Dressed in a golden wig and sailor suit with clogs, holding a homemade cardboard megaphone, I told the audience at Mu on Friday night -- jokingly, seriously -- that a glorious new cultural era had dawned, the era of the Altermodern.
I have such a lot to say about the whole enterprise of the Altermodern -- curator Nicolas Bourriaud's bold attempt to name a new cultural era, and the title of the current Tate Triennial -- that I need five days. So pack your sandwich boxes and fill your Thermos flasks; this will be Altermodern Week on Click Opera. For the next five days I'll be examining various aspects of the "attempted new cultural era". The schedule of events looks like this:
DAY ONE: INTRODUCTION, A NEW CULTURAL ERA DAY TWO: DEFINITIONS OF THE ALTERMODERN (CURATORS AND THE PRESS) DAY THREE: CONDEMNATION OF THE ENTERPRISE IN THE UK PRESS DAY FOUR: SUGGESTED REASONS FOR THIS HOSTILITY, COLLECTED FROM SPECIALIST ART PRESS DAY FIVE: MATERIALS ON ARTISTS AND WORKS ALREADY BEING DESCRIBED AS ALTERMODERN
Okay, this is Day One. Introduction, hopes for success.
Why should you care, why should I care? Writing this blog entry, I created a new page and gave it a title and a subject. In fact, I proposed five new pages on the same subject. I haven't written them yet, but it's important that I make a space for them, give them titles. It's a bit like writing a song: when you choose a title, you're already thinking of a theme, promising a song, and beginning to see in your mind how it might be. If your title contains an idea that interests you, the song will certainly come to fruition, and have enough energy to exist in the world.
What is the interesting energy within the idea of the Altermodern? Well, first of all, there's a need for a new cultural era now. We're at an early point in a new century. One hundred years ago exactly, the cultural idea that came to be known as Modernism was starting to gel. Now, sure, it's possible that the era we've been in for the last fifty years or so -- which Charles Jencks, from the late 1970s onwards, influenced others to call Postmodernism -- could just hang around forever. From inside its palace of mirrors I've often wondered how on earth we could escape from its mechanisms: irony, quotation, the collapse of high and low, here and there, now and then, art and commerce. Postmodernism was so slippery, so able to glom on new styles from any era or any culture and make them part of itself, so "right" for our age of global consumerism, that it seemed to me that we'd need Islamic revolution, or communist revolution, to break its grip.
What's the problem with Postmodernism? In some ways I love Postmodernism; my Wikipedia entry (and I have no idea who wrote it) squeezes the word "postmodern" into the second sentence: "Most of his songs are self-referential or postmodern." I actually think this was completely unnecessary to say, though, because every pop musician recording in capitalist countries between 1957 and 2007 has been postmodern. The form of pop music we've known has been absolutely central to postmodernism's whole enterprise. Recently, I've had a strong sense that the medium of pop music has died, drowning in the abyss of ubiquity -- exhausted by attempts to match its former glories, yet unable to turn the page and reinvent itself. One thing that could revitalize pop music and other cultural forms exhausted by their own continuous vampirism of other times, other cultures, and, finally, desperately, their own past, is that act of page-turning. I have decided to take Nicolas Bourriaud's declaration that postmodernism is dead very seriously indeed, precisely because I think it comes at the right time, and there's a need to declare this now.
The economic meltdown is making a Year Zero possible. You always need a major event, a global shakedown, to launch a new cultural era. Modernism really comes out of the brutal sweep of the First World War. Postmodernism is a phenomenon of the post-war Baby Boom, the arrival of the teenager, of affluent consumerism, the dominance and hegemony of the US, and new electronic forms of communication. The meltdown of the global financial system we're currently living through is the thing that will definitively end Postmodernism and make a new cultural era necessary and, in fact, inevitable. George Soros said last week that the world financial system has effectively disintegrated, that the resulting crisis is more severe than the Great Depression, and should instead be compared with the demise of the Soviet Union. The "Soviet Union" in this instance is us. Now, we won't die. The people who were citizens of the Soviet Union twenty years ago are still around. The buildings built by that era still stand -- I see them here in Berlin every time I go out. But they keep their otherness: they were built by a currency that no longer exists, generated by a social system that has vanished. There are already signs that this is happening: the skyline of Dubai is already looking rather like the Berlin TV Tower and the vesotka skyscrapers of Moscow, as Dubai becomes a ghost town. Style mag articles about Dubai as "the coming thing" (like this Monocle feature from 2007) already sound Pravda-esque. It's over, though the buildings still stand.
These are the real world conditions which are making a new cultural era possible and, in fact, inevitable. I think calling it "the altermodern" is fine, but it doesn't really matter if a different label emerges. The point is that we are currently crossing a threshold, entering a new phase in the history of culture. Exciting times.
Tomorrow we'll start looking at the definitions of Altermodern that have emerged so far.
