Remediating the Avant-Garde

Thomas Crombez

Digitizing Artist Periodicals: New Methodologies from the Digital Humanities for Analyzing Artist Networks

The research project DABNAP (Digital Archive of Belgian Neo-Avant-garde Periodicals), that started in 2012 at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, aims to digitize and analyze a large number of artists' periodicals from the period 1950-1990. The artistic renewal in Belgium since the fifties, sustained by small groups of artists (such as G58 or De Nevelvlek), led to a first generation of postwar artist periodicals. Titles such as Le surréalisme révolutionnaire, Cobra, De Tafelronde, Het Cahier and Gard Sivik proved decisive for the formation of the Belgian neo-avant-garde in literature and the visual arts. During the sixties and the seventies, happening and socially engaged art (inspired particularly by the Provo movement) took over and gave a new orientation to artist periodicals. Examples include Happening News, Revo, Anar, Milky Way, Total's, and, on the side of literature, Labris, Yang, Bok, MEP, Heibel, Boemerang, and many others.

In this presentation, I wish to highlight the challenges and difficulties of this project, for example, in dealing with non-standard formats, types of paper, typography, and non-paper inserts. Then some of the preliminary research results from DABNAP will be presented. A fully searchable archive of neo-avant-garde periodicals allows researchers to analyze in much more detail than before how influences from foreign literature and arts took root in the Belgian context. This will be illustrated by analyzing the influence of French Surrealism on Belgian writers and artists. To conclude, future stages in the design of the DABNAP web archive will also allow research into the periodicals through Named Entities, in order to detect for instance the networks of collaborating artists.


Thomas Crombez is lecturer in Philosophy of Art and Theatre History at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Antwerp) and at Sint Lucas Antwerp. As a member of the research group ArchiVolt, he focuses on the history of avant-garde theatre and performance art. Further interests are new methodologies for doing research, such as digital text collections and data visualization. Crombez also works as a researcher at the Research Centre for Visual Poetics of the University of Antwerp. At the same institution, he initiated the Platform for Digital Humanities. Recent books include Het Antitheater van Antonin Artaud (2008), The Locus of Tragedy (2009), and Mass Spectacle in Interwar Europe (2013, forthcoming). Academic blog: