Re visit of the Altermodern Review

Altermodern – Tate Triennial


 Gasp! Postmodernism is dead?

Say what??  I didn’t get the twitter.

 According to a few scholars, post modernity (PM) 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 PM (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 qualified yes at that.

 Altermodernism is defined by the curator, Nicholas Bourriaud, as a branding strategy to try and group works which are made from/with a global context in mind. Such work is a reaction to the commercialisation of the world today. In the essay in the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, Bourriaud writes 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 through an exemplification of the theory; through a wave of artwork that depicts displacements, voyages, translations and object and beings in migration. All of which unfold imaginatively through the travelled perspectives of the viewers.

 ALTERMODERN presents artists such as Walead Beshty, who passes film stock through X-ray scanners that fog it through exposure to the radiation, and describes the non-place that is a Fed-Ex airport space by subjecting fragile glass sculptures to “next day” delivery to fictional exhibition sites world wide. The fragile constructions get suitably messed up; a metaphor, no doubt, for the often turbulent and traumatic experience of being in transit (whether border crossing or pushed into exile) and a demonstration of what happens to one’s identity when one arrives at an alien destination.

 We look to Marcus Coates, one of the very few artists since Joseph Beuys to use the conceit of the shaman affectively. Through the most awkward humour in front of the mayor and a translator, Coates seeks out “animal spirits” to help mend the problems between Israel and the Galapagos Islands. What is remarkable about this piece is the act of summoning up an evolutionary past to help the present; an adventure in travel through time and space. The visual result of Coates’s enactment of this “call” links it to the Altermodern.

 These examples of the Altermodern show how displacement may become a method and a view point as apposed to a style. The works of art, the artists and The Altermodern theory all exist in a peripheral, yet significant network of relationships. Similar to Facebook, no?

 Interestingly, the word for “stranger” in Russian is translated as “nomad”. To be a nomad is to have no place to call home, no identity tied to that place. No place to go to and no place to go back to. If you don’t have a location you can call home your entire being may seem flawed. According to Maslow’s “Social Hierarchy of Needs” the basic needs of humanity is home (shelter) and food. The idea of the stranger relates to this idea of the “other” and once we recognize this, we enter different territory. A realm that often relates to the “foreigner”.  Does the Altermodern artist – the “cultural nomad” par excellance –become a stranger, the unfamiliar? A more interesting question, perhaps is the suggestion that the more established and important an artist gets, the more she is compelled as a matter of necessity to cross borders. Her time and space is confiscated and reconfigured. This forced travel, even in the context of a career, can lead to schizophrenic effects, maybe even actual mental breakdown. You have to accept that if you cross a line you might not come back. Is this really a problem recognized by today’s nomad artists? In order to arrive at certain points, the Altermodern artist has to start from a ‘globalised perspective’.  As Bourriaud writes: “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. The idea of the journey frequently appears in the works of many artists today, which can relate to hyper-linking / hypertext as a thought process. I am reminded of Oliver Plender’s work, which is a mouse click away. In this sense, we can see through new media that receding historical and geographical perspectives lead us to a new “space”., for instance, uses and travels through various layers of time sources, mingling historical elements of art history with the imaginary; the globalised and hyperreal are all mixed up. Consequently, we can generate a labyrinth of associations and narratives while the projects and web searches often continue to 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, Gregory Schneider, and Thomas Hirschorn –  to name a small few.

 Much of the criticism of Altermodern lies with the curatorial decision decisions. That this multicultural and globalised manifesto only exhibits British artists and the USA seems contradictory. In fairness, we should remember that the TATE Triennial is an event that is dedicated to showing the British art scene. In conversation with Bourriaud, I was reassured 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 there was too much work to be seen. I say: good value for money, matey! Which leads us to another somewhat uncomfortable truth: TATE Gallery is a public sector institution. With the 2012 Olympics and the credit-crunch, they have to make their money back somewhere. How they do this is to offer exhibitions that are platforms for learning; show that schools will want to visit, academics will want to consider, and conferences and publications that stand a chance of making a profit. How much is this process like the concept of Altermodern?

