Altermodernism and Artists in the Cloud

Suddenly this has turned into a text blog. Videos will return as soon as I get my face back.

I just had a wonderful three hour window from pain. And spent half of it transcribing a radio interview. Idiot.

Anyway, here it is. I typed it out because just before Christmas, Sull started a group called Artists in the Cloud, to discuss things related to online art, net cinema, etc. We’ve been talking about distribution models, Alternative Reality Games, live video streams of pre-recorded work – all sorts. I’ve been wondering how to triangulate the work we’re doing with trends and movements in the wider world (in art and society).

And tonight I heard something on BBC Radio 4’s art show Front Row, which I wanted to share with the group for that reason.

Since I’d done it for them, I thought I might as well also publish it here.

They were discussing the Tate Triennial 2009, which is called Altermodern – and were introducing the audience to the concept of Altermodernism.

You can read the Manifesto at the Tate’s Altermodern site. It’s a suggestion for defining art to follow postmodernism, postpostmodernism, to find a new direction. Its name seems to have been inspired by the way that Alterglobalization was coined as a middle way between Globalization and anti-Globalization. It’s a reflection of a globalized world with confused borders and cultural identities, movement of people and information and communication – both in subject matter and the disparate media the artists choose to combine.

The interview started with the curator of the Tate Triennial Altermodern show, Nicholas Bourriaud, who said,
“Altermodern started as a kind of term that designates and defines what’s next. The idea is to get out of Post – postcolonial, postfeminist, posthistory, post everything. I think we all feel spontaneously very fed up with it. Is it possible that a new modernity is emerging? Something which is positive and not in the suburbs of history?”

This was followed by a discussion of the Altermodern show between the host, Mark Lawson, and the London Times’s chief art critic, Rachel Campbell-Johnston.

Throughout, you could feel their suspicion that this was a passing trend – an Emperor’s New Clothes marketing gimmick (which in a way it probably is) – fuelled by her discomfort at not really understanding the curator’s definition of Altermodernism. I suspect that most cloud artists will find it quite easy to get a better grasp of it, as much of it is familiar.

Mark Lawson, host: “Having seen the show and heard the curator’s interview there, do you understand what Altermodern is?”

Rachel Campbell-Johnston, critic: “I think Altermodern is the most difficult term I have had to come to terms with, and I was just happy that postmodernism had gone. But before you cheer that Altermodernism is in, there’s one line where he (the curator) tries to explain it in the book:

“Altermodernism can be defined as that moment when it became possible for us to produce something that made sense starting from an assumed heterochrony – that is from a vision of human histories constituted of multiple temporalities, disdaining the nostalgia for the avant-garde and indeed for any era.”

She then continues, in an irritated tone, “That’s a typical sentence from an absolutely impossible explanation book. As far as I can tell, if postmodernism started as “Where Are We?”, Altermodernism suggests that we come from a global internet culture, where we don’t even need to ask where we are, we hop around all over the place – it samples and moves and wanders everywhere, it never alights anywhere – and how that is different from postmodernism, I’m not sure.”

Mark Lawson: “I couldn’t work it out either, because although I thought they’re trying to say that something new has begun here, there are very clear trends that have been going on for, in some cases, 10 years or more – with video installations, also random and interactive elements…”

[He then goes on to describe an ongoing piece in the show, which is constructed each Friday in response to a conversation with the curator each Monday – a “serious conversation” he says, with an amused laugh

At which point Rachel Campbell-Johnston came back in with, “It’s going to be responses to responses to the show – and that almost sums it up – there is no end in this. And if you’re looking for a finished piece, as far as I could tell, this show is not about an object – something to look at – it was about clusters of objects.”

And then she actually said something clear about it, which I liked:

And actually, Nicholas Bourriaud uses the image of the *archipelago* fairly regularly – he sees these works as clusters of related ideas, but not one landmass, and actually that is one of the few helpful images I found, because the pieces are not A Video, they’re video, sound, photography, a bit of drawing, it’s everything thrown in together.

I love the image of an archipelago. All the islands interconnected. Soft borders. Of course, “everything thrown in together” sounds more like her judgement of the messiness of these fragments – you’d hope that they’ve actually been chosen and placed and connected more carefully.

Lawson: “Couple of trends – Mark Leckey who won the Turner Prize last year, his big piece was a long lecture, and we have two lectures at least in these, so that also happens. Also, as at most exhibitions of modern art now, anyone going from the British Society for the Restoration of Painting will be disappointed – there’s a bit of wall painting from Franz Ackermann, BUT on the other hand, photography and printing are very strong – there’s much more of that than I expected – in Tacita Dean‘s work and others”

Campbell-Johnston: “Well, painting is dead – having been told it was coming back again, it’s out – you’re absolutely right. There are a few drawings which are used as works in progress, but photography only as a means of capturing something in passing – either borrowing somebody else’s photograph… actually, one of the few beautiful things to look at in the show was photography, which was Darren Almond taking huge Chinese landscapes by moonlight, which is one the very few… beauty is also out, by the way (they laugh) as an aesthetic sense – and apart from that, photography just because it captures something very very quickly. I mean, I felt that after a while, the slideshow was back. I felt that all my thoughts moved to a sort of hiss-click-clack-drop of slides going round endlessly and there was never an endpoint.”

