What is, in the context of contemporary art, your vision of a future art? or Future as Context


The future of art is born out of the ruins of the industrial age. Steel and concrete. Cotton and plastic. Mass production. High rise. Fast food. Movie stars. Big Deal. Each cute couple is like a metaphor filled with the promise of a better life. And then there was the avant garde: the new hinge upon which all connections could swing to a new destination. Since the fall of the atomic bomb artists have been gathering up the pieces and reconstructing cities. Small fragments placed in quieter places. Rubbish cleaned and put in order. Nightmares made ruder by being dragged across our awakened eyes. Strangers arrived to be our neighbours. This mess, this chaos, those holes, those hybrids, this is where we are and those are the directions we are following. People said that in all this activity there was a loss of faith. Maybe. But there was still ambition. Progress was abandoned, but the stench of superiority never left. In the context of contemporary art, hierarchies never crumbled. Even if the content of art was disgusting or shocking, it soon became another sign of exclusion. The city was built with new coded walls. Critics scorned the gated suburbs but their gaze never turned to condemn the abandoned zones. Factories closed. Industry and culture were firmly separated. Only the information experts wanted to live where the artists once lived which of course is where the workers once worked. A few forgotten pulleys, stuck to the rafters, were re-painted and left standing. History made quiet, the shout and smell of labour erased, or transfixed like a photograph.

The context of art is always the world, all of the world, from senses to sentences. In the industrial age, the sense of the world was still framed by sentences which held the memory of a world before machines were invented. Factories were called ‘mills’. Cars were made in proportion to carts, their engines measured in horse power. The width of our urban lanes are still defined in relation to a modality which has been redundant for over a century. In the future, there will not even be the memory of this haunting measure that divides and links the city. In the future art will not need to be anthropocentric. The mechanical will not be defined in relation to the organic, but rather, all needs will be driven by the motricity of new technologies. How absurd is it to measure the memory capacity of this laptop in human terms? Which culture will be in the room when two or more people meet? Why call a process interactive when you cannot specify the place of meeting? What is your identity if there are no boundaries? The politics of place is being contested in ways that exceed the conventional political opposition between left and right. In the face of urgent response to either ecological needs or the growing force of global corporatism, neither socialism nor liberalism are seen as offering solid foundations for critical response.

The politics of place is being contested in ways that exceed the conventional political opposition between left and right. In the face of urgent response to either ecological needs or the growing force of global corporatism, neither socialism nor liberalism are seen as offering solid foundations for critical response. There is no established party in the Western world which is opposed to globalization. In the absence of a formal expression of political alternatives, there is an increase in the number of informal movements which have clustered around the critical issues of social justice, cultural identity and ecological defense. These movements are like clusters composed of a diverse range of individuals and groups. Clusters do not assume the forms of institutional political bodies. They are fluid and relatively open-ended. Critics often confuse the amorphous structure of a cluster with the presumption that its members lack conviction and that it cannot generate a sustainable momentum. This failure to recognize the shape of a new political movement is further compounded by the judgement that fragmentary alliances and tactical gestures are the signs of the absence of politics. Artists have resisted this demand to reproduce the hegemonic structures in their own political participation. They see that the dominant political forms are in themselves undergoing a crisis. Artists have not just observed the ascendance of a new discourse that undermines the sovereignty of the nation state as it privileges the economic rationalism of the new world order, but they have also noted a new form of stuttering hesitance in the voice of political authority. There is a growing recognition that the pattern of exchange between the global and the local is not only haphazard but that political leaders are unclear of the consequences of their own reactions. A centralized and coordinated plan of action is missing. This demands new models of artistic and political action.

Our understanding of the artistic representations of place, and the place for art in contemporary society, is implicated in the ‘new world order’ of globalization. The uneven patterns of global cultural exchange can be witnessed in the representations of the everyday. What is purely local anymore? To experience the global one no longer needs to leave home. Trans-nationals are always on the move and discount phone cards are part of a migrant’s i.d.. As the relationship between the politics of place and cultural codes are redefined by, and against, new global co-ordinates, so will the aesthetic parameters and the constitution of the symbolic field of the everyday be transformed. Will there be room for nostalgia and exempted spaces? Will artists exist in the subsidized time zones that are now secured for residual peasants? Salvation in the future may still yearn for a sense and a sentence from the past, but will this appear even more futile? The hype of globalization is most potent when it promises speed. It is assumed that the conquest of space was a battle for time. Context is no longer a place. It is not even a non-place like the gallery, or the multi-places of global cities. Context is the future. All the energy of globalization is in maximization of claims to the future. The winners do not hold territory, they do not display grace, they maintain the nervous tick of prediction and are constantly poised with anxious anticipation. The context of art will be time. Time based art, which deliberately slows things down, is already too sentimental, still dreaming of the city of steel, concrete, cotton and plastic. Future art will not need a place, it will be like a hit, a rush, an imaginary experience. The delivery will be the object. The subject will be the transportation. The art will be an event in time.


Nikos Papastergiadis is Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Australian Centre, University of Melbourne. He works on issues of place, migration and globalisation, and in most recent studies focused on the transformation of the urban environment in postindustrial cities. He edited special issues of Third Text, Art and Design, Annotations, and is the author of many essays published in anthologies, academic journals and art magazines. He has written Modernity as Exile (1993), Dialogues in the Diaspora (1998) and The Turbulence of Migration (2000), and recently edited Complex Entanglements: Art, Globalization and Cultural Difference (2003).