Over the course of this Semester we’ll be looking at some of key factors and issues and terms related to contemporary visual practice including: The Media, Postcolonialism, Globalization, Posthumanism, Materiality and Ethics.My aim today is to offer a very visual recap of modernism and postmodernism, as a way of playfully considering what might come next. Indeed, we might ask, is there a next...Recently, while reading through a website accompanying an exhibition, I came across a strange statement.
And, the statement seems strange for a lot of reasons. The first being, how does something like postmodernism die?The second being, why hadn’t I heard that it had died.
I know that Pomo might not be as famous as say Michael Jackson or Patrick Swayze, but I still thought that someone might have mentioned it. Maybe my mum could have slipped it into conversation when I spoke to her on the phone.Maybe John Snow could have said something about it on Channel 4 news – he could even have worn a special tie and socks for the occasion.Maybe a headline in a newspaper...
But all this seems difficult to imagine. In fact, it’d be surreal to hear any of these sources pronounce the death of something like postmodernism.So who is able to make this kind of pronouncement, and what is it supposed to mean?
Well, the person who did make this pronouncement was this cheeky chap. Nicholas Bourriaud, a well known French curator who was responsible for organising the Tate Trienniel Exhibition for 2009.In a move that some might consider brave, or arrogant, he gave the exhibition the title Altermodern, a name which he also suggested marked possible beginning of a whole new movement. He wrote in the manifesto:“The times seem propitious for the recomposition of a modernity in the present, reconfigured according to the specific context within which we live – crucially in the age of globalisation – understood in its economic, political and cultural aspects: an altermodernity.If twentieth-century modernism was above all a western cultural phenomenon, altermodernity arises out of planetary negotiations, discussions between agents from different cultures. Stripped of a centre, it can only be polyglot [speaking many languages]. Altermodernity is characterised by translation, unlike the modernism of the twentieth century which spoke the abstract language of the colonial west, and postmodernism, which encloses artistic phenomena in origins and identities.”Phew... Quite claim... Whatever it means. And certainly it seems to mean something, it seems to correspond to important developments (again, which we’ll discuss in more detail later this semester). But its such a new term, still so raw if you like, that is pretty difficult to get hold of. In a discussion about the Alterodern Exhibition and text, the London times chief art critic Rachael Campbell-Johnston and news night's Mark Lawson openly admitted that they couldn’t ‘work it out’. And this isn’t a bad reflection on them, a lot of people seem to find Bourriaud’s work tangled, confusing, perhaps full of jargon.But maybe, that’s part of it. For Bourriaud, creating an exhibition is a way of trying to think through ideas. It’s a way of getting people discussing things, writing about things, coming together in a space to discuss so visual artefacts. And the statement ‘postmodernism is dead’ certainly does all of these things.Here then, we might take Altermodernism a kind of platform from considering alternatives and possibilities. For thinking about what the differences are between modernism, postmodernism and altermodernism. How would an ‘altermodernist’ be different to a ‘postmodernist’ or ‘modernist’?
And it’s to this end that I came up with a game. To play with ideas, which at this stage is the whole point, I thought we’d take a modernist, a postmodernist and an altermodenist and set them each a task.So, here’s our...
Our modernist feels uncomfortable using a cardboard box. Though he knows of other artists at this time using found objects, the box doesn’t seem particularly interesting in that respect.So, he cuts of one side and contents himself with a single square panel to start with. He decides to paint it, white.
Inside the white sqaure he draws a white square. And this is because he believes art form to be seperate, self critical. In other words, if your going to paint you need to understand that essential elements of painting. He, as it was a square panel and he was using white paint it seemed unnecessary to do much more, the painted square being a minimal compositional element.This was of course a real piece of modernist art. The artist said that it is part of “the rediscovery of pure art that, in the course of time, had become obscured by the accumulation of "things“” It takes on a spiritual level ...
Our postmodernist find the box equally difficult to use. Not because it is unfamiliar, or not a very ‘art-like’ thing, but actually because some much art the postmodernist is familiar with is made up of box forms.
Minimalism... (say more about it being quite interesting).
Not only did they suggest art’s concern with consumerism (which was quite radical at that time when art was seen to be very separated from a broader culture, but they also suggested a move to a more conceptual type at – one less concerned with formal development and one more concerned with questions of what can and cannot be art.
