Paragraphs on the Contemporary

Paragraphs on the Contemporary (I)

Contemporary art confers an unprecedented sense of responsibility on its practitioner. The art world is no longer thought of as existing in provincial exclusivity but in global oneness. This purports to present a de-centered condition that makes it possible for different voices to speak from their unique positions.(1) Nothing is neutral in this paradigm. All are considered to be immanent in this global oneness and the contemporary artist, today’s practitioner, possesses an attitude which always positions him or her to address or speak to the global. The distinction between ‘artwork’ and ‘everyday object’ no longer matters, “[…] what becomes crucial is the distinction between a marked, installation space and unmarked, public space.”(2) With that said, not every piece of artwork is necessarily considered an installation; the installation inheres within it a consistent and intentional process of inclusions and exclusions, situating objects in this marked or demarcated space. Consequently, the exhibitionary models for such a paradigm must be invented; it must critique existing standards and must itself be critiqued in light of the new conditions which animate contemporaneity.

The exhibition is no longer thought of in terms of its physicality but of its site-specificity. The site, unhinged, is here the location of communication, the text, which now operates in networks such as discursive, linguistic, social as well as institutional frameworks(3), thus making mapping a relevant conceptual framework by which relations between sites could be traced. In this theater, the spectator is neither neutral nor innocent. In fact, meaning-making becomes a concerted negotiation between the body, space, objects, technology and so on. Technology here plays a vital role in expanding our logistics of perception. Each individual or spectator also comes into this encounter with their own unique set of experiences, ideas and worldviews which further complicate the initial position of the exhibition. It is not always possible to totalize exhibitions, or artworks for that matter, in the context of the contemporary.

A paradigm as complex, dialectical and contextual as this offers the twenty-first century practitioner — artist, theorist, writer, critic, curator, and so on — a fertile ground with possibilities of inventing what art could be while aware of the geopolitical conditions that shape our realities today as well as the advancements and limitations of science and technology…

 

Notes:

  1. There has been a shift from medium-specificity (emphasized in modernism, with its purist ideals described in Clement Greenberg’s text ‘Modernist Painting’) to the spatial and phenomenological (advocated by the minimalists of the 1960s onward which was later critiqued by feminist art by politicizing the body implicated in this phenomenological experience) to the cultural field which shifted the siting of art to exist in the discursive and social networks. Civil rights, postmodernism, postcolonial discourse, multiculturalism have also had a role to play in this development.
  2. Boris Groys, Politics of Installation, e-flux journal #2 — January 2009
  3. Hal Foster discusses this subject in his book ‘The Return of the Real’ (1996), in the chapter “The Artist as Ethnographer”, pg 171 – 204.
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