 If postmodernity came about from the last credit-crunch – the 1973 oil crisis, then surely our 2009 credit crunch can become food for thought for the Altermodern. It may even be a less melancholic theoretical substance; one that can open up a freedom to really explore! I say: Altermodern shouldn’t be shunned.  Everybody is affected by some element that Altermodern grapples with, whether that’s the Internet or being exiled. Judging by the vast options that the exhibition offers to the audience, it may help to bridge the gap between theory and the making of art. The artist could have more freedom to be really imaginative without having to over conceptualise. What’s on offer is a form of a construction of the journey: different ways of depicting the dislocations of time and space intertwined with a new sense of intimacy towards the real.

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

Published by smizz

Artist → Re-evaluating life→ Rad Oncology graduate + public health worker→ @lab4living PhD-er → Want 2 make a positive difference → Rule-Breaker → LIVE DRAWZ! → councillor! → Loves cities → rides fixie → adventures → wanna be ramen master → <3 Tokyo + NYC

2 thoughts on “Re visit of the Altermodern Review

  1. heres my idea posed to Nicolas:

    Well Nicolas,

    Worcester was a side point used to illustrate a sticky point in this experiment of altermodernism. I have been following your texts with great interest. Relational Aesthetics made me realise that someone was actually thinking about art in the 90’s and not just promoting the pseudo-avant garde of the shock, neo-conceptualism and YBA that was so prevalent in this decade. Postproduction freed me and gave me a true sense of the opportunity out there with the realisation that artists are free to move beyond this period of postmodern malaise. Recently I find myself pulled back away from Altermodernism by detractors like Claire Bishop, Dave Beech and I am finding new meaning in Grant Kestors reading of possible alternatives. The problem with your version is in the institutionalised position as curator, this altermoderness will be co-opted in the blink of an eye – e.g. “the how alter modern are you test”- free poster when you visit the Tate. It’s starting to stink of consumerism already, maybe not through elevated highly authored objects but through a sort of consumer of spectacle – a gift shop, visitor numbers and café revenue stream. Also you have replaced the YBA with another brand, another hegemonic partnership between the museums and public collections consisting of Gillick’s and Tiravanija’s work – These are, or will be centre pieces at regional museums who are desperately trying to be relational, global and in step – actually they are pandering to the rich collectors by masquerading shows as global and featuring work loaned from the investors thus inflating prices and collections of (in particular) Asian art.

    Postmodernism needs an alternative but it won’t happen from within the Tate no matter how hard you propose this. The ‘A’rt institutions will envelope and offer false verbalism without the activism, which is missing in much of the work. The philosophy is a good one you have identified artists as offering alternatives, nomads, sustainability, global views, transitional, anthropological, multidisciplinary art, all these require a rethink in terms of inter / multi disciplinary methodologies. All these methods offer a future where we consider the ‘other’ before ourselves. It negates the individual and elevates the collective, and yet over and over you choose the same artists to work with to write about thus reinforcing there positions as authoritive authors of a new art. Move outside the gallery, the institution. Investigate more systematic ways of artists and other disciplines.

    I see Altermodern at the Tate like a sort of the end of a disaster movie experience where in the movie the world gets together with a global collective view of overcoming an alien attack or an asteroid strike or a rapid climatic change. In those last few minutes of the film it occurs to every audience member watching – “Yes that is right, we should all work together. We are selfish, we are greedy.” That moment, that collective thought passes within the safe institution of the Hollywood sanctioned standardized cinema. Movie ends, curtain falls and the lights go up. Queue next movie; clear the popcorn, the litter, the audience climb into their cars and fight to exit the 10-screen multiplex so they can get home to watch TV.

    Ironically Worcester is quite altermodern with no less than two artists featured in Altermodern hailing from it’s borders.

    All the best,


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