On another note, I don't think it's right to say Modernism comes out of the brutal sweep of the First World War. All the elements were already there, it had already "gelled" several years before. We'd already had Picasso's Demoiselles D'Avignon, Schoenberg's 2nd String Quartet, the Futurist Manifesto etc.
I'm not sure I'd throw the whole of rock music into the post-modern category. Rock musicians are seldom working from the perspective of "I distrust the notion of legitimacy, of theory, so I'm going to use these cultural references out of context.." For every Bowie there are a million James Taylors. Your music, in many cases, can certainly be said to do this, however.
It seems to me that as the 20C was the century of the unskilled theorist-artist (Duchamp/Cage), whatever comes next will certainly NOT be that.
I do think of the whole enterprise of rock as postmodern, yes. Rock is not Modernism, even when Kraftwerk or someone plays with Modernist symbolism. I personally date the arrival of Postmodernism to the This is Tomorrow exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery (August 1956), which dealt with architecture and pop culture and mixed them all up (notably in Richard Hamilton's Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes...). I also think the string of hit singles Elvis Presley had that same year are really the Big Bang for rock-pop as we've known it.
I think that no rock-pop artists have been "more postmodern" than any others, but some have been more knowingly postmodern. Oasis are just as postmodern as Momus, but Momus is more knowingly postmodern, which is why the word crops up in my Wikipedia entry and not theirs.
"Postmodernism" isn't a historical situation, as is often taken for granted, but an academic term outliving its usefulness. I'm so wary of critics who try to link it to dramatic real world events:nothing that happens in the next few years will change the fact that most humans have no utility for this clunky, silly word at all.
The thing is, you can run but you can't hide. You're trying to contest the label of a cultural era that is now ending, and has basically been named. The usefulness of the label is, I think, proven. Enough intelligent people have written enough intelligent and persuasive things, at this point, that it looks as if the label will stick, whether you like it or not.
Sure, you could make a PhD breaking down the last 50 years according to other terms, other definitions, mini-sections, decades, whatever. But at some stage you would reach the level where you'd need either to use "postmodernism" or make up your own euphemistic alternative. And it's too late to try to make it catch on; you should have been battling with Jencks in 1977!
Not only is your music referred to as "postmodern", but click opera as an "interconnected weblog" is kind of "supermodern" according the Wikipedia article covering supermodernity. I'm wondering and looking forward how you will get all that clutter sorted out in your attempt to defining and differentiationing(?) the term tomorrow...
I think Bourriaud has kept his definitions tactically vague at this point, very wisely. The exhibition is a series of questions (Bourriaud says his forthcoming book will hazard some answers.) That manifesto (or minifesto) says very little, and I think we'll define the altermodern rather better tomorrow, by integrating some of the misunderstandings and half-hearings reported in the press around the concept. I think an idea like altermodernity will, to some extent, live or die by the ease with which people can reduce it to a soundbite. Wasn't it Benjamin who said the strength of an idea was the extent to which it could become a slogan without betraying its original content?
The most important thing in the minifesto is the point about dubbing, translation and subtitling. I think this relates to my idea about hub and spoke versus point to point models. I think globalisation in postmodernism is hub-and-spoke, whereas in altermodernism it's point-to-point. Bourriaud uses the analogy of creole languages, but also the analogy of an archipelago rather than a continent. This is a point-to-point, many-to-many movement, not the kind of one-to-many one implied by postmodern terms like "difference" and "the other".
How smug of the West to think it can just name the new Era.It's most likely that we'll get an englished version of whatever the chinese want to call it. The idea of "slow-life" spawns mainly from East so why is Bourriaud even associating it with Modernism...
There aren't yet curators of the stature of Nicolas Bourriaud and Hans Ulrich Obrist emerging from Asia, though -- perhaps Fumio Nanjo and Midori Matsui are on the way, but they're disinclined to stick their necks out. It does, precisely, take a certain arrogance to attempt to name a new cultural era, and I think this arrogance is important. I think it has been gifted to us, in the West, to name the era that sees us decentred and dethroned.
Now, sure, it's possible that the era we've been in for the last fifty years or so -- which Charles Jencks, from the late 1970s onwards, influenced others to call Postmodernism -- could just hang around forever.
That's because postmodernism is not the cultural style of an era, but a result of the collapse of culture (at least, as it was know since the dawn of mankind).
It's not out of some formalism that Dada spoke of the "end of art". It is because of a combination of factors that exploded more or less at the same time:
1) The death of God and the sacred
2) The end of the "social order" and the rise of the masses
3) The general disbelief in culture's gravitas and large claims (after WWI).
4) The end of the communal traditions and the rise of individualism
5) The end of the local due to extensive transportation, news coverage, etc.
6) "Instant recall" of the total sum of human culture (via books, magazines, radio, records, tv and now the internet).
In order to escape postmodernism you'll have to revert those.
