The Effect of Contemporaneity – IV


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/ it’s natural


The problem of considering oneself as underdeveloped today does not signify a failure to develop, but a failure to ask a question: ‘underdeveloped—yes, but under whose terms?’ What is at stake here is the very paradigm of development—whether it will be associated with a ‘global market’ that is as ‘natural’ as natural selection, or whether it will consider itself as a non-hegemonic process that cares about the effects it has on other processes that are equally tenable.

Here we might already anticipate a pro-free-market rejoinder: “but alas, the market is based on the principle of the survival of the fittest (‘developed’)—it is as natural as nature itself.” According to this ‘naturalist’ principle, art needs to be provided with ‘natural’ conditions—i.e., empowered and guided by economical development—in order to be at all: it is clear that it cannot do without funding, patronage, distribution, models of representation, and exposure. Furthermore, art not only needs to be provided with these conditions but it needs to be in a certain relation with them—i.e., it has to like them (and the fact that thanks to the globalised and ever-present practice of liking the word ‘ambiguous’ acquired a new meaning only adds to the point). Such ‘naturalistic’ view can—and should—be contested, to say the least. There is nothing ‘natural’ about applying Darwinism to justify capitalist competition. There is nothing ‘natural’ about instantiating one particular model of interaction with the world and turning it into a hegemony by claiming that this is how the nature itself works. We do not know how nature works. And people like scientists and philosophers will be the first ones to verify it: the former are (still) in the process of finding it out, and the latter are (still) in the process of questioning the very idea of nature. It might sound like a paradox, but this is why science and philosophy still have meaning—because we don’t know what nature is.

Usually whenever we use the term ‘natural’ we mean that something is given without an alternative. We have no choice but to accept and verify the nature as a ground for everything because nature is not something to be chosen, but something to be recognised and affirmed. The gravitational pull exists and there is nothing we can do about it. We have no acces to an alternative world without gravity. That’s natural.

However, so it happens that any kind of grounding can be contested and nature is not an exeption. The more we think about the validity of the ground, the more dubious the unshakeable status of the ground becomes. For example, today, with all the developments in science and contemporary philosophy, the idea about parallel universes with different gravitational constants and laws of nature becomes thinkable, acceptable, and… natural.

It is rather peculiar how, in light of this ambiguity of the ‘natural state of events,’ we refuse to question the laws that govern the market while at the same time we are ready to contest and question the laws of nature itself. This ambiguity becomes even more evident when one realises that the very enquiry into nature is enabled (powered, funded, supported, directed) by the market. In order for the Large Hadron Collider to provide theoretical physicists with fascinating data and in order for the cosmologists to work on the Big Bang Theory, they all need to be funded. In order to get the funding, these projects need to benefit the capitalist worldview based on acceleration, expansion and competitiveness. Same with contemporary art.

Looking for alternatives is not what the accelerating global art world is about right now. An alternative is something unimaginable. For example, it would be something like a possibility of redirecting the resources and commissioning the artists and scientists to envision the parallel universes where the alternative Earths are governed by the alternative—i.e., non-capitalist—economies. Economies that, instead of privileging themselves as natural and unchangeable, acquire a more modest—post-natural—stance.

Continue to Part V >


“The Effect of Contemporaneity” is a series of reflections that problematise the notions such as the emergence of an artist, cultural developement, artistic value, global art market, and colonialism.

Tomas Čiučelis
August 29, 2015
Published in Tribune
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