Monday, 2 March 2009

Altermodernity has been tempting to write on for some time now and it appears that this is the time – Click Opera, that beacon, offers an engaged summary of the notions behind the Tate Britain show, deferring judgement on the title itself, but agreeing to the identification of a threshold. But what lies beyond?

Only upon a minimal investigation of the cultural web do I find that the broadsheets have beaten me to a savaging of Bourriaud, the man who credits himself with the invention of the word best suited to explaining and understanding this modernity within which we live. As vultures pick at the carcass of his theory, tearing strips of intellectual carrion from Bourriaud's cultural praxis, inevitably I find myself tempering my views, hiding in nearby foliage thinking is this right?

Many things within the altermodern manifesto we cannot argue against. There is indeed a “new modernity” emerging, “communication, travel and migration” do affect the way we live. But this is saying very little - it has been true of every year I have lived, and I presume can be held true for those that preceded me. Shapes begin to appear on the horizon, drawn in by an endless outward semantic spiral that can never quite be finished.

Here then, now, I lay foundations: Bourriaud establishes his term as one of inquisition, a platform for incursions into vital modern questions – what is in a term? Defences will be built around this, and also around the show itself, claiming the artists provide the definitions and arguments, he simply curated a framework. So, his position immutable, night falls and we retreat waiting for the other scavengers. Let us watch them, one-by-one, approach the bones of his manifesto...

A new modernity is emerging, reconfigured to an age of globalisation – understood in its economic, political and cultural aspects: an altermodern culture.

Immediately the animals appear agitated. This vagueness overwhelms they whisper to each other in the shadows cast by their hunched bodies. Postmodernity is dead, they squabble. In Bourriaud's introductory video to his exhibition, he defends himself against petty semantics by evacuating the word altermodern, identifying it as a mere listening post. But what then of other spectres - are all definitions agreed upon now?

If words can be emptied and refilled like wineskins, that what relevance does the murder of words hold and why kill 'postmodernity'? Bourriaud states postmodernity as temporal – an 'after' modernity, embedded historically into a moment that we have passed. Postmodernity, I believe, has not held that timbre for some time though, not since Borges last sat down. For me and the other animals (and so indisputably) postmodernity has always been a defiance, it has summoned up discourses against the grand narratives of history, location and culture and rooted itself within everything. At its most simple, it is a perspective, one that looks upon everything. But, I remind myself, I am not here to defend postmodernity. The jackals can have that too for all I care. Here be slippages.

So then beasts, what of globalisation and Bourriaud's misrepresentations? Again, gross simplifications will get you mauled, friend. How can we talk of aspects, of economic, political and cultural aspects? No more talk of aspects! Bourriaud has perhaps mistaken the twenty first century for the Industrial Revolution. Even my mother thinks of globalisation as the entrenched creep of systems into one another, the inextricable relation of fiscal systems, governance and cultural exchange in such a way that falling markets can affect figures of speech (credit crunch! utters a maggot) and politics is the new economic weatherbell. Tuck in, friends, there's plenty to go round.

Increased communication, travel and migration are affecting the way we live. Our daily lives consist of journeys in a chaotic and teeming universe.

Efforts to allow an orderly queue to form at the cadaver have failed. That exile, travelling and borders were expressed as the theoretical keystones of the show tells a story to the closing circle of plucky omnivores. Virtualisation of cultural exchange; the wholescale obfuscation of intellectual property; systemic rejection of commercialised creation; increasing amounts of produced text (online); the decrease of television and therefore media homogenity; definite decline of cognitive interactions as entertainment returns to linearity; the rise of sharing via new mediums giving a new definition to collaboration... none of these relate to the vagueness of his teeming universe, nor can find a space in his vacuum.

Even the ants, swarming upon the skull of such a notion, sigh. Has travel increased? Has communication? Or has it changed? The idea that migration “affects the way we live” is a risible suggestion. Migration usually has a starting point, the point is not how 'we' live in the face of migration, but rather how living itself is denied to those who must migrate. And what of climate change here? Migration does not affect the way we live; the way we live precedes a drastic environmental shift, which necessitates migration. This becomes life, it does not affect it. Ask the bacteria.

Multiculturalism and identity is being overtaken by creolisation: Artists are now starting from a globalised state of culture.

Perhaps the animals and I are bloated, for this seems better. Maybe we ate too much, but I have more time here to digest. Despite the slightly awkward use of creolisation, which has both intimately different connotations in geography and linguistics (and always carries a slight air of the khaki-clad anthropologists, some of which are watching now). However, I like the idea of situating some of us beyond globalisation, taking that as the norm. Post-colonialism is long defunct and the sooner we realise that anyone under thirty grows up with not with suspicions around multiculturalism but monoculturism, the better. Right, hungry again...

This new universalism is based on translations, subtitling and generalised dubbing.

Stand back, I want the ribs. Bourriaud talks of creoles, which surely implies normalisation, which implies reduced signifiers, which implies indeterminacy of origin. A gnashing of teeth can be heard, there's no time to get into the argument of the pre-emergance of thought versus language here, the head of the argument is severed by someone from the Financial Times who must have arrived with the cheetahs. Translations, subtitling and dubbing couldn't be more wrong – the universalism he speaks of exists but through adoption and evolution.

The rest of the manifesto bones are scattered across the plain as the sun breaks. They're worthless additions, scraped clean, no longer within a skeleton, lost to the whole. The altermodern passed before us and then passed away. Bourriaud talks of alter as otherness and multiplicity, ignoring that in its literal sense, alter refers to the other of two – multiplicity is not possible, but opposition is. At the same time, he talks of a unified global perspective being needed and that this focuses on time not on geography. There is no need to map, he implies (so then indeed, what of remapping, of personal geographies?)

Otherness is a concept in action, a way of distinguishing that which is different during a time in which everything looks the same. It is strictly unidentifiable, but unavoidably present and what it creates is a hierarchy where hierarchy there seemed none. An altermodern therefore, by promoting this vague otherness, does not create a new mode of expression but simply retreats into the postmodern, whose hallmark for many was indeed otherness, indefinition and an escape from meaning. Post postmodern then maybe, shrugs an elephant, looking at the chalky remains of what the morning has cast light upon. I wasn't hungry anyway.

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