Exhibitions

a)    Avant-garde and Cultural Mobility

The centre welcomes new research on topography and aspects of cultural mobility in the aesthetic avant-garde. Tracing and reconstructing the topography of the avant-garde is an important aspect of approaching its activities in terms of a broad international current. Work in this area of research covers such different aspects as internationalism (and its relation to nationalism), translation, aesthetic appropriation, circulation and links between cultural, geographical and linguistic centres and peripheries.

b)    Alternative Publications

The publication strategies of the avant-garde are of central interest for understanding and describing its modes of presentation and distribution. Of special importance is the role of small magazines and autonomous publishing houses, as well as avant-garde strategies for organizing alterna­tive exhibitions, film clubs and screenings, performances and other modes of cultural presentation. These alternative modes of publication are crucial for the avant-garde project of creating an alternative aesthetic field for the presentation and circulation of its ‘new’ and ‘experimental’ aesthetics.

c)    Aesthetic Experimentalism and Media

The confrontation with new media plays an important role in avant-garde aesthetics, the generation of new aesthetic modes of representation often being related to experiments in new media. In the context of the avant-garde, as well as in aesthetic modernism in a broader context, experiments with new media are often related to redefinitions of traditional modes and practices of aesthetic production and an attempt at creating new practices that transgress the boundaries between different fields of artistic production. This area of research covers such different topics as electronic media, digital art and literature, the relation between art and technology, film and radio, to name a few examples.

d)   Avant-garde and Politics

The links of the avant-garde to politics has been a central question since the emergence of avant-garde studies, its activities being understood not only as an aesthetic but also as a profoundly political project. This area of research provides a forum for scholarly work on the links between aesthetic and political radicalism, conceptions of the political function of the aesthetic and different notions of political revolution and cultural and spiritual regeneration that emerge in an avant-garde context, as well as work on the links between the aesthetic avant-garde and other political systems and ideologies.

e)    Avant-garde and Gender

This area covers research on different aspects of gender and its role in the aesthetic avant-garde. Of special importance is the role of women in the organization of avant-garde movements from the early 20th century to the present day and the possible historical shifts that can be discerned in the participation of women in the avant-garde project. This area further covers work on the construction and presentation of gender as well as reflections on the cultural coding of sexuality in avant-garde aesthetics.

  • Mark Antliff, Professor of Art History and Visual Studies, Duke University.
  • David Ayers, Professor of Modernism and Critical Theory, University of Kent
  • Per Bäckström, Professor of Literary Studies, Karlstad University
  • Moritz Baßler, Professor of Modern German Literature, University of Münster
  • Hubert van den Berg, Professor at the Department of Dutch and South African Studies, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań
  • Günter Berghaus, Senior Research Fellow in Theatre History and Performance Studies, University of Bristol
  • Ina Blom, Head of Research at the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, University of Oslo
  • Sylvain Briens, Professor of Scandinavian Literature, University of Sorbonne, Paris IV
  • David Cottington, Professor of Modern Art History, Kingston University
  • Konstantin Dudakov-Kashuro, Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Studies in Literatures and Cultures, Lomonosov Moscow State University
  • Craig Dworkin, Professor of English Language and Communication, University of Utah
  • Hanno Ehrlicher, Professor of Spanish Literature, Augsburg University
  • Robert Matthias Erdbeer, Research Coordinator, University of Münster
  • Ástráður Eysteinsson, Professor of Comparative Literature and Dean of the School of Humanities, University of Iceland
  • Eva Forgacs, Professor of Arts and Humanities, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena
  • Malte Hagener, Professor of Media Studies, Marburg University
  • Annegret Heitmann, Professor of Scandinavian Literature, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich
  • Hlynur Helgason, Assistant Professor of Art Theory, University of Iceland
  • Þröstur Helgason, Doctoral Student and Private Lecturer in Comparative Literature, Uni­versity of Iceland
  • Tiit Hennoste, Research Fellow at the Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics, University of Tartu
  • Tomi Huttunen, Professor of Russian Literature, University of Helsinki
  • Torben Jelsbak, Assistant Professor at the Department of Culture and Identity, Roskilde University
  • Gabriele Jutz, Professor of Media Theory, University of Applied Arts, Vienna
  • Andrea Kollnitz, Assistant Professor at the Centre for Fashion Studies / Art History Department, Stockholm University
  • Andreas Kramer, Reader in German and Comparative Literature, Goldsmiths University
  • Tyrus Miller, Professor of Modern Literature and Dean of Graduate Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Klaus Müller-Wille, Professor of Nordic Literature, University of Zürich
  • Richard Murphy, Visiting Professor of German Comparative Literature and Film, University of Sussex
  • Peter Nicholls, Professor of English, New York University
  • Annika Öhrner, Senior Lecturer, Södertörn University
  • Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam, Assistant Professor of Art History, Aarhus University
  • Sarah Posman, Postdoctoral Fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders, Ghent University
  • Anne Reverseau, Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Leuven
  • Halldór Björn Runólfsson, Museum Director of the National Gallery of Iceland
  • Anna Katharina Schaffner, Senior Lecturer of Comparative Literature, University of Kent
  • Æsa Sigurjónsdóttir, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Iceland
  • Lech Sokół, Professor of Theatre Studies and Head of the Department of the History and Theory of Theatre, Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Art
  • Luca Somigli, Associate Professor of Italian Studies, University of Toronto
  • Per Stounbjerg, Professor at the Department of Aesthetics and Communication, Aarhus University
  • Irina Subotić, Professor Emeritus, University of Arts, Belgrade
  • Willem Weststeijn, Professor of Slavic Studies, University of Amsterdam


