Science, sex and Indian movies - the face of the new avant-garde

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Science will be the new avant- garde art.The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London will turn its premises over to scientists on a regular basis for think-ins, films and exhibitions on cloning and other ethical issues.

But the avant-garde, late nineties style, will also include an Indian film for a largely Asian audience in St James's Park, and a rock concert where sixties' heroes play alongside young Britpop rebels.

The avant-garde is about to be redefined by the new director of the ICA, Britain's traditional keeper of the avant-garde flame. Philip Dodd, 47, who takes over at the ICA this month, says in an interview with The Independent that science will for the first time take its place inside the ICA with debates on ethical issues.

He is also negotiating with Westminster city council to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Indian independence with a subtitled Indian film shown to a mass audience - the first time an open air movie show has been held in a royal park.

And at the cutting edge of the new avant-garde he wants exhibitions, films and shows springing from the imaginations of artists rather than curators, and "constellations of meetings", the bringing together of different generations, of scientists, artists, musicians and designers to swap ideas.

In addition the ICA will oversee cultural exchanges between London and cities like Los Angeles to bring festivals of their art, film, music and theatre to the capital.

Mr Dodd is a former editor of Sight and Sound, the British Film Institute magazine, former deputy editor of The New Statesman and one of the founders of BBC's The Late Show. He is also a member of the independent think tank Demos and an academic who has studied the history of the avant-garde.

"Avant-garde is a word that was actually invented in the 1840s," he says. "It came from the military. It's due for a make-over. The cutting edge now is likely to come from mongrel couplings. What the avant-garde must do is bring together different groups who have not been brought together before. It must generate new ideas, new art, bring different generations together, musicians, fashion designers, artists - just as some of the most interesting work in Britain came out of the art schools, the one place where art and music and fashion all mixed, where low and high, cultural and commercial met.

"I'm setting up with Demos a think tank within the ICA to rethink the future of British design and it won't just be the usual suspects. It will take into account the revolution in retail design, how somewhere like Pret a Manger has established itself as a popular coffee space."

Despite a pounds 200,000 or 35 per cent grant cut imposed upon the ICA by Westminster council to keep its council tax down, Mr Dodd says he is determined to do "spectacular things."

He explains: "I am negotiating to put on a big Indian movie in the park to celebrate independence; a big gig at the Royal Festival Hall with the Clash, Pulp and Bowie - you bring together bands who would never play together elsewhere. You'd be mixing and matching the generations. I'm not going to sit down in my bloody cardigan. My son who is 16 doesn't have my embarrassment about the sixties. Young people are interested in all the generations."

He will, he promises, diminish the power of the director and curator in art. "I don't think it's a surprise," he says, "that Damien Hirst curated Freeze [the radical art exhibition that introduced a new conceptualist generation in 1988]. Artists are closer to the ground. They are not following fashions. They are making them.

"The sixties believed in a high low distinction. I believe in promiscuity. High and low, mainstream and avant-garde, those distinctions have now collapsed."

Comments