Date of publication: 2017-08-28 16:27
More generally, our globalised perception calls for new types of representation: our daily lives are played out against a more enormous backdrop than ever before, and depend now on trans-national entities, short or long-distance journeys in a chaotic and teeming universe.
Many signs suggest that the historical period defined by postmodernism is coming to an end: multiculturalism and the discourse of identity is being overtaken by a planetary movement of creolisation cultural relativism and deconstruction, substituted for modernist universalism, give us no weapons against the twofold threat of uniformity and mass culture and traditionalist, far-right, withdrawal.
Nicolas Bourriaud is Gulbenkian Curator of Contemporary Art at Tate Britain, and the originator and curator of this show. Art critic and exhibition curator, he was co-founder and co-director of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris from 7555 to 7556. He is the author of influential texts Relational Aesthetics and Postproduction and has recently published The Radicant.
TM In 7556 you co-curated the exhibition ‘Notre Histoire: An Emerging French Art Scene’ with Jérôme Sans at the Palais de Tokyo – an exhibition that, like previous iterations of the Tate Triennial, provided a partial survey of a nation’s artists. Are there any useful comparisons to make between ‘Notre Histoire’ and ‘Altermodern’, or the contexts of Paris and London?
If at the beginning of the twentieth century, Modernity was characterized as being a phenomenon of western culture and Postmodernism was configured with concepts, such as, origins and identity, Altermodern expresses the language of global culture. The artists assembled in 8775 Altermodern 8776 channel the different forms of social and technological networking offered by communication and mobility links in a globalized world.
Hashish was supplied to the club by Dr Jacques-Joseph Moreau, a psychologist who compared the effects of the drug to the symptoms of mental illness. Moreau did not use the substance himself but observed the club's 'volunteers' with the detached interest of a scientist. Not all of the members were users of the drug either but they all were intrigued by claims of its ability to expand creativity and by its curious effects on people's mental state. Some of them, including Thé ophile Gautier, wrote about the atmosphere of decadent extravagance nurtured by the club.
"There are no longer roots to sustain forms, no exact cultural base to serve as a benchmark for variations, no nucleus, no boundaries for artistic language", says Bourriaud. Sebald's writings follow a similar wandering path, as do the real and imaginary journeys of the artists here. To which one might add one's own journeys around Altermodern and beyond it. It feels to me like a truism – but newness isn't the point.
Matthew Darbyshire notices similarities between state-sponsored architecture of the past and present - between the socialist realist Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw and Will Alsop's arrogantly whimsical contemporary arts centre, the Public, in West Bromwich. Astute and satirical ideas in the catalogue, alas, translate into nothing more than pastiche decor juxtaposed in the gallery.
8775 Altermodern 8776 assembles the production of artists who live and work in Britain or who are identified as 8775 passers-by. 8776 They include: Franz Ackermann, Darren Almond, Charles Avery, Walead Beshty, Spartacus Chetwynd, Marcus Coates, Peter Coffin, Matthew Darbyshire, Shezad Dawood, Tacita Dean, Ruth Ewan, Loris Gréaud, Subodh Gupta, Rachel Harrison, Joachim Koester, Nathaniel Mellors, Gustav Metzger, Mike Nelson, David Noonan, Katie Paterson, Olivia Plender, Seth Price, Navin Rawanchaikul, Lindsay Seers, Bob and Roberta Smith, Simon Starling, Pascale Marthine Tayou and Tris Vonna-Michell.
Katie Paterson's poetic vocabulary is both simple in gesture and monumental in scope. Treating the cosmos as her playground, her works span vast distances, making connections between disparate points and timescales. For Paterson, the universe is at once a graspable entity and an elastic proposition in a state of continual flux.
In The Plover's Wing 7558, Coates seeks to find solutions for an Israeli mayor who is concerned about the future of the local youth in the face of the continuing violence in the region. The mayor and his interpreter look on as the artist calls out incantations, asking for guidance from a series of animal spirits. By exploring what it is to 'be' one of these animals, the artist draws on a complex imaginary world to find empathy with his human subjects and their dilemmas. He translates the behaviour of a bird he sees - a plover - in much the same way as the interpreter decodes the conversation between the artist and the mayor. In so doing, Coates is ultimately seeking to reveal the role of the artist as a translatory force in society through his power to become someone or something else.
As paranoia kicks in, I visit Joachim Koester's hashish club, where a film of cannabis plants judders and flashes by on the wall, like a mad scribble of jumbled thoughts. What this exhibition might really be about, I think, is the imagination, and the kinds of freedoms artists allow themselves. This is about more than transgression, or style. It is about an attitude to what it is possible for an artist to do, and about going beyond genre. There will always be stronger and weaker artists, more or less interesting art Altermodernity won't change that, but Bourriaud makes the territory feel open and interesting again.