Thursday 24 October, 12:00

University of Iceland, Main Building, Room 220

The Centre for Avant-Garde Studies presents a lecture by the avant-garde scholar Sami Sjöberg. The lecture will be presented on Thursday 24 October 2019 and will be held in English. In his lecture, Sjöberg will discuss the activities of surrealism in Romania. The surrealist group in Bucharest was active in the immediate post-war years of the 1940s, and the importance of the group has recently been recognised. The group’s most renowned member was Gherasim Luca, an artist whom Gilles Deleuze heralded as the greatest francophone poet. Still, the theoretical input of Paul Păun, Virgil Teodorescu, Gellu Naum and Dolfi Trost was equally important. The group, often referred to as Infra-noir due to their publication series of that name, was a latecomer to the international surrealist scene and acutely aware of it. They adopted the original Bretonian definition of surrealism as a mode of research whereby they renewed surrealist approaches not only in the field of artistic and textual methodology but also concerning the social and political aspects of life. The talk looks into the literary, visual and theoretical input of the group while acknowledging the radical epistemological preconditions these techniques entailed.

Sami Sjöberg is an Academy of Finland Research Fellow at the University of Helsinki and an Adjunct Professor at the universities of Helsinki and Tampere. He heads two projects and research groups focusing on the avant-gardes’ engagement with epistemologies, science, ecology and biology. Sjöberg has published widely on Continental avant-garde literature and its relation to its contemporary cultural context, as well as modern European art and avant-garde poetics.

A mini lecture series on book art and concrete poetry will be presented in November 2015, in relation with the exhibition „dadadieterdúr – samruni orðlistar og myndlistar“ . The lectures are organized by the National Library in collaboration with the Centre for Avant-Garde Studies and will be held in the lecture hall of the National Library. The lectures will be presented in Icelandic.

On Tuesday 17 November, at 12:00 Benedikt Hjartarson will present a lecture on the historical avant-garde and early visual poetry, under the title „„Hver síða verður að springa“: Um framúrstefnu, ljóðsmíðar og prenttilraunir“. Vigdís Rún Jónsdóttir presents a lecture on the emergence of concrete poetry in Iceland in the period 1955-1975. On Tuesday 24 November, at 12:00, two lectures will be presented. Úlfhildur Dagsdóttir will talk about the concrete poetry of Óskar Árni Óskarsson and Sjón and Ólafur Engilbertsson will present a lecture on Dadaism and the publication activities of Medúsa and Smekkleysa (Bad Taste).

Some years ago the growing scholarly interest in avant-garde studies led to the formation of The Nordic-Network of Avant-Garde Studies as a forum for attempts to map the cultural influence of the aesthetic avant-gardes in the Nordic countries. Part of this project is the writing of a four volume Cultural History of the Avant-Gardes in the Nordic Countries. The first volume dealing with the years 1900-1925 was published by Rodopi (now a division of Brill) in 2013, and the second and third volume will be published in 2015 and 2016. The editors of this history now call for papers to a conference dealing with the history, culture, aesthetics, and politics of the avantgardes in the Nordic countries in the period 1975-2000. The first three volumes have focused mainly Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. In volume four we particularly want to include Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Sami areas. Our hope is that most papers can be rewritten and published as contributions to the fourth volume of the series, A Cultural History of the Avant-Gardes in the Nordic Countries 1975-2000. For the publication there will be editorial panels of scholars from the different Nordic countries who will act as peer reviewers.

The conference will take place at Copenhagen University from 3-5 December 2015. All participants should submit a title and a 2-300 word abstract before August 10, 2015. Abstracts should be sent to Questions regarding the conference may be sent to this address as well or to a member of the organizing committee.

