I start with these observations in order to place in proper context the current conditions of production, dissemination, and reception of contemporary art. Contemporary art today is refracted, not just from the specific site of culture and history but also – and in a more critical sense – from the standpoint of a complex geopolitical configuration that defines all systems of production and relations of exchange as a consequence of globalization after imperialism. It is this geopolitical configuration and its post-imperial transformations that situate what I call here “the postcolonial constellation.” The changes wrought by transitions to new forms of governmentality and institutions, new domains of living and belonging as people and citizens, cultures, and communities, define the postcolonial matrix that shapes the ethics of subjectivity and creativity today. Whereas classical European thought formulated the realm of subjectivity and creativity as two domains of activity each informed by its own internal cohesion, without an outside, such thought today is  consistently questioned by the constant tessellation of the outside and inside, each folding into and opening out to complex communicative tremors and upheavals. Perhaps, then, bringing contemporary art into the context of the geopolitical framework that define global relations – between the so-called local and the global, center and margin, nation-state and the individual, transnational and diasporic communities, audiences and institutions – offers a perspicacious view of the postcolonial constellation. [Okwui Enwezor The Postcolonial Constellation]

Ugo Rondinone Zweiundzwanzigsterjulineunzehnhundertachtundneunzig No. 108 1998

The Anthropocene is the space of a new promiscuity, a brutal bringing-together of all reigns and spheres in a space suddenly devoid of boundaries. This image of a universe without fixed boundaries (without skin) allows us to better understand the ambition of Pierre Huyghe: “Not to exhibit something to someone, but to exhibit someone to something.”In the Anthropocene, everything is being exposed, and the subject has lost its monopoly on the gaze. In 1964 Jacques Lacan proposed a strikingly similar thesis: the world is an “omnivoyeur,” he explained, but without reference to the notion of human consciousness: “I see only from one point, but in my existence I am looked at from all sides.” He continued: “In our relation to things, in so far as this relation is constituted by way of vision, and ordered in the figures of representation, something slips, passes, is transmitted, from stage to stage, and is always to some degree eluded in it — that is what we call the gaze. This difference between vision and the gaze “in our relation to things” and “ordered in representation” could well be the key to allowing us to address the new status of the subject in the art of today.
Contemporary art plays host to a productive entanglement between the human and nonhuman, a presentation of coactivityas such: indeed, the universe is made of multiple energies working side by side or together; the work of human beings is nourished by bacteria, other mammals, or the flow of nature. In many artworks, organic growth proceeds with the operation of software, and human relations are entangled with marketing channels or algorithms. All relations among different regimes of the living and the inert are in tension. [Coactivity: Between the Human and Nonhuman by Nicolas Bourriaud]

Pierre Huyghe Zoodram 5 2011

BACK IN 2009, Nicolas Bourriaud explained in the manifesto accompanying his “Altermodern” exhibition at Tate Britain in London that “multiculturalism and identity is [sic] being overtaken by creolisation.” Setting it apart from multiculturalism, which is based on the fusion of different categories of race and gender, Bourriaud defines creolization as a process of cultural nomadism, where one can wander, identity unfixed, among a globalized “archipelago” of signs and codes.
While I agree with much of what Bourriaud says, I bring him up because I’m tired of white male thinkers who keep dismissing identity as if it’s some denim cut that’s no longer in fashion. Try telling an Egyptian waiter in Amsterdam that he’s no longer burdened by his ethnicity and religion, that he is now free to wander as a cultural flaneur. He’d tell you to fuck off. Today, given the world’s turbulent waves of racial unrest, Bourriaud’s comment couldn’t be more out of sync. I’m also unsure how creolization can “overtake” identity when creolization has always been a part of identity; translation, global connections, and shape-shifting have been essential to who I am. [Cathy Park Hong on Artists and Identity]

