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Deriving Knowledge - Altermodern, TATE Triennial

Altermodern – Tate Triennial

Gasp! Postmodernism is dead?
Say what?? I didn’t get the memo.

According to a few scholars, post modernity has been dead since the late 80’s when criticality left it high and dry. We see Dave Beech in February’s issue of Art Monthly talking about how art is now becoming everything (or near abouts) what post modernity said that it could never be. Again, pointing to the death of PM, whilst some artists desperately cling onto modernism.

Personally, I’m kind of glad that we are leaving the sad state of affairs that is Postmodernism (often referred to as the philosophy of mourning, a long melancholic episode of cultural life) – no Grand or Meta-narratives to be seen … everything being represented by a place and not as self. Yawn.
But what is ALTERMODERN I hear you cry? Is it any better than what the overused theory of post modernity has to offer us?
Judging by the exhibition at TATE Britain I would say yes, but a compromised version of yes at that.

Altermodernism becomes a confused theoretical framework that can be defined as a branding strategy to try and group works which are made from/with the globalised context of the world in mind, that are against – or more of a reaction to – the commercialisation of the world today. In the essay in the Triennial book (which you have to buy to read) Bourriaud states that Altermodern is a ‘ positive experience of disorientation through an art-form exploring all dimensions of the present, tracing lines in all directions of time and space.’ In this sense, the artist turns ’cultural nomad’ to generate creativeness and deriving knowledge for artwork.

Just like the theory suggests, we see that ALTERMODERN is a perfect curatorial framework, We encounter the exhibition just how the theory is explained; through a wave of artwork that depicts displacements, voyages, translations and object and beings in migration. All of which unravel themselves through the travelled perspectives of the viewers.

So in the TATE Triennial Altermodern exhibition we see artists such as Walead Beshty passing exposed film stock through X-ray scanners in the Non-place that is a Fed-Ex airport space, whilst couriering fragile glass sculptures to exhibitions world wide that capture the often turbulent and traumatic experience of being in transit, (whether border crossing or pushed into exile) and questions identity of self from place when one arrives at a destination.

We look to Marcus Coates, one of the very few artists to use the shaman since Bueys affectively, who through the most awkward humour in front of the mayor and a translator, seeks out the ‘animal spirits’ to help mend the problems between Israel and the Galapagos Islands. What is remarkable about this piece is the act of summing up the past to help the present – a travel of time and space, but also how he enacts this ‘call’ visually which transcends it to new, Altermodern levels.

We see from these examples in terms of Altermodern that displacement becomes a methodology and a view point as apposed to a style. They exist in a peripheral, yet significant network of relationships by which the artist then elaborates on. Similar to Facebook, no?

Interestingly, the Russian for Stranger translates into Nomad. To be a nomad is to have no place to call home, no identity located to that of place. No place to go to and no place to go back. If you don’t have a location by which you can call home to go back to, the whole construct of your being and identity is flawed. Especially if we look at Maslow’s Social Hierarchy of Needs, were the very basic needs of humanity is a home (shelter) and food. Stranger relates to this idea of ‘the other’, and once we cross this idea of ‘the other’ we embark onto different territory. One that often relates to foreigner. Does the Altermodern - ‘cultural nomad’ – artist become a stranger, the unfamiliar? What’s more interesting perhaps, is the more established and important an artist gets, the more they are forced to cross borders. Their time and space is demanded and taken away and compromised. This forcing of travel, even a career sense, can then cause a schizophrenic element, such as an actual mental breakdown as we can see from past artists. You have to accept, that if you cross a line – you might not come back.

Is this a problem for cultural nomad artists?

The Altermodern artist, in order to arrive at certain points, has to start from this ‘globalised perspective’. As Bourriaud puts it, ‘ The line is more important than the points along its length’.

From the curatorial set up, Altermodern suggests that there is a lot of scope for artists working in New Media. Journey frequently appears in the works of many artists today, which can relate to this hyper-linking / hypertext as a thought process – just as the work is laid out with in the show. I think of Oliver Plender whose work is a mouse click away. In this sense we can see through new media that the receding of historical and geographical perspectives enters a new ‘space’. for instance uses and travels through various layers of time sources, mingling historical elements of art history in with the imaginary, the globalised and hyperreal. We can generate a labyrinth of associations and narratives, and the projects and web searches often continue and live on, generating new journeys.

Not only this, but artists have been working in Altermodern circles for about a decade, dating about the first end of Postmodernity (80’s ish). We can think of Francis Alys, Gregor Schneider, and Thomas Hirschorn – to name a small few.

Much of the criticism lies on the curatorial decision of artists. This multicultural and globalised manifesto that seems to only exhibit British artists and the USA seems contradictory. This is merely the choice of venue. We forget that the TATE Triennial is an event that is dedicated to showing a majority British artist scene. Bourriaud reassured me in an interview that the show will be approached in a different, Altermodern, way when it is re-shown in different countries, galleries and contexts.

Many say that the amount of work was too vast – but I see this rather than a criticism but more of a fact of value for money. Which leads to its somewhat confusing disorientating manner – TATE is a public sector institution. With the 2012 Olympics and credit-crunch they have to make their money back somewhere. How they do this is to offer such a theoretical base for learning, schools will want to visit, academics want to get on the next theory, talks and books all do their rounds. Very fitting, its process is much like the concept of Altermodern.

According to sources, post modernity came about from the last credit-crunch – the 1973 oil crisis. If that helped to develop evidence to support the thesis of postmodernity, then surely our 2009 credit crunch can become food for thought for Altermodern as a theory? A less melancholic substance – but a theory that can open up a freedom to really explore!

Altermodern shouldn’t be shunned. Everybody is affected by some sort element that Altermodern grapples with whether that’s the internet or being exiled. Judging by the vast options that the actual exhibition ALTERMODERN at the TATE offers us as an audience, it is a theory that can help bridge the gap between the theory and the making of art. The artist could have more freedom to be really imaginative without having to over conceptualise the art in academia – but rather it will offer a form of a construction of journey, of different time and space (thinking), intertwined within it would be the intimacy of reality.

Now, who is collecting air miles and calling it art?