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GEOPRAXIS: SEEKING/REJECTING THE EMBLEMATIC IN GLOBAL CULTURE Print
Written by Howard McCalebb   

Sponsored by Dada Post, Berlin Germany

 

Dada Post presents Geopraxis: a program of inquiry on the state of art practice of our current era of global society.

Geopraxis is a program initiated to examine the condition and problematic of the phenomenon of globalization, and its impact on art practice. The inquiry seeks to question the efficacy of a new International Style: one which will codify coherent global art practice, as artists attempt to meet new challenges, while seeking ways to further connect their practices in a new strategic infrastructure.

Over the millennia, evolving cultural developments have continuously intervened on the conditions from which artists conceive and manifest their art. The tradition of mimesis, for example, which had been a predominant aspiration in Western art since the ambitions of Greek Naturalism, prevailed until the Industrial Revolution brought forth the camera. The camera's ability to create exact duplications of the representational image was a cataclysmic intervention in the ways that artists would conceive and make art - forever. The creation, transfer and use of knowledge are ongoing and steadily evolving, as history moves on for better and for worse.

Today, we face a similar challenge under the new conditions that have evolved to shape our current era. We have entered a fundamentally new reality. Regarding the development of a global means of production, distribution, and consumption, as ‘art’ continues to refer to such a greater range of practices, it makes sense to consider ‘art’ as a unified practice in terms of being a cultural practice that serves particular interests. How this new global reality defines the new conditions with regards to human relations in terms of Nationalism, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class, is all part of a new mix of circumstances that remains as contentious as the old.

 

1. Globalization:

The internationalization of community is both a challenge and an opportunity that must be dealt with as inevitability.

Globalization, the international system that is shaping most societies today, and is the central concept of our age, focuses on different aspects of our growing interdependence. At a basic level globalization refers to our growing interconnectedness.

As a concept, globalization is a term used to describe the changes in societies and the world economy that are the result of dramatically increased cross-border trade, investment, and cultural exchange. The current and new form of globalization is an interconnected world and global mass culture, once referred to as the "Global Village", a term closely associated with the cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan. It is a process that brought about the accelerated interaction and integration of cultures, politics, business and intellectual advances around world, driven by technology, finance, and information dissemination.

Despite some fears, the phenomenon of globalization is creating new opportunities for artists, even as the global art scene has grown into an unwieldy and outsized ordeal.

It’s not coincidental that anxiety over sense of self and place has accelerated in recent decades thanks to globalizing trends. In reality, globalization does spark unease and discontentment in a range of groups from all parts of the world. Some see greater potential for conflict, and disregard for people and entire civilizations, and as causing catastrophic levels of social dislocation, and confounding the traditional authorities of representation.

Many of these fears are ultimately about Nationalism and Symbolism, as art is an essential element of social life that people use to form identities across cultures through art objects and other artifacts. These objects often become handmaidens for ideologues, instruments for social division, as well as tools of the economy. Art does have a history of serving merely despotic ends, which over time can broken up and disseminated. The effect of this cultural vandalism on the education and enlightenment of people and artists has been in many ways democratizing. Nationalist debates often end up in this moral miasma of shifting geopolitics, yet despite deep-seated connections to local cultures we know that the art object can function in a myriad of cultural contexts.

Art is resilient and spreads knowledge across borders, liberating it from past dogmas, as it loses one set of meanings, and gain others. For some, the globalization processes represent a tremendous opportunity to acknowledge its positive potential to enhance human rights and cultural tolerance. As a challenge to the perceptions of Western dualistic thinking, Globalization is not just the conflict between two elements (globalism vs. nationalism), but rather it is a realization that should be adjusted according to a “multi-polar” logic. The new conditions require ways of thinking that are based not on a dualistic conflict model, but rather on a more complex understanding and investigation of the situation.

Artists and their practices are major suppliers of the intellectual capital that communities need to survive and prosper in the era of globalization. Artists, as cultural producers need to aid the process of shaping our new reality. The only way out of our culture laden condition, may be for artists to break out of the traditional role of the artist.

 

The Question for us: Is this is true?

 

2. The New Mass Global Art Community:

Today, within our new global reality, we necessarily struggle for meaning within a massive international art community, which has no visible crystalline structure. The problem is, so much "art" is created and presented that it is impossible to sort through it all.

Therefore, any discussion of art must aspire to a clear definition of terms. The notion of culture as commodity, as the institutions of art emerge to regulate the cultural field, it follows that a critique of commodity relations in the context of globalization is paramount.

 

The Question for us: Is an attempt to sort out that which we may believe, or predict, to have the most relevance to our era our duty – at this time?