We have reached a point where we cannot have one homogenized narrative, one view of the future, a singular idea of what constitutes the good life, even though we have inherited certain monolithic cultural, social, and political ways of thinking about the world. This monolithic narrative has become increasingly untenable and can no longer hold. That’s why George W. Bush and the neocons’ version of enlightened despotism did not take hold in Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s why there are multiple insurgencies occurring around us—political, intellectual, philosophical, economic. There is a search for alternatives.
One must rethink what the multiple frames of reference might be, what other paths might constitute new versions of the future, and the direction each might take. What if, say, in Nigeria we don’t get it right? And we don’t become like London, don’t have the same luxury brands, along the same streets, owned by the same two companies? What if Beijing does not become like Washington? Is it possible to have multiple ways of looking at social conditions that are not necessarily in alignment with the dominant Western ways of thinking? [Okwui Enwezor in conversation with Michelle Kuo]


  • gwh12

    Are we ever going to have an end to all this cultural chat – all this definition of art in terms of politics? It’s all so lazy and unchallenging.
    Nobody’s looking – just looking – and maybe trying to talk about art in terms of seeing – no matter where it comes from. It doesn’t matter where it comes from – it’s art. So much harder to talk about!

  • Mark Stone

    Hi George! Yes – politics can be tiresome, I understand, but isn’t Art big enough to include politics in its philosophies? Doesn’t Art engage the issues of its time, and don’t those issues/histories create the background for the way we think about the work that we make? Don’t our lived experiences play in the work we make whether we acknowledge them outwardly or not? Shouldn’t it matter where Art comes from? One can argue that even “Art for Art’s Sake” has a political dimension if one examines the reasons for its withdrawal from politics and lived experience. What most of this contemporary political dialogue has at its core, though, is a critique of power – who has it, who wants it and how to get it – and it’s power that in the end determines what we see in our museums, what gets collected in our markets, what we see in reviews and magazines, and ultimately, which artists the culture “uses”. Maybe these “background” issues and ideas must be addressed, confronted and explicated in order for us to “see” things in a different light, to expand our understanding of vision, and to move in other directions. – Mark

  • gwh12

    Mark – Art, of course, is capacious – but politics, like the price of bread, say very little in the act of creation. And, of course, the times have a bearing on how art is made – the availability of certain materials, the constraints of production, how it is presented perhaps, etc. But this background, and our lived experiences, play only a passing role in what artists dream of and think. Where art comes from is of peripheral interest, at most – what I am looking at, how it is made, the physical and, most importantly, the emotional content, are what matter to me. “Art for Art’s sake” was just a cheap magazine phrase – it never meant anything, really, to anyone who thought about art. And, it is precisely the fact that the contemporary political dialogue in art is a critique of power that it has become a disservice – because, in speaking to what we see in our museums, what gets collected and what we see in reviews and comments, it plays the very game that degrades it. I think we have to be very careful about that – and talk about what we make and what we are looking at in terms of making things, and leave talking about power in the dust where it belongs.

  • Mark Stone

    Hi George! Yes I agree – how something is made, the physical and emotional content, are what matter when looking at art. But those things are formed out of life experiences – they come from the way we think about things, the way we react to things and our understanding of how we exist through those things. Economics, politics, personality, power, love, life and death – that’s what drives the work, creates the work – We try to find personal ways, new ways or different ways of expressing those things. What was it Rothko was on about – “I’m not an abstractionist. I’m not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.” – George, this isn’t the background – this is the subject. If an artist’s life has run against the world – like Ai Weiwei – why can’t his work discuss those things, why can’t that world be the subject? Velasquez painted the power and politics of the world around him – the grandest of personal/political paintings. Rubens, Goya, Rembrandt and even, Caravaggio – all engaged the world, the people and the ideas that moved through their lives. Pollock complained that Clem never really understood what his work was about. Even you have engaged the wider world to change your paintings, to find new ideas, new ways to express yourself (what is Fractured Space after all – but a challenge to power – a political thrust?) in order to challenge and critique the old ways, the old powers. This isn’t background and this will to the world won’t stay buried in the dust.

Henri values your comments!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.