Lawson: “Just tell me very quickly, Rachel, will you be adopting the adjective altermodern or altermodernistic?”

Campbell-Johnston: “I certainly won’t, I mean the most optimistic thing about this show is that at least they are looking for somewhere to go, but I have to say they certainly haven’t found it.”

I also love the optimism of looking for somewhere to go, but even without having seen the show, I’m sceptical that “they certainly haven’t found it”. Maybe she just hasn’t seen it – she’s looking for something concrete, and seems appalled by the looseness, the softness, the fragmentation of it all. Art and media are moving towards a more fragmented, networked future, just as we are in our lives and communities. As cloud-based filmmakers, we’re so used to the idea of producing an expanding archipelago of separate but networked pieces, which form part of a larger ongoing work or body of work, that this all seems obvious and natural and exciting to us. Not to everybody. What the Altermodernism manifesto tries to do is tie this up with where we are economically, politically and culturally.

When you move away from single self-contained works – and works in one medium – you move away from traditional ideas of commercialization, productization and mass-production. But not away from reproduction and duplication. Philosophically, you’re moving towards the commons, towards open source and remixable art, artworks with softer edges, with complex networks between pieces – towards The Cloud. Selling and removing individual pieces, or individual components of larger works, affects all the other pieces in that network. I’d think that artists and collectors and galleries are going to find themselves facing a lot of new challenges, just as we do. Especially right now, it’s interesting to think of this in relation to the global economy, its boom and bust, and the mass economic migrations that have been caused by it and have supported it.

Will had some good thoughts in the Group about how this is all very well, but what Artists in the Cloud is about is based around small open networks, as opposed to an idea for a definition and a manifesto that comes top-down from a curator of a commercial show.

I wish I was in London to see the show – it starts tomorrow at Tate Britain and runs until April. (Hopefully Lize will go and tell me I’m talking bollocks and/or it’s all a joke)

Ouch – back to bed.

7 thoughts on “Altermodernism and Artists in the Cloud

  1. More irritatingly cheery optimism: Saw your photo on Flickr and figured you didn’t look too bad, considering that spring is really just around the corner and it always seems darkest before the dawn. And don’t forget that spring is just around the corner. Really.

  2. Oh, and thanks for transcribing the radio interview, Ru. And thanks for spelling it “judgement”. Much appreciated. (The Horror! The Horror of the websterism ‘judgment’!)

  3. The Triennial is growing on me but I am wondering if all the reviewers are being knind as its a British art show (nationalist in a sense, The Gaurdian talks of a new Sensation which is very telling). I wonder if the show would be so well reviewed if it were from somewhere else.

    I would suggest reading kazys Varnelis’s essay in the Disperaion (ICA) cat. He writes on The Meaning of Network Culture and in the second half let’s a few cats out of the bag when he gets away from the Utopianism of network culture (that really is what Bourriaud is trying to invoke) and get’s into what he calls (borrowing the term) as “the long tail” of the net. suddenly it all gets darker with Chinese censorship and the CIA. Then he says that everyone cannot be a pamphleteer as thenwe would have chaos. Its like why Agatha Christie has more than 8 characters as after 5 or 6 ideas our brains go to mush and we eneter a trance-like state. Anyway the gist is that we cannot ALL be important in this shiny new internet world.

    Basically we have had the concept of the Expanded Field for 30 or more years. It isn’t about post-modernism its about how the artworld’s gatekeepers (curators, writers) still use good old Modernist originality when assessing work. They still cetre/margin to order their world, trust me I’m an artist from australia and not even from Sydney or Melbourne and all OS visitors just ignore people like us. We don’t count and never will. This is all not about ne wideas its about the capital of the ex-Btitsih empire putting on a nationalist exhibition about a star curator and then dressing it up with fancy words. The politics is very questionable (did anyone notice the copies of Institutional Critique sitting next to the Altermodern book at teh bookshop?).

    Anyway it was OK as a show but now better work than any other big show just with a star curator who is doing the job he was employed by Tate to do.

    Scott Redford

  4. Altermodernism sounds like a load of b…s… to me. Passing trend… Yep! I agree. A symptom of Post Modernity rather than a proper new movement in arts/culture.

  5. “Altermodernism can be defined as that moment when it became possible for us to produce something that made sense starting from an assumed heterochrony – that is from a vision of human histories constituted of multiple temporalities, disdaining the nostalgia for the avant-garde and indeed for any era.”

    An extension of Baudrillard’s ideas re: the end of history in a multi-cultural, global, technological setting. The author of this quote seems to spend to much time on the Internet and not enough time considering practicalities.

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