Friday, 20 February 2009

Altermodern or digimodern?

I've had a few days off work and during that time I went to the Altermodern exhibition at Tate Britain (not at the Tate Modern, as its name might suggest; it includes plenty of non-British art too). The Tate Triennial showcasing the latest thing(s) in art has come around again; and its curator this year Nicolas Bourriaud believes postmodernism has given way to altermodernism, a new cultural paradigm exemplified by the work of his 28 artists.

The Tate has asked me to use an article I wrote in 2006 on the death of postmodernism and the new digimodernism in a publication they're producing to tie in with their exhibition. I said yes, obviously, but wanted to see what Bourriaud thought altermodernism consisted of in practice. So what did I make of altermodernism? Well, it some places it struggles to differentiate itself from postmodernism. Like Raoul Eshelman's performativism, it seems to have been invented by a mind so immersed in postmodern and indeed poststructuralist theory that it can barely stagger out from their depths into the sun-kissed uplands of the brave new artistic world. Emphasising "trajectories" and "globalities" seems yesterday's "hybridity" and "fluidity" at the service of a new master.

Some of the work on display is very powerful (especially "The Russian Ending") but some of it is rotten. And almost all of it seems to be cursed with a need to be "interesting" which precludes beauty or profundity or scope or really interesting intelligence. There are too many smart-but-pointless video pieces as well.
I don't think of altermodernism as a rival or some kind of competitor in the -ism marketplace. I have a pragmatic view of -isms - they're created to give shape to art, to serve a purpose, and if they don't then jettison them. And digimodernism doesn't have that much to say about art, except in terms of digital art which others like Christiane Paul have written about at length elsewhere. So I went thinking that maybe Bourriaud could fill in some of the gaps in my account. I was wrong about that, but the trip wasn't a complete failure.

All in all, an interesting exhibition which I'm glad to have seen. You should see it too, if you can. Some of the artists in it deserve to go on to much greater success (while others don't, but then dramatic unevenness is the price of this kind of exhibition). But I can't believe in altermodernism and I suspect nobody else can either.
Here's his manifesto anyway:
A new modernity is emerging, reconfigured to an age of globalisation – understood in its economic, political and cultural aspects: an altermodern cultureIncreased communication, travel and migration are affecting the way we live Our daily lives consist of journeys in a chaotic and teeming universeMulticulturalism and identity is being overtaken by creolisation: Artists are now starting from a globalised state of cultureThis new universalism is based on translations, subtitling and generalised dubbingToday’s art explores the bonds that text and image, time and space, weave between themselvesArtists 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 BourriaudAltermodern – Tate Triennial 2009at Tate Britain 4 February – 26 April 2009

1 comment:

  1. I'm curious about why digimodernism wouldn't have much to say about art. The role of a lot of art is to play with and maybe even change prevailing ideas. If digimodernism is a way to talk about NOW, then it seems that it would have lots to say about contemporary art.

    At least, I'd like to hear more from you on the subject. (I'm in the middle of your book and finding it hard to put down)