Not sure if this has much to do with the concept of Altermodernism as it develops here and elsewhere, but this excerpt from a recent New Yorker piece about the late postmodernist author Donald Barthelme (he practically defines the term) reminded me of how Momus has striven to find the right way to put the "wrong" into his art:
“He was fascinated by the artistic possibilities of the ugly. He once called his own stories “slumgullions,” and he tried to create a certain amount of extraneous noise in them, on the theory that the distraction helped the reader.
“The confusing signals, the impurity of the signal, gives you verisimilitude,” he explained. “As when you attend a funeral and notice, against your will, that it’s being poorly done.”
" 'Irony is a means of depriving the object of its reality in order that the subject may feel free.' - from “Kierkegaard Unfair to Schlegel” (1968)
That last quotation is of course at the center of postmodernism, but it seems Barthelme wished he could have gone beyond that kind of trap, as well. More slumgullions, please!
The art in the Tate Triennial isn't bad art. Very little of it is bad art. It just doesn't speak of a revolution. You have to use a lot of imagination to see that. It has an otherworldliness but art has that anyway. There is a lot of leftovers, wacky 90s Brit Art, psychogeography, multi-cultural mash-ups. I was shocked by how many artists biogs were Born London, Works London (for a supposedly global-looking show), although the more mature stuff was by exiles. No use of the internet, for example.
The press criticism is framed by Dan Fox http://www.frieze.com/blog/entry/altercritics/ as some kind of anti-French sentiment. Still, a slim theory and a desire to move forward (who's stuck and why?) hasn't produced something as involving as, say, Wallinger's The Russian Linesman.
It's as if the embryo of Altermodern hasn’t developed sense of taste yet. Even more radical, I wish it had started off examining mathematics rather than commercial art and design.
I used to think it would or should be called post-post-modern, or just the clusterfuck-era. Generalized Era of Clusterfuck. Something like that.
One thing that's most striking to me is the changing contours and boundaries of nationality, culture, 'race', et cetera.
Another thing that has my attention is the continued evolution and development of repressive mechanisms; as they become more subtle and more sophisticated in process, protocol, and instrumentation, what happens? Well, that largely depends on who holds the strings of course, but the imperatives of control have an unfortunate tendency to reduce themselves to spreading psycho-spiritual death, stasis, conformity to systemic or pre-arranged patterns/doctrines... health/life itself being unpredictable and threatening from the point of view of a stagnant and thouroughly corrupted set of agencies which has managed to evolve into the cryptically and hysterically paranoid halls of power. So, not an unavoidable tendency but easiest and most typical heretofore. In my opinion this relates directly to the question of artistic viability over the past 10 years or so; ie questions like "why has the music sucked so profoundly?" can largeley be traced back to the re-territorializations of 'control' in the Anglosphere by more technically refined means. The decision making process is largeley immanent (groping for the appropriate term) and only liminally-conscious for most of the operators(say, in the marketing or education realm).
You linked to Mute last week, and in another page I found this fragment:
"[...]the development of ‘security’ apparatuses designed above all to strangle dreams of alternative futures,[...]"
This hits at the crux of the issue of the relationship of these apparati to the art world(which is inherently at the core of any 'dreams of alternative futures'. The relevant communities were manipulated, subverted, eviscerated, etc... What's left is whine-fodder embed in the radio. ...isn't it all about manipulating the physiological signs and development of the individual? (from the point of view of the imperatives of control) Pop music as just a branch of marketing? Manufacturing what then? Consent? Weakness leading to compliance? Certainly not health, awareness, intelligence and revolutionary energy! That would engender "instability". Which is how control tells you that it has gotten so stagnant that it's incapable of controlling anything more reactive than the human rock, inert, robot. A control that was progressing in and of itself would be able to take a little more from its object, as the bandwidth (so to speak), or the circumference of its perceptural awareness dilated. (If that was difficult to parse on the 2nd reading just accept that anyone can control a rock, something that moves around demands more intelligence; and furthemore, even more is required to not kill(in the whole spectrum) that which is moving around). ...further analysis of control, awareness, agency, collective or otherwise, at a later point. ... As newer technologies come online, autonomy will break down at the level of thought and decision, as individuals will be overwhelmed by the resources of shadow-institutional entities.
This is but one tendency, towards solidification of mores and authoritarian structure, countervailing tendencies might have a say as well, hard to speculate. I haven't really even considered the biological revolution waiting in the wings, or any of a number of other technical factors.
Isn't it silly that this new era claims to be yet another "post" era, this time being "post" post-modernism? I thought the new era would be "trans." also, to say that "postmodernism is dead" is really lame. wasn't postmodernism already dead, even when it was thriving?
This is like someone in the 1980s discovering the New Romantics. For Godsake this is hardly underground its at the Tate - its state sanctioned difference. Altermodern, relational aesthetics -nowt going on I'm afraid, tag your coattails to it at your peril.