New, newest, now, next

It’s the dawn of a new age. No, not another,tate-triennial-01 deeper stratum to the credit crunch, but a new era of art is upon us and it’s called the ‘Altermodern’. So says French curator Nicolas Bourriaud, who was also responsible for that other recent frisson of novel art-speak, Relational Aesthetics, which – for better or worse – is now firmly established in our repertoire of recognized terminology.

The ‘Altermodern’ is more contentious, not only for being launched by a showy exhibition at the Tate, but also for being far more numinous and complex. Put simply it posits a post-postmodern situation in which modernism is fractured further and has no central geographical focus. These ‘other’ modernities take place simultaneously through an international network of production, with a constellation of ideas pulsing through various media and means of communication. Altermodern artists are nomadic flañeurs and the work is characterised by translation and heterogeneity.

Is any of this terribly new, however? The post-colonial diaspora of artists and the ‘glocal’ proliferation of biennials has long been a point of discussion, Jonathan Neil recently cited Noel Carroll’s definition of the ‘transnational’ and notions of the ‘other’ have been around for decades in Derrida, Kristeva, Said and others.

Even though you can’t all see the Altermodern show (which I liked despite its flaws), you can watch the video, read the manifesto and join the debate, in which most newspaper critics have waded in with a mixture of incomprehension and vitriol. Personally, while another impenetrable ‘ism’ is not necessarily the solution to tidying up the art history books of the 21st century, I appreciate that it does at least take some courage to usher in any kind of movement that doesn’t have an easily marketable model like the YBAs or the Chindian set.

2 thoughts on “New, newest, now, next”

  1. When all else fails, coin a term.

    “Altermodernism” is a clumsy weapon for putting “Postmodernism” out of its misery, but maybe it will have to do. Now, can’t we go back to “Modernism” again? It worked pretty well for the first century or two of rampant change, globalization and migration, mingling of faiths and identities, information saturation and technological progress, and disenthrallment from sacrosanct absolutes.

  2. It won’t stick. Not because it’s “clumsy” (it is); and not because it’s coming onto the scene like the tag-line of a marketing campaign (which it isn’t); it won’t stick because it’s not useful. Does anyone see themselves using ‘alatermodern’ as an adjective? “Oh, that’s altermodern art.” “He can be forgiven, he’s an altermodernist.” It’s just not a prefix problem. Whether it be “post,” “late,” “post-post” or “alter,” the prefix tells us that the issue is with the “modern” itself.

    On a friend’s urging, I just finished reading Bruno Latour’s “We Have Never Been Modern,” and it makes a compelling argument for how our sense of the “modern” is largely a misunderstanding of our own position, in the west, with respect to global culture. In short, it’s a bedtime story we’ve been telling ourselves which distinguishes our rationalist, forward-looking, science-based lives from all of those ‘Other’ cultures that, from our perspective, just haven’t made it to where we are yet. And Latour was writing this in ’89-’90, just at the onset of our ‘post-historical’ moment (of course, this is another problematic concept).

    Latour gave a talk at the Heyman Center for the Humanities up at Columbia just a few weeks ago on “Globalization”–the subtitle was “Which Globe? Which Politics?” There he introduced the concept of “ecologism” as a potential candidate through which to understand the new temporalities and politics of our dawning age. I liked this because it was rooted in some very concrete and creative thinking by people such as Peter Sloterdijk, who is concerned with what Latour called a “breathable politics.” At bottom, what all of this requires is a rethinking our privileged access to “nature,” which is at the same time a rethinking of the “other.”

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