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ART-e-FACT, STRATEGIES OF RESISTANCE   ISSUE #03, TECHNOMYTHOLOGIES
 

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Lara Badurina

To Transform the Political Speech in Facts, Finally.
Carlos Garaicoa

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Bik Van der Pol

THE ELABORATION OF CULTURE IS TOWARDS MULTIPLE TRANSNATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE ECONOMIES
Hilary Koob-Sassen

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CRITICAL
TECHNOLOGY: PERFORMANCE: REFLECTION

SPHERES, CITIES, TRANSITIONS.
INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVES ON ART AND CULTURE

The Sphere, a 15-foot, 45,000-pound steel and bronze sculpture by Fritz Koenig, used to be one more public art piece standing in front of a skyscraper. Only that it was placed at the World Trade Center plaza “as a monument to fostering peace through world trade”,[i] and suffered considerable damage by the terrorist attack. On March 11, 2002, the ruined sculpture was re-installed at Battery Park, close to its previous location at ground zero, to serve as a memorial, its initial meaning drastically transformed by the events.

The sphere is the ultimate gute Form, a basic shape of perfection. It also expresses the idea of wholeness, referring to the world, or rather to the Renaissance’s newly acquired capacity of representing the entire planet by means of a globe, thus transcending medieval conceptions that depicted it as a flat surface full of uncertainties, abysses and dragons. The very acceptance of the roundness of Earth implied the possibility of global navigation –and domination– and the reduction of the world to a sphere closed in upon itself. Scientific knowledge helped reduce all genres of enigmas, dangers and complexities, to a dragon-free icon of a world-in-the-hand that could be touched, held, and controlled –as represented in statues of Christopher Columbus–, or even played with, as Charlie Chaplin does in The Great Dictator.

Traveling through Portugal, it is amazing to see the great number of monuments that include globes made of rock or bronze, or as a recurring decorative Renaissance and Baroque element. At times we see a great globe on a pedestal: the monument commemorates the very capacity to travel through, know, use, and dominate a world synthesized in a geometric figure. This shows us that the idea of globalization already appears symbolically in the European imaginary at the beginning of the 16th century.

Dragons are now back in the 21st century. The sphere has been violently destroyed, and a new icon did not substitute it. Its ruins were put back on the pedestal, as a symbol of the sphere’s own blatant pretension to resume –and grab– the world. Is this post-sphere an icon for post-globalization? In any case, the sculpture’s pristine, detached, self-contained character was brutally violated. The much-mentioned gap between art and life was overcome in a most unexpected way, by the formal and conceptual transformation of an artwork, as a result of its invasion by harsh reality. This invasion was a real attack, but also a forced entrance of new content into the piece.

II

Contemporary art is being affected, to a considerable extent, by lack of meaning, by extreme professionalism (“smart-art-scene” production, marketing of works skillfully executed to fit demands and expectations, etc.), by flat cosmopolitanism, or by repetition and boredom, among other problems. But at the same time we are going through a fascinating period of transition and reshaping of the whole system of art creation, distribution and evaluation at a global scale. Even if this process is happening slowly and in a “silent” way, its scope has no precedents.

Regional and international art circulation has dramatically expanded through a variety of spaces, events, circuits and electronic communications. Many of them have propitiated some of the problems just mentioned. A good example is the proliferation of unfocused small biennials all over the world, or the spectacle-oriented, mall-like big ones. The art biennial is the amazing case of a 19th century institution that is not only still alive in almost its original format, but blooming all over the world. This institution is part of a cosmopolitan, apologetic, exhibitionist, and mainly commercial spirit. In artistic and cultural terms biennials are often considered a failure, mainly in connection with their ambitious scale, their cost, and the invested effort. Anyway, more important than the art field’s expansion is its tendency to go beyond its own boundaries toward, on the one hand, personal and daily life, and, on the other, toward society and urban interaction.

Together with the increase of international art networks there is new energy and activity going on locally in areas were, for historical, economic and social reasons one would not expect to see interesting art. Working in such places as Central America, India, Palestine or Paraguay made me witness not only vigorous and plausible artistic practices, but also the foundation of alternative spaces and a notable array of anti or non-establishment actions.

Much of this activity is “local”: the result of artists’ personal and subjective reactions to their contexts, or of their intention to make an impact –cultural, social, or even political– in their milieus. But these artists are frequently well informed about other contexts, about mainstream art, or are also looking for an international projection. Sometimes they move in, out and about local, regional and global spaces. Usually their art is not anchored in nationalistic modernism or traditional languages even when based on vernacular culture or specific backgrounds. Even in the midst of war, as in Palestine, one discovers engaging works that challenge our preconceptions and ratify to what extent artistic dynamics are increasingly decentralized.

