Wednesday 29 April 2009

Re-loading the Altermodern Manifesto

I take Altermodernity to help us in thinking through the question 'what next after postmodernity?'.

The Manifesto
I do not take Altermodernity as defined through Nicolas Bourriaud's manifesto as the defining answer to what comes next but as one, the first indeed, of the many attempts at starting somewhere.

I like the fact that the genesis of the concept emerges from the specific context of art, in the way in which Surrealism, Cubism or Abstract are also underpinnings to our evolving conceptualisations in theory.

This is the Manifesto (Bourriaud's Manifesto)
Altermodern Manifesto POSTMODERNISM IS DEAD A new modernity is emerging, reconfigured to an age of globalisation – understood in its economic, political and cultural aspects: an Altermodern culture Increased communication, travel and migration are affecting the way we live Our daily lives consist of journeys in a chaotic and teeming universe Multiculturalism and identity is being overtaken by creolisation: Artists are now starting from a globalised state of culture This new universalism is based on translations, subtitling and generalised dubbing Today’s art explores the bonds that text and image, time and space, weave between themselves Artists are responding to a new globalised perception. They traverse a cultural landscape saturated with signs and create new pathways between multiple formats of expression and communication. The Tate Triennial 2009 at Tate Britain presents a collective discussion around this premise that postmodernism is coming to an end, and we are experiencing the emergence of a global altermodernity. Nicolas Bourriaud Altermodern – Tate Triennial 2009

Re-loading from Postmodernity with Anthropology
I use Altermodernity in a specific anthropological way, rather than on its manifesto definition.

I am less concerned with the 'modernity' aspect of it than the 'alter'. I wish it not to be reduced to the already dead 'us-them' dichotomy or the equally postmodern understanding of 'otherness'. If we simply end up reloading the other-us/them in a new fashion, the importance of art created in intersections other than the postcolonial and postmodern orders will be missed, 'lost in translation'. I hope it will be an Altermodernity that will understand relationships in the many roads we are taking across our global axis, and encounters in culture, rather than essentialisations (us, them, other, non-other, Creole) in neo-liberal late modernities.

Translation of Modernity
I think 'translation', in Bourriad explanations is a step back to many of the rich debates that took place in postmodernity (I will address later how to get away from the 'lament' on postmodernity).

The issue of modern, supermodern do not appeal so much to me because, I felt Altermodernity, as a concept does not need back to a revisiting of modernity, maybe I take it, it has a 'reloading' quality, but if taken too literaly, a constant reloading would simply synch with many of the elements of the late modernity and liquid modernity, in particular the melancholy of liquid modernity. I think the 'reloading process' Bourriad talks about needs to be developed more carefully.

is also a term amply debated in Anthropology, and in a sense, I felt, we had moved passed this to much adventurous terrains and thus, I don't feel attached to it in particular and I am not sure if it is another essentialisation, or another reification of earlier debates on 'otherness'.

Journeys and Global cultures
What I like about Altermodernity, however, is that it is the end of postmodernism, is that it is a break, and that it allows for 'journeying' rather than destinations.

I do not know if the manifesto is critical enough of the dominance of 'art' in western sense. Whilst the exhibition does reflect the meeting of globalised localisations of diasporic identities the manifesto is perhaps not so good at doing so.

Liquid Modernity
I liked the exhibition much more then I like the Manifesto. The idea of chaotic lives and teeming universe is a liquid modernity preposition, and Zygmunt Bauman (despite my disagreements with his work) does a better job at describing liquid modernity. I can't agree with its melancholy, I stick with postmodernity rather.

What I felt, however, through the exhibit is that the works were less about chaotic lives but actually attempts at giving new meanings to a new period. Once again I felt, the manifesto is dampen buy its slight liquidity whilst the exhibition is very powerful and much ahead of the words to describe it.

The Tate had already dabbed with Okwui and the concepts of 'specious modernity' or speculations on encounters of postcolonial utopia', still I feel, ideas that intersect with the liquid modernity and quite do not take proper exile from these. As Ben Lewis at this is London, the theory is not cutting-edge (mind you, it couldn't be if you were just on your first attempt of re-loading from postmodernity)... I recommend 'Nothing Ever Happens'

I agree with Lewis that "Any definition of our age as a new era of travel, interconnectedness and political activity is tricky. On one hand, Bourriaud is right that for the first time it’s difficult to tell where art is from in the world. On the other, that is a definition that would apply to art made in the past 20 years, not, as Bourriaud maintains, to art after the credit crunch". The difference being, art in the last 20 was not attempting to position itself in other than within postmodernity and in achieving so they have transcended it and projected themselves into Altermodernity. The issue of projection, here is more important than it seems. I believe one of the pieces in the exhibition, Lindsay Seers, illustrates well the move between periods.

