Zur Vorstellung des Terrors: Die RAF-Ausstellung
The term “avant-garde” appears frequently in the writings of the RAF (Red Army Fraction). Here, it is defined as a socialist cadre that sparks the anti-imperialist struggle: a revolutionary group, an advance party, that fights for the liberation of the proletarian masses. Konzept Stadtguerilla (The Concept of the Urban Guerilla) affirms the idea of an avant-garde that goes ahead. “We maintain that without revolutionary initiative, without the practical revolutionary intervention of the avant-garde, of the socialist workers and intellectuals, without concrete anti-imperialist struggle, there can be no process of unification, that an alliance will only be created through joint struggles or not at all, struggles in which the said group of workers and intellectuals should not give orders but lead the way.” Abolishing art by realizing it in actual lived experience was a chief concern of the artistic avant-garde, which called for political intervention instead of artistic autonomy. If, ignoring all ethical issues, one views the RAF as an artistic collective, then key aims of the artistic avant-garde can be recognized in the concept of this terrorist avant-garde. Both the politicized artistic avant-garde and the avant-garde urban guerilla insist on the primacy of existential content over form, and on the resulting revolutionary way of life.
Any attempt to approach the issue of art’s autonomy from within traditional art media inevitably leads to the dissolution of this autonomy, as this topic cannot be approached without non-artistic means. In this series of pictures, “avant-garde” is the non-artistic subject of a mise-en-scène in the art context. The portrayal of the political text becomes a painted picture; it becomes picturesque. Here, the Konzept Stadtguerilla is domesticated as a conceptual painting and contrasted with images of a self-proclaimed “avant-garde” consumer aesthetic.
Originally a military term, “avant-garde” later came to be used for political and artistic movements. As in the military use of the word, avant-garde refers to an advance party that moves in the direction of a given objective ahead of everyone else. Whereas the military objective was enemy territory, the political and artistic avant-garde moves towards something that has yet to be realized: the destination in space becomes temporal. The movement usually aims for socially utopian or aesthetic goals to be reached in the future. This avant-garde movement becomes a vector in time that focuses on a goal and pushes towards it. Prior imagining of this goal is a central part of the avant-garde movement, usually formulated in a manifesto. Without an imagined telos to strive towards, there is no avant-garde. Consequently, avant-garde can only be defined within a teleological historical position.Outside of a model of history based on progress, no movement can be avant-garde. As a result, avant-garde has become a style label that has totally lost its original power. This becomes clear when the term appears in the field of marketing. The automobile manufacturer Mercedes-Benz, for example, uses “avant-garde” for specific editions of its models: today, this formerly revolutionary term denotes a specific combination of sugar maple interior, leather upholstery, and a sports-tuned chassis. An avant-gardist is someone who chooses this product when buying a car. Today, consumer culture is the only thing that offers us the possibility of becoming part of an avant-garde.