The Dark Knight Returns<br />Neomedieval Art after Britain<br />www.neilmulholland.co.uk<br />
Geopolitical Neomedievalism<br />
The New Medievalism<br />“A system of overlapping authority and multiple loyalty.” (Bull: 245) 1977<br />
Commission by ‘English’ artist Hans Holbein<br />Commission by ‘German’ artist Liam Gillick<br />
Neomedieval Cultural Ecologies<br />
Neomedieval Aesthetics<br />
Neomedievalism<br />Umberto Eco, &quot;Dreaming the Middle Ages,&quot; in Travels in Hyperreality (1973).<br />&quot;..we ...
Spartacus Chetwynd <br />Marcus Coates<br />
Olivia Plender<br />The Folly of Man Exposed or the World Upside Down, 2006, Details<br />35 Warrender Park Road<br />
Disclosures II: The Middle Ages, <br />Laxton September 2008 - part of Histories of the Present produced by Nottingham Con...
Michelle Cotton (Curator)The Long Dark (2009)Castlefield Gallery, Manchester<br />
Torsten Lauschman<br />The Darker Ages<br />Mary Mary, Glasgow, <br />until Sat 21 Nov 2009<br />
Martin Clark, Artistic Director, Tate St Ives; Michael Bracewell, writer and critic and Alun Rowlands, artist, writer and ...
Alex Pollard<br />       Robin Hood Vortex (2008)<br />                             Oil on Canvas<br />Alex Pollard and Cl...
Plastique Fantastique <br />Ribbon Dance Ritual to call forth the Pre-Industrial Modern <br />part of The Event in Birming...
Spartacus Chetwynd Mime Troupe (left)<br />Spartacus Chetwynd Mime Troupe Feminism, Little Tales of Misogyny.<br />Sequenc...
Eric Raymond (1999)<br />
‘Cathedral’ model neomedievalism <br />
‘Bazaar’ model neomedievalism <br />
Vince Koloski <br />A Maze Book (2000) <br />Neon, Carved acrylic sheet, Wood, Circuit board, and toy mazes<br />
Slides available at www.neilmulholland.co.uk<br />Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike...
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The Dark Knight Returns - Neomedieval Art After Britain

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Presentation for CAA 2010 Conference in Chicago
http://conference.collegeart.org/2010/

Historians of British Art British Art: Survey and Field in the Context of Glocalization
Chair: Colette Crossman, independent scholar, Arlington, Virginia

The recent three-volume History of British Art published by the Yale Center for British Art and Tate Britain invites reflection on how art historical surveys situate British art in political, economic, social, and cultural processes that affirm, vex, and otherwise relate “glocally,” integrating global, regional, and local contexts. What is “glocal” in the
historiography, narratives, and methodologies of British art surveys and the ways they lend coherence to a field, blur its boundaries, or position its subject in the mainstream or margins of art history? How
do they treat subjects and subjectivities—citizen, immigrant, emigrant, diasporian, tourist—that bridge local and global through lineage, heritage, memory, and travel? To what effects do they distinguish what is non-British or serve readers outside Britain? In what ways do British
art surveys or British art in world art surveys advance nonart glocal political, economic, or social relationships?
------------------------
Neomedieval Art after Britain
Neil Mulholland, Edinburgh College of Art

Discourses of “British art” are suspended in a geopolitical vacuum that is blind to constitutional changes that have taken place in the United Kingdom since the fin de siècle devolution settlements. These discourses share the common fallacy of assuming that “Britain”—as a
euphemism for a state and as a cultural imaginary—continues to exist as locus of meaningful cultural debate. In fact, since the mid-1960s, the
Keynesian bureaucracy designed to promote the imaginaries of British art has been gradually dismantled, replaced by new European, national,
regional, and transurban cultural technocracies. This is a symptom of neomedievalism—overlapping microgeographies supplanting unilateral
colonial narratives such as “Britishness.” To understand and envisage the cultural implications of the “Balkanization of Britain,” this paper
critically compares the 2009 Venice Pavilions of Britain, Scotland, Wales, Ulster, and the English Regions, foregrounding a neomedieval
self-reflectiveness as the basis of a post-British alterity.