In addition, more and more new cultural and artistic agents have been appearing in the newly expanded international art circulation. No doubt, the fact that a certain number of artists coming from every corner of the world are now exhibiting internationally only means, in itself, a quantitative internationalization. But number is not the issue. The question for these new subjects is agency: the challenge of mutating a restrictive and hegemonic situation towards active and enriching plurality, instead of being digested by mainstream or non-mainstream establishments. It is necessary to cut the global pie not only with a variety of knives, but also with a variety of hands, and then share it accordingly.

In a process full of contradictions, new generations of artists are beginning to transform the status quo. They are doing so without manifestos or conscious agendas; just by creating refreshing work, by introducing new issues and meanings coming out of their diverse experiences, and by infiltrating their cultural difference in broader, somewhat more truly globalized art circuits. Naturally, this is not a smooth path, and many challenges and contradictions remain. Is the situation turning more rich and complex or is it being simplified by the necessary degree of standardization that a transcultural, international communication requires? Is difference being communicated and negotiated or just converted into a self-complacent taxonomy? Who exerts the cultural decisions[ii], and on whose benefit are they taken?

A crucial tendency is the internal broadening of the so-called international art and art language through the intervention of a multiplicity of actors. If still instituted by mainstream orientations to an ample extent, this language is being increasingly modified and actively constructed by artists from the “peripheries”. This is crucially important because controlling language also conveys the power to control meaning. Therefore, more than a mosaic of multiple artistic expressions, what tends to prevail is a diversified construction of an “international art” by diverse subjects from diverse locations. This propensity opens a different perspective that opposes the clichés of a “universal” art in the centers, derivative expressions in the peripheries, and the multiple, “authentic” realm of “otherness” in traditional culture.Obviously, the very notion of center and periphery has been strongly contested in these porous times of migrations, communications, transcultural chemistries and rearticulating of power.

In all corners of the planet we are witnessing signs of change in the epistemological ground of contemporary artistic discourses based not in difference but from difference. This transition could be epitomized as the gradual turn of direction in cultural processes that used to go mainly from the “global” to the “local”. In this sense, notions of hybridity and “anthropophagy” are beginning to be surpassed.

The Brazilian modernists used the figure of antropofagia[iii] (anthropophagy) in order to legitimate their critical apprehension of European artistic and cultural elements, a procedure peculiar to postcolonial culture in general. Antropofagia is not only a cultural strategy but also a metaphor that indicates the tendency to creatively appropriate alien cultural elements, which we find in Latin America since the early days of European colonization. The very multi-syncretic character of Latin American culture facilitates this operation, since it turns out that the elements embraced are not totally alien. We could even say that Latin America is the epitome of these processes, given its problematic relationship of identity-difference with the west and its centers, by virtue of the specificity of its colonial history. Our “consanguinity” with hegemonic western culture has been at the same time close (we are the “common-law offspring” of this cultural lineage) and distant (we are also the hybrid, poor, and subordinate offspring). The practice of antropofagia has enabled us to enact and enhance our complexities and contradictions. Only Japan beats Latin America as transcultural cannibal.

Latin American anthropologists and critics have emphasized the creative and subversive aspects of these strategies of re-signification, transformation, and syncretism, and how they became a paradoxical manner of constructing difference and identity. “Cannibals” are not passive by definition: they always transform, resignify, and employ according to their visions and interests. Appropriation, and especially one that is “incorrect,” is usually a process of originality, understood as a new creation of meaning. The peripheries, due to their location on the maps of economic, political, cultural, and symbolic power, have developed a “culture of resignification”[iv] out of the repertoires imposed by the centers. It is a transgressive strategy from positions of dependence. Besides the act of confiscating for one’s own use, it functions by questioning the canons and authority of central paradigms. According to Nelly Richard, the authoritarian and colonizing premises are in this way de-adjusted, re-elaborating meanings, “deforming the original (and therefore, questioning the dogma of its perfection), trafficking in reproductions and de-generating versions in the parodic trance of the copy.”[v] It is not only a question of a dismantling of totalizations in a postmodern spirit; it also carries an anti-Eurocentric deconstruction of the self-reference of dominant models[vi] and, more generally, of all cultural models.

However, Antropofagia as a program is not as fluid as it seems, since it is not carried on in neutral territory but one that is subdued, with a praxis that tacitly assumes the contradictions of dependence and the postcolonial situation. Thus, the tension of who eats whom is always present. Latin American artists have complicated to the extreme the implications enveloped in transcultural quotation and seizure. Some, like Juan Dávila and Flavio Garciandía, dedicate their works to cynically exploring such implications.

