What is ‘altermodernism’?

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The inmates have escaped again and flooded the world with another wind egg.  Called ‘altermodernism’, a term as ugly as its definition, we are now to be persuaded that a new improved artistic sentimentality has burst upon the scene.  Some people really do have far too much free time.

Coined by Nicolas Bourriaud, who is occupying space at the Tate in London, we should not be surprised, given his past association with Flash Art.  Perhaps the term will take a clue from the magazine and be merely a flash in the pan; but oh dear, perhaps that itself will be evidence of altermodernism?  Such self-referential nonsense is hardly helpful and perhaps premature.  But Bourriaud seems to be in the business of naming, having brought us relationism, too, but someone’s got to do it. (Relational art is perhaps just the art ones finds juxtaposed in, wait for it, art galleries, where people and artists relate, but perhaps not….).

My view is that the term describes the breathless arguments put forward by those advocating globalisation, better defined through economics than culture.  Despite this, we will continue to live in small worlds, and with the recession we are now enjoying thanks in part to globalisation, enjoy a new localism, live more compactly, more locally.  In that respect, his argument for creolisation is misguided; the counterargument from NB would be that I am simply trapped in my own binary world, but I’ve worked in too many cultures to fall for that.

But we must recognise that some global context is emerging as people connect to each other through the simplifying technologies of YouTube, and Facebook; these may lead more to superficiality, than depth and in the end be less emotionally satisfying.

Perhaps the faddism that seems to characterise Bourriaud’s thinking reflects a surface grasp of the world, seen from a helicopter, rather than lived in its earthy reality? Certainly the works assembled to illustrate altermodernism were superficial and vacuous, art for the Twitter generation?

NB has said: “It is an idea that was actually the core of Relational Aesthetics already, the Marxist idea that there is no stable “essence” of humankind, which is nothing but the transitory result of what human beings do at a certain moment of history. I think this might be the cornerstone of all my writings, in a way.”

That does seem to be his point.

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