How It Happened

Fergal Gaynor, founder of The Avant, wrote this background to the festival back in 2009.


In 2008 experimental composer Alvin Lucier bumped into Ubuweb founder and conceptual writer Kenny Goldsmith on a street in Cork. Completely surprised, each wondered what the other was doing in this provincial city on the other side of the Atlantic. Apparently, SoundEye Festival of the Arts of the Word, in which Goldsmith was participating, was on at the same time as The Quiet Music Festival, which featured Lucier. So Kenny attended as much of the music festival as he could, and took me aside one evening for a chat.

Kenny is a can-do kind of guy: “you’ve got these two great festivals here in Cork, why don’t you talk to each other and co-ordinate the programmes? I’m sure lots of people in SoundEye would like to go to Quiet Music stuff and vice versa.”

The irony of Kenny’s chance encounter wasn’t lost on me, but I’d been so busy with SoundEye in the preceding months that I simply hadn’t surfaced sufficiently to be aware of what was happening in the city apart from the poetry festival. Soon afterwards Mick O’Shea informed me that it was unlikely that a Quiet Music Festival would take place in Cork in 2009. But neither fact mattered: Kenny had sown a seed.

And once I managed to look around it was clear that these two summer festivals weren’t the only things happening in the city. After what had felt like a hangover period in the wake of 2005 and the European Capital of Culture Year signs of renewed energy had begun to appear: the opening of artist-run galleries like the Black Mariah and Couch; a host of sound art and improvisation events; film nights run in the National Sculpture Factory and the Sláinte Bar; regular events at the Glucksman, including Ed Krčma’s Eye and Mind series of discussions. What was evident in all of these enterprises was a taste for the avant-garde: it could almost be said that Cork was becoming a centre for avant-garde art. All that was needed was some of Kenny’s co-ordination.

The Avant is a simple idea: ask a number of Cork-based organisations, supportive of avant-garde practices, to schedule events which they would programme in any case, in a limited period (9 days) in the summer. Pool their resources in terms of audience and publicity, but in all other matters let them run their events independently. Voilá, with no extra funding, and little extra effort, a festival of experimental and pioneering art in Cork city, worthy of national, if not international attention. Hopefully that is what will happen, and hopefully the public interested in hearing sonic improvisation in the Crawford Gallery will be willing to try out conceptual writing at SoundEye; the SoundEye poets will be found scrutinising the artworks at the Black Mariah; the art lovers will find their way to the SoundEye cabaret, and the music lovers there will give Sonic Vigil a chance. And hopefully from all of this – new ideas, new publics and new collaborations.

The Avant won’t be perfect: I’m not a waged arts administrator, so organising this means that I’m again immersed, unable to take in what’s happening outside of my little sphere of business. The organisations involved in The Avant are associated with individuals I meet regularly: there are certainly a number of other vibrant groups whom I don’t often come into contact with, and who have therefore fallen outside the range of my organisational activity, but might very well wish to be involved. On the other hand there is a strength in this kind of more personal practice: it means that The Avant is based on ongoing conversations, and conversation, to my mind, is the soul of culture. With any luck the ‘festival’ itself will draw new people into the conversation, just as it will reshape that same conversation, leading to wider and deeper urban activity in the wake of July 2009.

Fergal Gaynor


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