Non-static, moving...
I like the non-static nature of the pieces, the definition of borders and how these are crossed... In the most touching piece that of Lindsay Seers, I understand the evolution of the artists where she goes from being a postmodern camera to becoming an altermodern projector features some of the ideas and develops them much further. In the postmodern camera, memory, voice, image, are elusive and the author is for ever more in a melancholic state trying to re-capture the lost identity, lost again, reconceptualised in herself becoming a camera. And then, she moves away from that postmodern space to become a projector, herself in the darkened forest, light coming out of her face, projecting a growing tree.

We were all so touched by it. I was particularly touched by it. None of the exhibits, minus one perhaps, left me untouched, they have remained with me and they are genuinely having an effect on how I see the world, and in that respect the exhibit did have a transformative effect on me. I felt, a bit, like I had become into projecting through it.

Culture Driving Globalisation
There is one idea, in that 'Bourriad's show marks a break with postmodernism' (Shaw in Art and Ecology) that I totally agree, whilst the manifesto does not, the exhibit does. I do not know, if it a new stage of globalisation. Here I am inclined to use Henrietta Moore new work on globalisation, on the way she argues for culture (in an anthropological sense) as the driver for globalisation rather than the other way around. I am not sure there is a new stage of globalisation, if it was, using the old fashion model of globalisation 'from above' (or from below) or Giddens stages of globalisation it would amount to much of the same. If it was to be, or to be understood as a 'new stage' in the Moore's sense of the world I feel it could have some theoretical power. All in all I feel, the ideas need to be developed from the Manifesto, much further togget the theoretical power than the concept of Altermodernity deserves.

Multiculturalism and Creolisation 2
Shaw quotes Bourriad's on that 'Multiculturalism is overtaken by creolisation', here I feel, the two terms do not have enough power. First, multiculutralism and creolisation have been very well argued for and criticised against, including the critique that multiculturalism is quite a policy-driven concept -I feel in the manifesto this term is taken to much to 'face value'.

Multiculturalism is a policy driven concept of our age of postmodern transparency (I rephrase here Strathern's famous title and article on 'the tyranny of transparency') that stands for our fear of what is left in absence of political correctness and managerial politics (what last night Ashdown noted in his talk, the professionalisation of politics), a liberal, neo-liberal concept itself.

Multiculturalism has so many problems as a concept itself that merely opposing it to creolisation, does merely reproduce a metonym of the worst of postmodernity (multiculturalism) with -perhaps- the worst of its intersection with altermodernity (creolisation).

I like, however, the idea that artists (or other less western terms for it) 'are now starting from a globalised state of culture'. However, what I like here is that they are starting from a defined position (not just a globalised state of culture). Here once again, while I understand the preposition made by Bourriaud, I think Moore is much more helpful in actually giving vision to the defined position from where artist and people are starting from in globalised encounters. The critique should be perhpas on how political altermodernism really is in addressing postmodern claims on post-colonial disorder, the ethnocentric quality of western narratives about art and artist...

Re-loading Globalisation
I grow up in postmodernism and whilst I want to understand how altermodernity comes next I do not want an altermodernity that is simply a reproduction of ethnocentric values. I do not mind a step forward, but it needs to be based on recognising what postmodernity did well. There are many excellent postmodern tools that can and must and need be taken further, but they need to be taken further from a more critical altermodern position. I guess this is no fault of Bourriad. As Cummings argues, I agree with her 'it is not a very thrilling definition, or redefinition', or rather I would say it is a re-loading of a page where the cookies are not yet quite working, a bit slow on the uploading...however, I believe it is a good question about the journey where art is heading and with help from us all it will eventually reload with a more powerful theoretical vision.

Reloading the best of postmodernity?
Maybe postmodernism is dead. I like the potential of our new age of Altermodernity.

One could argue that Altermodernity is in its infancy. I could also argue that the flaws with the manifesto is because we had had the joy of having very mature postmodern ideas to play with, and that, perhaps, we miss the maturity of the last days of postmodernity. In doing so, however, we are giving in to the melancholy of liquid modernity and its chaos.

I will not dwell in such melancholy, I will not simply stand 'missing' something that went before.

I want to take those mature postmodern tools away from the melancholy stage and reload them into the new Altermodern context. Maybe this is this what, ultimately, Bourriad was attempting to do, to re-load some postmodern concepts into Altermodernity. I just wish he had chosen to re-load better postmodern concepts than the ones in the manifesto but, as I said above, it is also our task to improve the postmodern concepts that are reloaded in Altermodernity.