Another problem is that the flow cannot always be in the same North-South direction, as the power structure commands. Regardless of how plausible the appropriating and transcultural strategies are, they imply a rebound action that reproduces the hegemonic structure, even when contesting it and taking advantage of its possibilities. It is necessary as well to invert the current—not by reversing a binary scheme of transference, challenging its power, but for the sake of enriching and transforming the existing situation. A horizontal volley would also be welcome, one that could promote a truly global network of interactions toward all sides.

Today, the antropofagia paradigm is increasingly being displaced by what we could call the “from here” paradigm. Rather than critically devouring the international culture imposed by the west, artists from around the world are actively producing their plural versions of that culture. The difference is in the shift from an operation of creative incorporation to one of direct international construction from a variety of subjects, experiences and cultures.

From Turkey to China, the work of many young artists, more than naming, depicting, analyzing, expressing or constructing contexts, is done from their contexts in “international terms”. Identities, as well as physical, cultural, and social environments are performed, rather than merely shown, thus contradicting expectations of exoticism. The notion of “tigritude”, invented by Wole Soyinka in the 60’s to oppose that of negritude, is now more pertinent than ever: “A tiger does not shout its tigritude: it pounces. A tiger in the jungle does not say: I am a tiger. Only on passing the tiger’s hunting ground and finding the skeleton of a gazelle do we feel the place abound with tigritude". The metaphor emphasizes identity by action toward the outside, not identity by representation or internal assertion, as it has often been the case in postcolonial art.

Today, more and more identities and contexts concur in the artistic "international language” and in the discussion of current "global" themes. From, and not so much in, is a key word for contemporary cultural practice. All over the world, art is being produced more from particular contexts, cultures and experiences than “inside” them, more from here that here.

Art from Latin America has strongly contributed to this dynamic. Its identity neurosis is now less serious, something that facilitates a more focused approach to art-making. Contrary to Latin American art clichés, contemporary artists tend less to represent historical, cultural and vernacular elements, in favor of letting their backgrounds work from within their poetics. It is not that they have lost interest in what happens outside art. On the contrary: art from Latin America continues to be quite engaged with its surroundings. But context tends to appear less as raw material and more as an internalized agent that constructs the text. Difference is thus increasingly constructed through plural, specific ways of creating the artistic texts within a set of “international” codes than by representing cultural or historical elements that are characteristic of particular contexts.

By this operation artists are slowly and silently democratizing the dominant canons and power relations established in the international networks and markets. This new situation carries new problems, but points toward a very plausible direction for culture in a globalized postcolonial world. It propitiates a polysemic and actively plural international environment.

III

The impact of contemporary migrations, with their cultural displacements and heterogenization, and the rising of a more dynamic and relational notion of identity, have been thoroughly discussed, especially by diasporic artists and scholars. The impact on the (richer) country of reception and its culture by the immigrant, and, moreover, its action on a global scale within a post-national projection, which includes the expansion of transnational communities, all have been fairly emphasized. However, equally, if not more important cultural and social mutations will come from massive urbanization developing full speed in Africa, Asia and Latin America. On the other hand, we must remember that the majority of humankind does not migrate.

Another silent cultural revolution that is taking place nowadays is urban demographic growth in the so-called Third World. Just think that at the beginning of the 20th century only 10% of the planet’s population lived in cities. Now, one hundred years later, half of the globe inhabits urban environments. If urbanization was characteristic of the developed world, and rural life predominated in the Third World, by 2025 urban population will prevail in the whole planet: 5 billion individuals, two thirds of the world’s inhabitants. But the crucial aspect is that two thirds of them will be living in poor countries. Since 1975 the world’s city-dwellers duplicated, and they will double again from now to 2015. This urban revolution is chiefly taking place in the non-western world. To put an example, Mumbai’s population has quadrupled in thirty years. Obviously, cities are not prepared to afford such demographic shock, but, as Carlos Monsiváis put it, “the city is built upon its systematic destruction”.[vii] Urbanism and architecture, as we have traditionally understood them, are over.

Right now there are only two megalopolises[viii] in the United States and two others in Europe. There are 19 in the rest of the world, and their number will increase, mainly in Asia. Of the 36 megalopolises predicted in 2015, 30 will be located in underdeveloped countries, including 20 in Asia. New York and Tokyo will be the only rich places to appear in the list of the ten largest cities. The cultural implications of this demographic penchant are obvious. A most important one is the complex, metamorphic and multilateral process that entails the substitution of the traditional rural environment by the urban situation, a clash that involves a massive amount of very diverse people

Living in a city does not mean living in a house: one hundred million people do not have permanent lodging. A majority of them are children. The homeless are perhaps the ultimate city-dwellers: their home is the city itself. “A home is not a house”, Rayner Banham’s famous phrase, is acquiring a new meaning today. But a city might not be a home either. Fear of the city –instead of the fear of wilderness– is a syndrome of our times. Before, jungles were the space of danger and adventure, while cities were the protected realms of civilization. The situation has reversed nowadays: jungles are ecologically pure, rather idyllic areas that we enjoy on Discovery Channel, while big cities have become increasingly polluted, insecure domains of paranoia, where “civil life” is more and more difficult.

