The Effect of Contemporaneity – V


Back to Part IV


/ postcolonial colony


Even if an artist is from megapolis, she still needs to enter the contemporary art world through certain global hubs of geopolitical importance. Not to mention someone from ‘anywhere’ (i.e., ‘global province’)—say, some creative, critical, suspicious but full of aspirations ‘post-Eastern Bloc’ digital native longing for recognition who accepts herself as ‘the underdeveloped one’ and who steps onto the path of historico-ideological absolution and learning (which basically means boarding the plane heading for ‘West’). It is true that there is an appeal in the openness of an international contemporary art scene for those who are politically aware, especially if things such as freedom of speech and homophobic society are an issue in their native region. However, those who take this path often end up being competitive individuals without a unifying force of solidarity with those who share their initial desire to take part in a systemic change. What changes instead is their interests once shared in their birthplaces. And this is all ‘natural’ as it is a result of an internalisation of the dominant paradigm of development according to which the countries of ‘developed capitalism’ become the perfect role models.

The assumption that ‘East’ must establish a universal value system that would help us solve the ‘development problem’ through cultivating the unifying structures and discourses of global market will not lead to the ‘state of quality’ nor the ‘state of equality.’ The results of this process is exactly the opposite: on the one hand, quality is recognised as such only if it conforms to certain imported ‘formal complexities’ and ‘international themes,’ which leads to an exclusion of anything and anyone that does not pertain to this understanding. This also adds to the point that instead of the signs of equality ‘East’ will show the signs of stratification between those who practice a progressive global paradigm and those who are immersed into their ‘local’ concerns.

It all leads to conclude that these models of global development operate with an already familiar logic that was at work in the missionary practices of the colonial world. First of all, the scope of a ‘global art market’ is not global the same way that the emerging colonialist culture was not universally global when it started reshaping the world in the 15th century with the ‘Age of Discovery.’ It would be misleading to rely on a single pre-given notion of globality—globality under the hegemonic terms—as a universal category that fully describes the state of the world. Secondly, we usually choose between the ‘global’ and ‘local’ instead of envisioning the distinction between ‘global’ that implies the world as a resource for capitalist consumption, and ‘global’ as an abstraction that includes both the hegemonic and the suppressed (excluded, other, the rest)—an abstraction that takes into account both the condition and the conditioned.

The usual conotation of ‘global’ implies a world sustained by the hegemony of certain technological means of connectedness and distribution, which is also a world measured by a homogeneous global time. This paradigm is so persuasive and self-evident that it can be easily summarised by “24/7”—a laconic and iconic expression that also happens to be the title of Jonathan Crary’s insightful book on the matter.1 In a similar way Jacques Rancière establishes a distinction between the homogeneous and heterogeneous temporalities by insisting on the necessity of interruption and heterogeneity.2 In his essay “In What Time Do We Live?”, Rancière clearly delineates this distinction by criticising the logic that governs the so-called “global process” that we all find ourselves in:

[a] way out of this logic should be a way out of this time, a way out of the plot of the homogeneity of time and of the incapacity of those who live in it. It has to call into question the thesis of the homogeneity of time. There is no global process subjecting all the rhythms of individual and collective time to its rule. There are several times in one time. There is certainly a dominant form of temporality, a ‘normal’ time that is the time of domination. Domination provides it its divisions and its rhythms, its agendas and its schedules in the short and the long run: time of work, leisure and unemployment, electoral campaigns, degree courses in education, etc. It tends to homogenise all forms of temporality under its control, defining thereby what the present of our world consists of, what futures are possible and what definitely belongs to the past—meaning the impossible. This is what ‘consensus’ means: the monopoly of the forms of description of the perceptible, the thinkable and the doable. But there are other forms of temporality, dissensual forms which create distension’s and breaks in that temporality. 3

Neither development nor globality manifest themselves as pure universals, they are always bound to the particular instances, which means that if the world is global then it is global through some particular—and very material—ways of connectedness and interrelation. Therefore development is always a development of something, and globalism (whose globalism? sustained by what?) is always expressed through some specific means of interconnectedness that might vary, which leads to conclude that it is possible to envision multiple globalisms and not a singular globalism of market economy. If we allow ourselves to be subjected to the demands of a singular binary logic that turns us all into the globalisers and globalised ones, or the developers and users, it is easy to forget that the development of globality is conditioned by the particular instances—and it is the encounters with those instances that urge us to rethink the kind of development the outcome of which is that all the corners of the globe end up looking the same and responding to the same totalising idea of what the globe is.

Perhaps, the fact that there is nothing conclusive about the state of contemporary globalism is the only thing that can be said to conclude this reflection. On the one hand, the “global process” leave us no choice but to accelerate along the one-dimensional temporal axis, while on the other hand, this choice-less situation creates the right kind of despair needed for some really radical alternatives to emerge—be it nihilism (Ray Brassier), or catastrophic communism (Oksana Timofeeva). However, as far as contemporary art is concerned, at least one important conclusion can be drawn, though, and it is that contemporaneity in art is often an effect produced and driven by the notion of a homogeneous globality, which was precisely what this essay sought out to delineate.


“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.

  1. Crary, J. (2014) 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (London: Verso)   
  2. See Rancière, J. (2014) “Rethinking Modernity”. diacritics, vol. 42 (3), pp. 6-20; and Rancière, J. (2006) “Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art”. Art & Research: A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods vol. 2 (1/2008)   
  3. Rancière, J. (2012) “In What Time Do We Live?”. In: Kuzma, M., Lafuente, P., and Osborne, P. (eds.) The State of Things. London: Koening Books, pp. 26-27  
Tomas Čiučelis
September 14, 2015
Published in Tribune
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