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  • As the international art world globalises it does so as the UK state is becoming increasingly Balkanised into fiefs, city-states and overlapping territories. In this, it resembles what Hedley Bull prophesised as a New Mediaevalism: a “system of overlapping authority and multiple loyalty.” (Bull: 1977). The devolved UK state is one in which there are competing legitimate organising principles for the cultural arena and in which individuals are legal members of a transnational community while also having legal responsibilities to the territory in which they reside. In art as in politics, the discourses of Britishness continue to surface in resistance to the realities of neo-medievalism, but they do so in very confused ways! For example, the federal structure and thus the national imaginaries of the Arts Councils in the UK is not always communicated as clearly or coherently as it could be.
  • The devolution of the ACGB has pre-empted the dissolution of a unified ‘British’ national imaginary within the UK.This unifying role is now one that the British Council plays (abroad).There is no ‘UK’ as far as the administration and discussion of culture is concerned – cultural policy is entirely devolved from Westminster to Belfast, Edinburgh,Cardiff and the English Regions. This has been the case in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales since back in the 1960s – pre-empting political devolution by over three decades. The national Arts Councils have helped to create the economic conditions in which independent artistic microclimates have grown. Each nation has the the means to built a distinctive and appropriate infrastructure and a sustainable independent art scene.The Arts Councils are autonomous and answer to their respective devolved parliaments (ACE to Westminster) and thus to different political ideologies/national imaginaries (especially in Scotland where the SNP are in power).There is a quasi-federal system in play here. England, for example, not only has its own Arts Council, but has seven regionally devolved bodies relating, more or less, to its Regions and their population density.
  • Many of the dominant organs of contemporary ‘British’ Art are not national in any sense: Despite one of its franchises being called Tate Britain, TATE only exists in England. So it can’t be considered to be ‘British’ in any meaningful sense (e.g. in the way that the BBC is ‘British’)It takes on a British, global and the local identity in different locales in order to make the brand relevant.This works for the corporation’s image – but it is really a post-national brand like Guggenheim or MOMA. Its points of reference are not really related to British statecraft, they are global.
  • The British Art Show 6 toured England (it did not visit Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland).In this sense, it can’t be considered to be ‘British’ either. It’s really more concerned with showcasing developments in international contemporary art, taking them to the English provinces.
  • The UK is represented at Venice in the British Pavillion.
  • Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are also there.
  • But where is England? It’s not there. Perhaps ACE assume that the British Pavilion is the English Pavilion really? The other nations in the UK certain seem to!What about the regions, nations and cities? If they are genuinely devolved then we’d expect to see them at Venice instead of England perhaps?Some are there, most aren’t.
  • Sheffield Pavillion (goes to more than just Venice, very ambitious). The fact that Sheffield trades in many biennials, not just the old school nationalist ones such as Venice, is testimony to the collapse of ‘Britishness’ as a unitary currency in the artworld. Is Sheffield is a better brand than ‘Britain’&amp;gt;Manchester Pavillon - Put together by two individuals, not even necessary to invent a complex infrastructure to support this project. The artists claim the right to represent their peers from the city they live in.PeckhamPavillion - The Hannah Barry’s Gallery (Hannah Barry and Sven Mündner) private individualsmasquarading as a city state.
  • Manchester Pavillion (is just this neon sign – they take over the bar and drink, plus network, which is what it’s all about.) This is a ‘local’ bar in Venice, not so touristy. It becomes the focus for a global gathering.The PeckhamInternationale (bottom left) is even more contingent – it is a flash mob of students and artist from Peckham meeting up in St. Mark’s Square, Venice.These Pavillons raise the issue of the city-state.This a neo-medieval bid for world city status, bypass the provincial character of your nation state and instead bid to play the cosmopolitan card.As the quintessential city-state, Venice is the perfect venue for such a gesture!