There were even boxes dug into the earth. A radical departure from sculptures on plinths.
So, our postmodernist, is very self conscious about the fact that the box thing has been done. But being ‘original’ isn’t such a concern – it seems exciting and challenging to borrow forms and ideas as a way of questioning arts values. There’s a certain cynicism here... And so our postmodernist leaves to box as it is, but stick a picture of one of Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes to it. Now perhaps, hopes the postmodernist, we’ll start to question again why the different boxes can have different values.
Our Mysterious Altermodernist... Invites us to see their box as part of a broader exhibition.
We oblige, and find a room with six big boxes in it. The boxes are pretty big, made from a few boxes stuck together. It seems to be an exhibition that maybe makes fun on minimalism. Minimalists we so obsessed with nice shiny objects – these crude blocks to be purposefully crude.But there’s something else – something quite uncomfortable about them. You get a weird sensation as you walk round.
Revealed...This is an actual work by the artist Santiago Sierra. The people in the boxes were asylum seekers. In Germany, where this was first done, asylum seekers only get a very small income per month, and aren’t entitled to work under threat of being returned to their country of origin. They did this for 4 hours daily for six weeks (this fact was not disclosed).
This time they’ve made glass boxes that fit inside cardboard boxes. You can see that the cardboard boxes and Fed Ex boxes. This is a real work by the artist WaleadBeshty [LA]. As you can see from the title, not only have these glass boxes being shipped from place to place – explaining the cracks – the work is considered to be ongoing.
Our next project then – to make a photograph.For our modernist, photography, though arguably becoming less exciting that film, opens up new ways of seeing.In the same way that our modernist explored painting, they explore photography: by reducing it to it’s basic elements.
Rather than a photograph then, the create a photogram, which involves things being placed directly on the photographic paper in the dark room. Getting an effect like this.This is a real piece by Lazlo Maholy-Nagy, who said of photography “Viewed in terms of visual expression the photographic process is incomparable. And the results are also incomparable, when it uses its own potential.”
Here hand and mind are made to blend together as if suggesting their unity. The open hand suggests perhaps that Lissitzky was offering his services. That clean graphic image seems to indicate the adoption of clean modern modes of communication, better equipped perhaps to deal with the difficulties of the modern world.
Simply appropriated from popular posters.This gesture raises questions about authenticity.
Women subject to a powerful gaze, the red type evocative of magazines that might try to sell beauty products and advice.
These images are made by passing film through airport x-ray machines. Again by artist WaleadBeshty. This makes them suggestive of travel and movement, though not one that we’re usually familiar with.
The second photo by the altermodernist appears as a landscape. It’s quite an eerie one however. It is made by an Artist called Darren Almond. It’s called fullmoon because it’s actually taken at night time. Almond keeps his shutter open for long periods of time to let in a lot of light. Almond travels a lot. He started travelling to destinations visited by artists such as Cezanne, or Turner or Constable. But he also goes to remote regions like the Antarctic. There seems to be something suggestive then of him making images we might not otherwise see.
So, this is how our character’s responded.
In a lot of Coates projects, he takes on the role of a Shaman, and seeks council with animal spirits.Mayor in Isreal. Concerned about local youth.
So, this is how our character’s responded.
Alternatives and possibilities
Modernism and After (Vis Com) Part II Lecture 1: Alternatives and Possibilities
“POSTMODERNISM IS DEAD” From the Altermodern Manifesto (Baurriaud 2009)
PomoMichael Jackson Patrick Swayze Postmodernism(1958-2009) (1952- 2009) (19?? – 2009)
**Simula-cra-choo!** Bless you POMO’Postmodernism was pronounceddead this morning after havingsnorted whopping amounts ofcocaine. Found naked, cold andshivering in a hotel lobby
Report Card - postmodernist • Concerned with the coming together of art and popular culture. • Always questioning originality (through appropriatation). • Sceptical about progress/ loosing a sense of linear history.
Report Card - altermodernist• Interested in movements of people and things, journeys.• Less concerned with ‘origins’, more concerned with how things are changing. ?• Interested in how different spaces and times interact.
Charles Avery (2008) Untitled [Two Dilettantes]
Lali Chetwynd [aka Spartacus Chetwynd] (2004) An Evening with Jabba the Hut.