Just by going through statistics one receives strong symbolic impacts. Sub-Saharan Africa has been stereotyped as the territory, par excellence, of wild life and “primitivism”. Today, on the contrary, it impersonates the deliriums of modernity and globalization’s short circuits. This region, associated with small villages and tribal life, has achieved the highest rate of growing urbanization worldwide. In less than 20 years, 63% of its inhabitants will be city-dwellers. During the next decade, 50 million will move from the countryside to West African cities. In 2015 Lagos, with 24.6 million inhabitants, will be the third largest city in the globe, only surpassed by Tokyo and Mumbai.[ix] The myth of “Black” Africa is gone with the 20th century. Africa is no longer the jungle, the masks and the lions, but the new chaotic cities and their new –and wilder– urban lions. The colonial narrative of “the heart of darkness” has moved to dwell inside modernity.

What implications will all these processes have for art and culture? Art is a very precious means to deal with cultural disjunctions and to find orientations. Many artists from the most diverse places are reacting to and participating in these transits. There is also a plausible tension caused by displacements in dominant artistic canons, their transformation by different cultural values, the introduction of heterodox approaches, and the ensuing predicaments for artistic evaluation.

Many issues are at stake: conflicts, social and cultural articulations; dialogues and collisions between neologic urban cultures and rural traditions, religious clashes; chaotic, wavering and dissimilar modernizations; massive diasporas, outrageous poverty, social contrasts, traffics of all kinds, fanaticism, violence, terrorism, wars; shanty towns and their culture; global communications and huge zones of silence[x]; homogenizing global tendencies and affirmation of differences; mutating identities, cultural and social mixtures, international networks and local isolation; cultural shocks and assimilation… What about the implications for the individuals? After September 11th, these problems have come to the forefront for all of us –and not only for the majority of humankind.



[i] Elissa Gootman, “A Quiet and Understated Ceremony Punctuated by Two Moments of Silence”, in The New York Times (March 11, 2002), A-13.

[ii] See Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, “Lo propio ylo ajeno: Una aproximación al problema del controlcultural”, in La cultura popular, ed. Adolfo Colombres (Mexico City: Premiá, 1987),p. 79-86, and “La teoría del control cultural en el estudio de procesos étnicos”, in Anuario Antropológico,no. 86, (University of Brasilia, 1988), p. 13-53. See also Ticio Escobar, “Issues in Popular Art”, in Beyond the Fantastic: Contemporary Art Criticism from Latin America, ed. Gerardo Mosquera (London: INIVA and MIT Press, 1995), p. 91-113.

[iii] The term was coined by Brazilian writer Oswald de Andrade in his Manifesto Antropofágico, published in 1928.

[iv] Nelly Richard: “Latinoamerica y la postmodernidad: la crisis de los originales y la revancha de la copia,” in her Laestratificación de los márgenes (Santiago de Chile, 1989), p. 55.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Nelly Richard: “Latinoamérica y la postmodernidad”, Revista de Crítica Cultural, n. 3 (Santiago de Chile, April 1991), p. 18.

[vii] Carlos Monsiváis: “La arquitectura y la ciudad”, in Talingo, No. 330 (Panama City: La Prensa, September 19, 1999), p. 15.

[viii] Cities with more than eight million inhabitants.

[ix] All statistics are taken from Mutations (Bordeaux: Actar, 2001) and “Ciudades del Sur: la llamada de la urbe”, in El Correo de la UNESCO (Paris: June 1999). 

[x] Gerardo Mosquera: “Alien-Own/Own-Alien. Notes on Globalisation and Cultural Difference”, in Nikos Papastergiadis (editor): Complex Entanglements. Art, Globalisation and Cultural Difference (London, Rivers Oram Press, 2003), p. 21.



CONTENTS







ART & THEORY
To Transform the Political Speech in Facts, Finally.  Carlos Garaicoa Manso
To Transform the Political Speech in Facts, Finally.
Carlos Garaicoa
SCAPING GLOBAL ART SYSTEMS

Where We're at: Three Competing Paradigms
Stephen Wright

Art in the Era of Globalization. Some Remarks on the Period of Soros-realisms
Georg Schöllhammer

Spheres, Cities, Transitions. International Perspectives on Art and Culture
Gerardo Mosquera

Cultural Globalisation between Myth and Reality: The Case of the Contemporary Visual Arts
Lara Buchholz and Ulf Wuggenig



ART WORK
SYSTEMS

 
 
 
 
 
 
 



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