 

3. The Efficacy of a New International Style:

The character of art practice today is defined by both individual and group behavior that represents a dynamic mix of disparate behavioral and cultural patterns. Under current conditions, there is no coherent intellectual or visual discourse to drive a new and global art movement that is clear and definite in shape – that unifies “us”.

Rather than a colonizing model of global culture in the form of a cultural hegemony, this new reality for art practice requires an alternative way of understanding the world, and the relations of all the people in it.

 

The Questions for (Geopraxis) today: is an all-defining emblematic cultural sign, through which we may understand 21st century cultural/artistic production possible? Does global culture profess a common body of thought, wisdom or insights with respect to globalization? Is there an obligation to consolidate the values systems in all societies, to find a dominating system on which is based the planning and implementation of cultural policies?

 

a. The Age of the Manifesto:

Under Modernity, Western notions about art tended towards totalizing (worldwide) ideas to both inform and control art practice, in ways that contrasted with most of the more local aesthetic concerns of non-Western cultures. 

The Modernists were known for writing grandiose manifestos. The De Stijl, for example, wanted to redesign society, and sought to create a utopian community that had a purposeful reach beyond a place. Although embraced with less trepidation, the modernist art manifestos often resembled their more sinister cousins including the Fascists, and other ideologues seeking to impose “totalizing” ideas upon local societies – and the world. The Surrealists, another example, actually excommunicated members from their cabal, who defied their authority by disobeying their rules. As Arthur C. Danto declared in his 1997 book: After The End of Art: Contemporary Art and The Pale of History, the age of the manifesto is over.

The manifesto can be understood as the language of the modernist and the politics of an emerged and powerful bourgeois class, and as a de facto appropriation the avant-garde art and politics, as a signifier to distinguish it from the era of the aristocracy. The Futurists called this the use of the 4th Dimension. It was the conscious use of texts in conjunction with painting to create meaning – by adding or integrating this other dimension.

The post war avant-garde has moved beyond the manifesto towards organizational constitutions that embrace new notions of interconnectivity. Artist’s groups, and other collective actions, take on the form of both art practice and art business, as evidenced by the proliferation of artist’s collectives.

So, perhaps the idea of an all-defining art/cultural manifesto is an obsolete notion. To configure a single signifying notion of 21st century art/cultural production requires a degree of despotic power, which is nearly impossible to assemble in our vast Information Age.

As R. Buckminster Fuller advocated in his manifesto, it may be time to move beyond (over specialization) the roles of specialization - to reject the role of artist, whereby the artists becomes a new entity.

The rejection of the role of artist as a continuation of the historical forces that artists have been dealing with (most recently) since the 1960s – aspires to overcome the problems of Euro-centricity, colonialism, and white power, against alienation and commoditization.

 

The Question for us: What should we do? What questions do we ask?

 

4. The Problem of Irrelevance for the Individual Artist in a Mass Global Art

   Community:

Today, individual artists are threatened with the real possibility of lifelong irrelevance, because of the difficulty of gaining exposure in an oversized global art community. Today, the individual artist is very small and generally unimportant by comparison to past eras. The growing competition among artists with tastemakers and other entities that now develop, distribute and market art are compelling artists to seek unique, and often bazaar, ways to differentiate their practices. In this situation the taste makers, museums, curators, critics, collectors, and so on have huge powers, but even they are confused and dwarfed by the enormity of their current task. For tastemakers who embrace significant international practices, there are no clearly delineated “guiding principles” that defined where priorities would lie, how efforts related to such priorities would be supported and how success would be recognized.

Again, one thought is to break away from the system of playing the role of the artist, in which the main endeavor is to produce artifacts for the art commodity system. From this perspective, the main problem is commoditization of the art production.

The concept of “individuality”, and of the artist as individual genius, originated in the Renaissance - the period in European history from about the 14th through the 16th centuries. The art-star system, which elevates the chosen few to godlike status while the anonymous masses starve (for attention), becomes even more problematic in the age of globalization, whereby a perceived scarcity of capital and markets imposes de facto limits. The only possibility may be to abolish money (Art Money) and for art workers to take collective control of resources, production, distribution and consumption. Artists as cultural workers must define what are the means of production, the psychic as well as physical resources of culture, which are not clearly defined. This is a vital task. Artists must also work in concert with other industries, and other workers who produce cultural resources.

 

The Questions for us: How does the individual artist "break out" of this huge herd of the anonymous? Does the individual artist need to break out of this so-called herd of the anonymous? If these things are true, what should we do?

