PAST THE ‘POST-’ / GENERATION ‘PRE-’
From Non-Aligned to Re-Aligned Art and Politics
at Tensta Konsthall, Sweden
This conference and the below discussion paper is an integral part of
From ‘Post-’ to ‘Pre-’
a thematic conference and exhibition project
including workshops, conferences, residences, publications and exhibitions
Confirmed venues so far:
Kiasma Theatre, Urb Festival, Helsinki, Finland;
Another Vacant Space, Berlin, Germany;
Tromso Kunstforening, Norway
and Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden
PAST THE ‘POST-’ / GENERATION ‘PRE-’
From Non-Aligned to Re-Aligned
The PAST THE ‘POST-’ conference looks into conditions, agencies and subjectivities provoking a new alignment of art, thought and politics in the twenty-first century. It addresses the lack of concepts for describing the shift away from the “identity politics” of the late twentieth century and its (post-)ideological ambiguity. The “postmodern moment” has passed. Contemporary currents show a new alignment of intellectual allegiances based on ideals and ideas held in common. A shared language for our very different times, however, remains undeveloped.
The symptoms of the shift we are describing is seen in the revolts shaking the Arab world as much as in the desire for a fundamental restructuring of the global political-economic system. In particular, it is seen in the rejection of the intellectually discredited corporate-led neoliberal hegemony of the post-Bretton Woods era. Comparable dissenting views are expressed in new forms of resistance and even rebellion in China and Russia, or in western Europe, in Spain and Greece. The internet and internet-media is another, highly significant site of these struggles. Many of these movements are also picking up long-standing global concerns, including those of the vocal ecological and peace movements. Responses to the current predicament are multiple. Nevertheless, across multiple continents, they share commonly recognisable positionalities, subjectivities and agencies – and in the world of contemporary art – artistic strategies.
From Particulars to Universals
As a period, the postmodern saw a sustained focus on cultural-ethnic issues, post-colonial national-independence narratives, post-communist nation building and religious revivals, gender-related liberation movements and also numerous new ways of reading popular and commercial culture and society. While subverting and superimposing and making these configurations clash, their identity-political particularisms were nevertheless frequently reproduced.
We will say that the current predicament of contemporary art and intellectual consciousness is one of thoroughly multilectic hybridity. This term invokes the proposition to envision the ‘multiple reading in one’ of the very diverse intellectual and artistic positionalities of our time: a way of reading which focusses on common structures and common narratives. This way of thinking avoids reproducing the particularisms of different genealogies, or homogenising differences in one ‘melting pot’ of identities. Rather, it gathers singularities within an increasingly (although never absolutely) universal, comparative and dynamic multi-lectic (“many-readings”) perspective.
A multilectic agency – and here empirical case-studies are important to forgo pure metaphysical speculation – will refuse integration of its difference into one single discourse. Yet, at the same time, such an agency equally rejects its separation from other agencies with isomorphically similar structural positions and ideals. Mutatis mutandis, Chilean and Arab uprisings, Chinese and Russian protest movements, Spanish and US indignatos, etc. have very much in common. A dynamic and comparative multilectic analysis envisions and encourages a ‘multiple reading in one’, with increasingly universal insights.
It should be noted that, instead of exalting one particular positionality, politics or strategy at the expense of all others – including that of their own local genealogy or heritage – multilectic agencies will tend to refuse domination from any single force on the geographical, cultural or ideological compass.
From Non-Alignment to Re-Alignment
What is being described in the above is in fact the double or multiple refusal of two or more mainstream positions. In Russia, for example, many reject the renewed national authoritarianism, while simultaneously maintaining a critical stance vis-a-vis western neoliberal solutions, both past and present. This provides this conference with a second core concept: the notion of a non-aligned positionality. This non-alignment, indeed, has been the position of many intellectual currents for the past decades. We are, however, on the cusp of a new development. For the rejections of multiple mainstreams carries with it the potential and necessity for the formation of re-aligned positionalities vis-a-vis dominant or hegemonic powers and ideologies. These re-alignments very much take place within as much as across state, gender, race, class and other categories. In this way, the post-modern manner of analysis is finally being superseded by what might be thought of as pre-mondial.
Practices of Alignment
It is clear that every real-world instance of alignment is structured by a particular history. In many (but not all) cases there is a historical experience of former binarity. In Russia and Eastern Europe, for example, the experience of radical ideological choice of the Soviet condition was between either communism or capitalism. Following an early post-Soviet naivete, a stance of non-alignment was more clearly visiable: a stance of neither laissez-faire capitalism nor Soviet communism; neither Slavophile nationalism nor idealization of ‘the West’, etc. Similarly, in the early Arab Spring of 2011, the oppositional forces aligned their rebellions neither with Muslim fundamentalism nor pro-US/Western ideologies. The Arab uprisings were an inspiration to the Spanish and later the “Occupy” movement worldwide, which likewise rejected both old-fashioned authoritarian leftist traditions just as much as the failed capitalist status quo, giving new impetus to a roots-level movement.
Past the ‘Post-’: A Re-Aligned “Generation Pre-”
If voting “against all” (which incidentally was an art action by the Russian group Radek in the 1990s) seemed the only choice of a disillusioned postmodernist generation, the question clearly arises: What comes after the multiple negatives? Contrary to the fin de siècle pessimism of what one might call the non-aligned “generation of the post-s”, today there is an increasingly visible proliferation of common initiatives. One could call it the re-aligned “generation pre-”.
This newly aligned movement – for it is not, of course, restricted to a generation defined by age – seeks to create a new commons. Its strategies include participatory art and actions, principles of inclusion, and often sustainable forms of development. At best, these movements are built on p2p networks independent of both state and business (Wikipedia and Open Source software being only the best known). Across all continents guarantees of freedom of speech and from arbitrary imprisonment are sought and fought for (from Pussy Riot to Wikileaks). In terms of systematic global change, at the very least this generation imagines ‘Robin Hood’ taxes on transnational corporations. A new distribution of wealth through ‘Citizen’s Salaries’ is one version of re-inventing the welfare state. Importantly in these times of dire economic crises and rising extreme nationalism, it harbours notions of post-national, or rather, pre-mondial citizenship. In short, the proposition is that our time combines the multiple negative with a multiple set of commonly desirable futures.
Which configuration of these multiple alternatives might become the épistémè, the horizon of the future? Art, often a bell-weather of change, is a place for contesting, investigating and developing imaginative horizons. PAST THE ‘POST-’: A RE-ALIGNED ART opens up this field of questions to art practitioners, theorists, curators, critics, academics, researchers and the wider public – to present, discuss and manifest their art and ideas.
Ivor Stodolsky and Marita Muukkonen
Co-curators of the RE-ALIGNED ART thematic exhibition and conference series.
For the project in development see the website of their curatorial vehicle Perpetuum Mobile (soon to be updated): www.PerpetualMobile.org
Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland
Murmansk Events with MediaImpact (Moscow) and YesLab (New York)
Tromso Konstforening & Tromso Art Academy, Tromso, Norway
Tensta Konsthall with Maria Lind, Stockholm, Sweden
Another Vacant Space, Berlin
Street Art Assembly, 2nd Urals Industrial Biennale
Paths Crossing Workshop, HIAP Suomenlinna, Helsinki