  • With only 46% of the world’s nations represented at the Venice Biennale, it can’t act legitimately as a barometer of internationalism – conversely, it represents art’s neo-feudal hierarchy, its gangsterism. The Peckham Pavilion and Liam Gillick’s participation in the German Pavilion are quintessentially neomediaeval in this sense. A small South London gallery and an allegedly transnational artist have more global visibility than many African nation-states.  
  • QUICK SUMMARY:Bull’s theory of international relations is helpful when considering this UK art infrastructure – which, as a highly opaque unregulated economy, is remarkably similar to the disconnected ungoverned space of medieval Europe. -----------It’s increasingly clear that the UK state is entering its final phase. Pressure from Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish parliaments to devolve more powers from the UK Westminster parliament and dissent from English voters denied their own parliament is pushing the UK confederacy ever closer towards the tipping point. With the collapse of the UK state we would return to a situation where the nations that constitute the UK (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Cornwall and Wales) would have to re-negotiate their relations with the European supranational overlords, much as they once negotiated investiture with the Pope. In effect this would return us to a situation resembling pre-Westphalian Europe, a territory made up of fiscally-motivated regional forms - such as economic corridors and ‘corpornations’ - rather than nations bonded by ideological cultural imaginaries.
  • What impact does this have for the UK’s cultural ecology?
  • As in the High Medieval period, artisans in the ‘00s have been participating in a reinvigorated pre-industrial economy wherein objects are valued more highly than experiences. [left part of the diagram]As more wealth concentrated in the hands of fewer people in ‘00s Britain, vassalage has been responsible for the circulation of new holy relics and for the widespread retreat into cultural monasticism (the snowballing dealer-collector system that was encouraged in the de-regulated London finance sector). Curatorial celebrations of cultural supranationalism that we find at Biennials such as Venice not only serve to mask the centrifugal forces of vassalage that have dominated the art world in the ‘00s; theyare a product of vassalage. However, two types of neomedival Cultural Economy operate as simultaneously.Pre-industrial (dominant in the artworld) – objects are valued like holy relics or amulets (BLUE)Post-industrial (emergent) {ORANGE}These fields of cultural production overlap, the mercantile economy finds its stock and skilled labour in the prosumer economy.
  • More detailed example of the two broad ways in which the Cultural Economy reproduces itself: Pre-industrial Post-industrial
  • Artists have different dealers and patrons in different states – they are serfs and must serve the different lords simultaneously.
  • In what way is the cultural ecology of the commons manifested in practice?
  • Umberto Eco, &amp;quot;Dreaming the Middle Ages,&amp;quot; in Travels in Hyperreality, transl. by W. Weaver, NY: Harcourt Brace, 1986, 61-72. Umberto Eco said &amp;quot;..we are at present witnessing, both in Europe and America, a period of renewed interest in the Middle Ages, with a curious oscillation between fantastic neomedievalism and responsible philological examination...”
  • Tate Britain’s Altermodern flirted with this, featuring a range of works that related to conspiracy theories (Mike Nelson), neo-paganism and theosophy (Olivia Plender), shamanism (Marcus Coates), Spartiatism and carnivàle (Spartacus Chetwynd).
  • For example, Eco’s sense of a tension between a scholarly approach and a fantasy approach is much evident in Olivia Plender’s work.This is reflective of the way in which neomedievalism is manifest in more obvious, or illustrative ways, in our culture (return of guild systems among the voluntary simplicity movement, neo-paganism, ‘greenwashing’, paeleoconservatism, contemporary art that is fixated with ‘volkish’ aesthetics, etc.) These ideas, which involve invocations of ambient or unseen terrors and hidden phantasmagorical cultural layers, are spreading like The Plague.
  • Altermodern reflected a concern with the neo-medieval evident in other exhibitions and projects across the UK in 2008-09 including Disclosures II: The Middle Ages, Laxton (part of Histories of the Present produced by Nottingham Contemporary), Archaeological approach– perhaps makes it closer to medieval scholarship than neomedieval.
  • The Long Dark (curated by Michelle Cotton at International 3, Manchester and Hatton Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne),
  • Torsten Lauschmann’s solo show The Darker Ages (Mary Mary, Glasgow).