 

5. New Opportunities for Artists:

The realities of globalization (greater competition, relentless pressures to innovate, new worldwide markets and production options, growing concerns over cultural degradation) have resulted in a common perception that societies with higher levels of education, those that constantly develop new ideas, technologies, methods, products and services are crucial for future prosperity. The value of globalization lies in the cultivation of new knowledge, and in a sense we are witnessing a new renaissance that is international in scope. This new renaissance, including the dynamics of information science and geographical melding, feature significant cultural changes that provide new potential for artistic innovation.

Possessing knowledge, and having the ability to use knowledge, in a worldwide arena is critical to societal and personal advancement. Likewise, having a skilled and globally focused populace is perhaps the most important factor to any artist’s competitiveness in a world where artists can come from next door or from distant places around the world. It's important that the environment supports, attracts, sustains, and retains creative, imaginative, and globally resourceful individuals, and to have a choice of high-quality artists. Working with a large and diverse range of people promotes better ideas and more innovation. Situating art practice in the context of the increased circulation of information along with cultural objects, and expanded economic opportunities, opens up new vistas for the conceptualization of art.

Artists begin to be successful when they build a practice that embraces interconnectivity. The possibility to participate in the international system, allows artists to achieve an enhanced international presence, which opens access to wider audiences and gives curators and art collectors access to a greater variety of artists.

To meet these challenges, artists are seeking ways to further connect their practices in a strategic infrastructure where ideas flow, new initiatives blossom, flexibility abounds and global reputations expand.

The activities of the artists are generally tending to fight for a freedom that does not exist without equality. While pursuing activities (cultural or scientific) which are engaged to serve the liberation of people from the misery of cyclical economic doldrums, which are oriented exclusively towards profit – over the general well being, it must be assured that new opportunities are not bound by old pledges. Instead the demand is for new tactical solutions - which we currently need to elaborate.

 

The Question for us: Is any of this true?

 

6. Geopraxis:

A focused perspective will use a wider international perspective to grapple with the question of whether artists can look to the past for aesthetic and philosophic inspiration and still be considered relevant, within a contemporary endeavor. For contextual purposes, we will say (harping back) that it is through the precedence of the Bauhaus, that Geopraxis begins its inquiry into a terrain that exploits eroded cultural boundaries that are the result of the emergence of our new global culture. Over several decades, art practice has continuously moved beyond the reductive totalizing dogmas of art theory toward a hybrid terrain located at the intersections of and between disparate peoples, histories, and cultural production. No culture, while it can retain deeply rooted special meanings to specific people, can be contained and restricted within a single specific local. Art was something made in a particular place by particular people, that served a particular function at one time, but which can also obtain different meanings over time, and when moved from place to place. Ultimately cultures move on to new states and realities – for better and for worse. Bauhaus concepts obliterated the boundaries between the functional and the aesthetically pleasing. It is within this spirit of recognizing eroding cultural boundaries that Geopraxis embarks on this course of inquiry. Yet, to really go forward we must seriously address the problems of Eurocentricty, and begin to empower those cultural exigencies, which are threatened with extinction - to create a true postmodernity.

 

The Questions for today: do we want an all-defining emblematic cultural sign – through which we perceive the world as a single global entity? The question goes to the heart of how culture operates in the global age. How do we share/disseminate disparate and divergent ideas in our new global reality?

 

7. The Miracle of Berlin

Why Berlin?

Any environment that attracts, sustains, and retains creative, imaginative, and globally resourceful individuals will inevitably flourish and blossom into something new and exciting. The colonization of Berlin by a steady influx of artists from all over the world since 1989 – including artists from the briefly separated Eastern European territories, has resulted in a consequence where Berlin has become a new global center for the disparate ideas that currently inform every kind of contemporary art. It is in Berlin, where the new conditions of postmodernity, which are relevant to current practices, can be observed, examined, and discussed. The current Berlin art world is diverse in its roots, and very focused on the present. It is not historically amnesiac, but it is too individualistic to worry about the collective cultures of bygone civilizations, beyond the incidental nature of its current state.

It is a vision transmitted from the arrival of internationalization that has guided and motivated the excellent art practices and initiatives that are examined in this investigation.

For the artists, the establishment of an individual Geopraxis is the central driving force in contemporary art practice and theory today. Because of Berlin’s growing global dynamic, there is probably no better place in the world to center an examination of the above issues.

Berlin’s local situation, with its huge bartering economy, as an absurd configuration of a capitalist/communist catastrophe is a significantly useful hub that sets itself against the past and offers a potential for a new and radical cultural paradigm. Berlin is a peculiar nexus in a worldwide network of locations by which to empower potentially new cultural formations, and locations that can be accessed by cosmopolitan drifts across the planet.

 

 

© Howard McCalebb, Berlin 2010

 

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