Art After Modernism-Fall Semester 2013

Where Do I Fit In: Foster’s Bewilderment, WIPP, and Alberro’s Imaginary

      Being more and more confused about contemporary art today, I began to ask myself about some of the numerous issues surrounding it, focusing mostly on what can be my place in it.  Quite frankly, it is beyond me at this point regarding some of the subjects associated with contemporary art to comprehend, as a whole, all that I have read thus far. I have found myself thinking that we are fortunate to have more experienced scholars—interested and concerned thinkers—working to make sense of so many layered and intertwined issues.  Confusion and ignorance aside, as I see it, to try to stay apprised of developments in thought about contemporary art is one responsibility I owe to my artist self as part of our greater scope of global concerns. The readings from the list below gave me an opportunity to make a huge list of artist’s whose works I will continue to look at, and authors to study further, for a long time to come.

 It was interesting to note that Hal Foster (for the editors) opened “Questionnaire on ‘The Contemporary’” with some pressing questions that led me to believe that he, too, has read Julian Stallabrass’ Contemporary Art: A Very Short History. His use of terminology, such as “floating free” as it points to “lightness of being”, well, the introduction as a whole, seemed to me to be a summation of Stallabrass’ compaction of history in his chapter titled, “A Zone of Freedom?”, a very enlightening read for me of which I agree with the author that it is “too neatly parceled up”.  I am eager to move on to the rest of the book, and more, so as to try to fit more pieces of the puzzle that has instigated the “problem” of categorizing contemporary art into the quandary that it is. In an interview published on The Platypus Affiliated Society website, Bret Schneider, questioned Foster: “I am interested to learn your motives in surveying critics and curators in this way, i.e. by questionaire. It seems to imply some bewilderment, or maybe even discontent with the recent heterogeneity of contemporary art. What was at stake for you in this questionnaire?”.[1]   His initial response: “Perhaps it was fueled by discontent, but bewilderment also played a part. For my generation contemporary art seemed to have a special purchase on the present; the sense that art is an index of the moment appears lost in today’s profusion of practices. That is a source of discontent for me. As for bewilderment, well, that could just be another name for ignorance.”[2] I was relieved to read that even though he is one of our foremost thinkers and writers about art (in my opinion), he is confused too. He goes on to state “any present is made up of many presents” and, “One of the definitions of contemporary is not that we are all in the same time, but that many times coexist at once. We live in a plurality of moments…”, which is how I have always viewed contemporary art as right, or wrong as it appears might be the case as more research unfolds and is published.[3]  In any case, the interview is worth a read as it goes further into questions about how modernism, postmodernism, avant-garde, and neo-avant-garde may be the best models through and from which contemporary art should be viewed.

I made varied notes while reading all of the essays in “Questionnaire on ‘The Contemporary’”. One of a few essays stood out in particular. While I agree with Julia Bryan-Wilson that art historians or practicing artists should have been included in the visual planning of the obelisks and other markers (associated federal and state politics aside, the reasons given for exclusion point toward elitism themselves) that will mark the Waste isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) here in New Mexico, I cannot help but share in her sense of temporality and concern about solutions for the future. I found myself laughing out loud after reading physical descriptions of the waste site on one of many websites addressing WIPP (http://www.cardnm.org/markersystem.pdf ) thinking that the physical power of our Earth and its natural forces in light of global warming (notwithstanding the possibility of human intervention to the site by error, war, and myriad other concerns that have been publicly protested by organizations not only in New Mexico) to me negates any obelisks/markers no matter what the design or any other devices set in place that are meant to protect humans until 12,000 AD. But of course, since man has found ways to use transuranic elements, so we must find ways to dispose of the associated waste. The debates surrounding WIPP have been long-going on both the federal and state levels of bureaucracy and we are seeing more research-based articles published by scientists concerning the dangers of the shale-like geography of the Salado Salt basin, water interaction and nearby aquifers, and mining of known oil and gas resources; this coupled with my growing distrust of any government leads me to feel no hope of safety in totality before the 12, 000 year mark will come. One joke around these parts even though we are about 250 miles away from the WIPP site is, “Somebody better hurry and come up with a Geiger Counter app for the iPhone!”

 Alexander Alberro’s discussion about the effects of new technologies in contemporary art and how the integration of these has caused a shift “within the context of art and art history” was fascinating.[4]  I, too, have described video installations as “black box” exhibitions (in a celebratory sense!) and consider projected videos shown in museums/galleries as objects though they are most often still not thought of as such, even given a fact that I learned during the summer, which is that curators are archiving them (digital data on hard drives, CDs, DVDs, etc.) when given permission by artists to do so. I find myself struggling with how my art can speak to and archive memory, my personal history, inside the realm of new media technology and through all that is contemporary art. Yes I do mean that, even though contemporary art is more expansive than one artist might possibly be able to deal with, interact with in a lifetime. I am keeping Alberro’s phrase, “new technological imaginary”, nearby in my mind’s eye.[5] I find myself wishing that all of us had a hand-held instrument that is similar to a Geiger counter in order to instantaneously measure and make intelligent all of these pressing issues before us about contemporary art, but alas we do not.


[1] Omair Hussain and Bret Schneider. “An Interview with Hal Foster”, The Platypus Affiliated Society. April 08, 2010. http://platypus1917.org/2010/04/08/an-interview-with-hal-foster/. Web.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hal Foster for the *Editors. “Questionnaire on ‘The Contemporary’ ”, October, (Fall 2009, No. 130: 3–124). MIT Press. http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1162/octo.2009.130.1.3. Web.  *See a full editors list at: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/page/editorial/octo

[5] Ibid.

Reading List:

  • Hal Foster. “Questionnaire on ‘The Contemporary”. October, No. 130: 3-124. Cambridge: MIT Press. Fall 2009. Web.
  • Omar Hussein & Bret Schneider. “An Interview with Hal Foster”, The Platypus Affiliated Society. April 08, 2010. Web.
  • Julian Stallabrass. “A Zone of Freedom?”. Contemporary Art: A Very Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.  2004. Pp. 1-18. Print.
  • Julian Stallabrass. “New World Order”. Contemporary Art: A Very Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.  2004. Pp. 19-49. Print.
  • Julian Stallabrass. “The Rules of Art Now”. Contemporary Art: A Very Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.  2004. Pp. 101-118. Print.
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