  • The Dark Monarch (Tate St. Ives, Cornwall) and
  • Alex Pollard and Claire Stephenson’s current show– Four Fatrasies, Pump House Gallery, Battersea Park, London 20 January - 14 March 2010 Plays with the idea of a deconstructed medieval – warped and mirrored as if viewed as a plenum.
  • Geopolitical neomedievalism inthe form of Balkanisation is simply not an explicit ‘philological’ point of reference for contemporary dark age fantasists more familiar with contemporary Goth mores such as shoe-gazing than Beowulf. Among artists schooled in the histories of modernisms, there’s a high degree of self-awareness that retreat into irrationalism and fantasy is expected to emerge at points of crisis in modernity in the UK. The Long Dark explicitly relates this to John Ruskin and the neo-Gothic of late 19th Century industrial England, The Dark Monarch to its neo-romantic progeny. Neomediaevalism therefore is as much a product of modernity as it is a response to it. [see the diagram]Equally, neomediaevalism is the symptom of a longer running tension or competition between the supporters of rationalism and irrationalism that is a product of the medieval period.When it manifests itself in cultural production, it reflects competition for power in our society right now.
  • So, culturally speaking, neomedievalism might allow us to engage with the modern via its other. It can be way of understanding the shift to a postindustrial to a ‘transformation’ economy (freeconomics, folkseconomy) using philosophies that involve highly speculative approaches (e.g. Hauntology, the Integral Accident). It would be easy to castigate these disparate artists and projects as being united in the ‘new irrationalism’, an anti-Enlightenment mash-up of old and ‘new’ 19th century religions. This isn’t what they are concerned with. Neomediaeval art is allusive or analogous. It’s no accident that one of its favoured forms is role-play. These scenarios aren’t really concerned with the past; they are about the present.
  • They represent a proxy battle between a homogenising technocracy (represented by The Man) and enlightenment (often represented, paradoxically enough, by irratonalisms such as Rosicrucianism and neo-paganism).The culture of re-enactment - is the storyteller. The ‘liveness’ or performative aspect of re-enactment allows the folk-tale to be both liberated and retold repeatedly.Role play, as a form of escapism, has the potential to suppress the habitual response, which in turn may allows space for a playful creative approach, a different way of visualising, or a genuine synthesis to emerge. Crucially, this aspect of neomediaevalism reintroduces the principle of subsidiary that the art world sorely lacks.
  • The sense of the neomedieval that these artists share is related to a molar conception of time.Molar Time – a product of our digital media age.The molar is a holistic approach to knowledge that is emergent in culture – it is all middle - this is why the medieval commons is so prevalent as a point of reference.Physics. Of or relating to a body of matter as a whole, perceived apart from molecular or atomic properties.
  • The split we see between the proprietorial sector of the art world and the commons can be seen in relation to the ways in which information is distributed today –Split between the:Cathedral and theBazaar
  • [explain in reference to the slide]As de-rigeur as it may seem, the advocacy of an alternative consciousness that is better informed by the positive aspects of the pre-industrial, pre-Enlightenment and early-modern is one that always remains self-consciously postmodern in perspective. To understand where culture is going, in other words, we need to look beyond its negations of modernism and its analysis of modernity. So, neomediaevalism is one of the suppressed forms of the ‘Other’, an alterity that postmodernism released into the wild. Culturally speaking, neomedievalism might allow us to engage with the modern via its other.It can be way of understanding the UK’s shift from a post-industrial to a ‘transformation’ economy since the mid 1990s.