The full text of the call for papers can be found here

The conference is organised by

Benedikt Hjartarson, University of Iceland,;  Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam, Aarhus University,; Laura Luise Schultz, University of Copenhagen,; Tania Ørum, University of Copenhagen,; and the conference secretary Marianne Ølholm,

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, 19-20 November, 2015

Joana Cunha Leal, Universidade Nova de Lisboa

Organised by: Art History Institute, Universidade Nova de Lisboa and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, with the support of RIHA (International Association of Research Institutes in the History of Art)

Keynote speakers: Nina Gourianova – Northwestern University, Chicago;  Enric Bou – Università Ca Foscari Venezia; Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel – École normale supérieure, Paris

The Symposium proposes an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural analysis on avant-garde forced and deliberate migrations in the twentieth century, in particular during the so-called “interwar” period (1918-1939). It seeks to debate the significance of artistic migrations for both avant-garde formations and individual artists (painters, illustrators, poets, writers, architects, designers, photographers, film makers, etc) by considering not only major “émigré” movements from “peripheries” to well established artistic centres, as Paris, Berlin or Moscow, but also lesser known nomadic tendencies and circuits within regions and continents, those caused by the two world conflicts, and those triggered by less accounted for political, social, cultural, or personal circumstances.

This is not just another forum on art in emigration, the topic well researched in the past two decades. Instead, while discussing the diversity of the twentieth century “migration phenomenon”, and the prevailing international character of the avant-garde movement, the Avant-garde Migrations Symposium aims at observing the significance of cultural and artistic circuits, transfers, collaborations, dialogues and confrontations within groups and formations that cannot be entirely considered under the umbrella of straightforward centre/periphery dichotomies. We would like to question the validity of the well-established methodological frameworks strictly operating within the concepts of “artistic influences” or “assimilation of pre-fixed styles”, which often feel outdated and dogmatic when applied to the arts being produced. This Symposium will address the effects of avant-garde artists’ motion between places, its contingent and historical factors, the national and trans-national grounds of artistic production, as well as cultural and artistic intersections, meetings, discoveries, paradoxes and exchanges streaming from translations, travel, escape, dislocation and exile.

The full programme of the symposium can be found here.

Thursday 23 Oct. 8 p.m., Hafnarhús, Reykjavík

Lecture by Benedikt Hjartarson, associate professor of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Iceland, organized by the Centre for Avant-Garde Studies at the University of Iceland, in collaboration with the Reykjavik Art Museum.

In European cultural history the period between 1909 and 1938 is often referred to as the period of the historical avant-garde, with the emergence of movements such as Italian futurism, Russian cubo-futurism, surrealism, cubism and constructivism. The lecture will discuss new research on the historical avant-garde movements, which aim at explaining the characteristics of its project and presenting hitherto unknown movements and materials. Firstly, the lecture will discuss new research on the genre of the manifesto, which has opened up new ways to explore the specific character of the avant-garde and the international circulation of its aesthetics. Secondly, it will discuss recent scholarly work on the topography of the international avant-garde, which often includes a critical revision of traditional notions of the relation between centres and peripheries. Thirdly, these new topographical theories of the avant-garde will be put under critical scrutiny and the question will be posed, to what extent these new approaches stick to the given research framework of a scholarly tradition that limits rather than increases our understanding of the historical avant-garde. The lecture will plead for a broad cultural and epistemological perspective on the avant-garde and the notions of social revolution, cultural revitalization and spiritual regeneration lying at the core of its project.

Benedikt Hjartarson is an associate professor of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Iceland. He has been a member of the steering committee and publication commission of EAM since its foundation in 2007 and he was a member of the steering committee of the Nordic Network of Avant-garde studies from 2003 to 2009.

The lecture starts at 8 p.m. and will be presented in Icelandic. Admission is free.

The Centre for Avant-Garde Studies, in collaboration with Reykjavik Art Museum, presents a lecture by the film scholar Ara Osterweil. The lecture will be presented on Thursday July 17 at 20:00 and will take place at Hafnarhús.

Ara Osterweil’s talk at the museum will give a brief overview of the corporeal turn in American avant-garde cinema of the 1960s, and will focus on several key films of the period. Film scholar Ara Osterweil’s new book Flesh Cinema: The Corporeal Turn in American Avant-Garde Film (Manchester University Press, 2014) explores the groundbreaking representation of the body in experimental films of the 1960s and 1970s. Focusing on sexually explicit films by Andy Warhol, Jack Smith, Barbara Rubin, Stan Brakhage, Carolee Schneemann, and Yoko Ono, this book demonstrates how experimental cinema not only transformed American visual culture, but also the lives of those who created it. By situating these films in relation to the civil rights and sexual liberation movements, Flesh Cinema investigates how social politics continue to inform their meaning.

Ara Osterweil is a writer, film scholar, and painter who lives in Montreal and New York. She teaches film and cultural studies in the English department at McGill University, where she is an Assistant Professor. Apart from the book Flesh Cinema she has published numerous essays, in journals such as Camera ObscuraFilm QuarterlyFrameworksThe Brooklyn Rail, and Millennium Film Journal, as well as in anthologies such as Porn StudiesWarhol in Ten Takes, and Women’s Experimental Cinema. She has received an ArtsWriters Grant from Creative Capital/ The Warhol Foundation, as well as a SSHRC Insight Grant. She is currently working on a scholarly book entitled The Pedophilic Imagination: Children, Sex, Movies as well as a novel entitled Last Rites.

A recording of the lecture can be found here.