The Avant-Garde and the Web


I was reading the London Review of Books online and came across a review by Gill Partington called Duchamp Is My Lawyer: The Polemics, Pragmatics and Poetics of UbuWeb. What caught my attention is that it was about a website called UbuWeb and it being a “clearinghouse for the avant-garde”.

Founded in 1996, UbuWeb is a pirate shadow library consisting of hundreds of thousands of freely downloadable avant-garde artifacts. By the letter of the law, the site is questionable; we openly violate copyright norms and almost never ask for permission. Most everything on the site is pilfered, ripped, and swiped from other places, then reposted

About UbuWeb

The mainstream is not avant-garde

Avant-garde to me means something different, something artsy, maybe a bit risky or even risqué. Today’s mainstream web is the opposite of that in a lot of ways … we have come to expect consistent design with certain things in certain places like the “contact us” at the top right or in the bottom tray, the menu across the top, privacy policies, and easy-to-read fonts.

word cloud with words describing avant-garde
Word cloud created by Debra Beauregard on WordArt, 2021 with words from Wikipedia definition of Avant-garde

The first thing you notice about the UbuWeb is how stark it is. I had a hard time reading the text until I zoomed out to 150%.

Down a Rabbit Hole

I do find myself scrolling mindlessly through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn every so often although I rarely do that on YouTube as I find the ads annoying. I pretty much never just get lost looking around the web.

This page was different. Even though I can’t say I understood everything I saw, read, or heard, there was something oddly comforting in it all. The videos I watched were quirky and old-time charming and the conceptual writing section (A Method for Sorting Cows, anyone?), was not the usual fare. I’ve highlighted a couple of interesting finds below.

Great Fences of Australia

This video shows Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor bowing on multiple fences across Australia and producing unique musical sounds. At the 17:30 minute mark, it sounds remarkably grunge rock. As the accompanying article says: “Many people look at fences and see not much; Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor look and see giant musical string instruments covering a continent.”

USA: Poetry, Frank O’Hara (1966) dir. Richard O. Moore

I found this video, which started with the poet Frank O’Hara reading from one of his poems, quite calming. I find modern documentaries have too much visuals and tricky sound effects going on. This one is actually the outtakes from the official documentary and shot in black an white.

Then again, with all the avant-garde-ness …

You can find UbuWeb on Twitter

Have you found yourself falling down a rabbit hole on the web?

Was it enjoyable or just a time-waster? I’ll visit UbuWeb again and see what else I can discover.


Have you been searching for something a little different on the web that is more about discovery than a pre-determined path for you to follow? Read my latest blog on the avant-garde website UbuWeb and then start your arts adventure!


The avant-garde is not dead on the web. Discover and discuss with me in my new blog post.

4 thoughts on “The Avant-Garde and the Web

  1. Thank you for the new site!
    I see what you mean about the drastic change in layout – but also not a bad one. The differences upfront made me want to click through screens and explore a bit as I didn’t know exactly what I would find. I will check back in the future to see what else I can discover.

  2. Hi Debra,

    Wow, this was a fantastic blog post on a really interesting topic! I have never heard of UbuWeb before, but I will certainly be taking a look through it.

    I find it interesting that it is a form of internet piracy that is used to showcase some quirky material. I find it fascinating that other forms of piracy we see online, such as torrenting and filesharing, are heavily frowned upon and can lead to hefty fines, yet this site essentially hosts stolen material and yet the way this site is portrayed makes it seem much more acceptable. I wonder if that is because the authors are either long gone, or don’t have the same clout as modern music, filmmaking, and publishing companies.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts,


    • Hi Laura,
      I found that interesting as well about the piracy. The funny thing to me is that the site was flying below the radar, but with his book coming out and being reviewed in the mainstream, it will definitely be in people’s radar. I wonder what will happen then, but I suspect that the site’s curators are looking forward it!

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