  • Neomediaevalism doesn’t have to equate with an embrace of the irrational, it doesn’t have to simply recycle the past as a way of celebrating the tyranny of the present. While ‘medieval’ is often a byword for negative clichés associated with the middle ages – such as creationist fundamentalismand gang-lords – neomediaevalism could equally provide a focus on more liberal associations with the ambient present. ------------
  • ConclusionThe neo-feudalism generated in this contemporary narrative is one – with its emphasis on a complex mixture of individual autonomy and multiple loyalties – that fuses neatly with current Western geopolitical analyses of globalisation. Of course, the fascination with the other has to extend beyond ‘British’ and European cultural history. It also has to engage with concept of simultaneity – with the fact that there are many moderns and thus many pre-moderns and post-moderns. We need to look in all directions. Neomediaevalism, then, is a lens through which UK-based artists identify and justify the present in the past and through which they narrate this past in terms of how they imagine their futures. It has no logical conclusion.-----Vince Koloski is a Californian artist. Circuit Board as noosphere / labaryth
  • The Dark Knight Returns - Neomedieval Art After Britain

    1. 1. The Dark Knight Returns<br />Neomedieval Art after Britain<br />www.neilmulholland.co.uk<br />
    2. 2. Geopolitical Neomedievalism<br />
    3. 3. The New Medievalism<br />“A system of overlapping authority and multiple loyalty.” (Bull: 245) 1977<br />
    4. 4.
    5. 5.
    6. 6.
    7. 7.
    8. 8.
    9. 9.
    10. 10.
    11. 11.
    12. 12. Commission by ‘English’ artist Hans Holbein<br />Commission by ‘German’ artist Liam Gillick<br />
    13. 13.
    14. 14.
    15. 15. Neomedieval Cultural Ecologies<br />
    16. 16.
    17. 17.
    18. 18.
    19. 19.
    20. 20.
    21. 21. Neomedieval Aesthetics<br />
    22. 22. Neomedievalism<br />Umberto Eco, &quot;Dreaming the Middle Ages,&quot; in Travels in Hyperreality (1973).<br />&quot;..we are at present witnessing, both in Europe and America, a period of renewed interest in the Middle Ages, with a curious oscillation between fantastic neomedievalism and responsible philological examination...&quot;<br />Luke Collins<br />Cee Face (2005)<br />
    23. 23. Spartacus Chetwynd <br />Marcus Coates<br />
    24. 24. Olivia Plender<br />The Folly of Man Exposed or the World Upside Down, 2006, Details<br />35 Warrender Park Road<br />
    25. 25. Disclosures II: The Middle Ages, <br />Laxton September 2008 - part of Histories of the Present produced by Nottingham Contemporary. <br />Featured Oliva Plender’s<br />Bring Back Robin Hood<br />
    26. 26. Michelle Cotton (Curator)The Long Dark (2009)Castlefield Gallery, Manchester<br />
    27. 27. Torsten Lauschman<br />The Darker Ages<br />Mary Mary, Glasgow, <br />until Sat 21 Nov 2009<br />
    28. 28. Martin Clark, Artistic Director, Tate St Ives; Michael Bracewell, writer and critic and Alun Rowlands, artist, writer and Head of Fine Art, University of Reading (Curators)<br />The Dark Monarch<br />Magic and Modernity in British Art<br />Tate St Ives 10 October 2009  –  10 January 2010<br />
    29. 29. Alex Pollard<br /> Robin Hood Vortex (2008)<br /> Oil on Canvas<br />Alex Pollard and Claire Stephenson – Four Fatrasies, Pump House Gallery, Battersea Park, London 20 January - 14 March 2010 <br />
    30. 30.
    31. 31. Plastique Fantastique <br />Ribbon Dance Ritual to call forth the Pre-Industrial Modern <br />part of The Event in Birmingham in April 2007 <br />
    32. 32. Spartacus Chetwynd Mime Troupe (left)<br />Spartacus Chetwynd Mime Troupe Feminism, Little Tales of Misogyny.<br />Sequences, Reykjavik, November 2009 <br />
    33. 33.
    34. 34. Eric Raymond (1999)<br />
    35. 35. ‘Cathedral’ model neomedievalism <br />
    36. 36. ‘Bazaar’ model neomedievalism <br />
    37. 37. Vince Koloski <br />A Maze Book (2000) <br />Neon, Carved acrylic sheet, Wood, Circuit board, and toy mazes<br />
    38. 38. Slides available at www.neilmulholland.co.uk<br />Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK: Scotland License.<br />

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