A fine writer and friend of this blog, Robert King, put me on yet another school or movement proposed by French curator and art critic Nicolas Bourriaud in connection with the fourth Tate Triennial exhibition the Tate Britain gallery. Bourriaud has coined the term “Altermodern” and provided a manifesto defining it (boldfaced phrases are bold in the original):
ALTERMODERN MANIFESTO: POSTMODERNISM IS DEAD
A new modernity is emerging, reconfigured to an age of globalisation – understood in its economic, political and cultural aspects: an altermodern culture
Increased communication, travel and migration are affecting the way we live
Our daily lives consist of journeys in a chaotic and teeming universe
Multiculturalism and identity is being overtaken by creolisation: Artists are now starting from a globalised state of culture
This new universalism is based on translations, subtitling and generalised dubbing
Today’s art explores the bonds that text and image, time and space, weave between themselves
Artists are responding to a new globalised perception. They traverse a cultural landscape saturated with signs and create new pathways between multiple formats of expression and communication.
The Tate Triennial 2009 at Tate Britain presents a collective discussion around this premise that postmodernism is coming to an end, and we are experiencing the emergence of a global altermodernity.
Reactions to the exhibition and the idea of Altermodernism have been mixed (William Shaw provides a handy overview with numerous links here), and Boulliard’s manifesto alone doesn’t impress me, although I like its insistence on a holistic view of art that includes economics, politics, and culture at large.
In doing research for this post, I ran across another of Boulliard’s concepts—put forward in 1998—that initially gave me hope: “Relational Art.” What a disappointment to find that “relational art” is ultimately an abdication of the artist before the deracinating, dehumanizing dis-integrations of globalized culture—as if by collaborating with these forces the artist could make a more authentic art.
My instinct is to reject Boulliard’s celebration of these trends, if not his description of them. And I want to think about “relational” in a different way, but can’t quite figure out how to flesh out my vague notions. All I can say at this point is that Altermodernism and Relational Art might hint at a way forward in our thinking and practice that is not reductive—that is, a way that doesn’t sacrifice the artist to the forces his or her art is (or should be) striving to comprehend.