Walker Art Center
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Globalization from the Rear: "Would You Care to Dance, Mr. Malevich?"


Showing such practices in the context of an exhibition, as the 2002 Gwangju Biennale has done, radically jostles the nature, the form, of what constitutes an exhibition. Objects are no longer on display; rather, projects are being activated in a "gallery" environment. The space of contemplation is challenged by the notion of direct experience. One category of experience relates to the passage between artistic disciplines--between visual arts and cinema, cinema and performing arts, performing arts and visual arts. This represents a classical and historical take on multidisciplinarity: historical because these intersections have a tradition that can be traced in art history from early avant-garde movements such as Dada, Surrealism, and Bauhaus to Gutaï, Neo-Concretism, Fluxus, Happenings, body art, etc. It does not mean that such an aesthetic is obvious and shared at an institutional level. Art history remains in many cases a discipline-oriented field, and moving images and sounds are often still considered too impure and irksome to be allowed into the temple of permanent-collection galleries. And as we have seen, in 1994 it was still forbidden to dance in front of a Malevich. The performances of Brazilians Franklin Cassaro and Cabelo fall into this category of cross-disciplines, the former with a strong interest in process and formal solutions using everyday materials, the latter with the influence of rock-and-roll culture combined with a very subjective, obsessive knowledge of science.

Another category of experience that appears between the emergence of locality in a global world and the manifestation of global data into local activities borrows ideas from pedagogy, sociology, anthropology, urbanism, and the humanities in general. The consequence is that the modern white cube dedicated to the display of artworks is consciously transforming itself into a place where artists no longer consider themselves to be creators of objects for contemplation but rather instigators of processes in which the audience is the center, the active protagonist.[31]

The merging of the practices described above leaves us in front of an "object" that is redefining the parameters of what constitutes an art institution, an institutionalized artwork--a product, a "thing," that emerges from the tension between the expectations of communities and practices within an institution. Etienne Balibar and Jean-François Chevrier have identified this phenomenon as the "artistic event."[32]

In a search for alternatives, artists have relocated practices to the left of the dominant model, toward an aesthetic reinvestment in modesty and frailty as well as in the notion of the everyday. This idea of modesty--which can be identified in the works of Zon Ito (Japan), Kaoru Arima (Japan), Usha Seejarim (South Africa), and to some extent Song Dong (China)--is formalizing, whether consciously or not, a position on the periphery of artistic and institutional practices that give preference to works with high production values. Producing a project "from scratch," with reduced means, from what is available at hand, has become once again both an aesthetic and a political statement. It matches a desire to slow things down, to reinvest the value (metaphorically speaking)of the "leftover," in a nonmonumental, nondemonstrative way. This trend can be defined as the production of meaning and content from the rear, from a position of a revitalized "underground," a position itself outside the mainstream of a normalized network.[33]

Ito's Scrap Works of Scum (1999; pp. 198-199) is an almost too perfect example of this idea (as are his embroidery paintings). An underrated medium in standard exhibition practices, the artist's book is a unique (perhaps seven out-dated) commingling of craftsmanship and materiality. The content of Scrap Works of Scum--acid landscape paintings, Day-Glo illustrations, twisted collages, snuggle-baby-blue pottery, little furry animals--asserts a position of non-innocent innocence and deliberate juvenility. It is a punk attitude, but quieter, which underplays direct confrontation without sacrificing its inherent critique.

31 "A space is always a construct. It is a theoretical articulation that claims to render and represent operations or, put simply, the reality of a place, that is, a primary experience. A space is, to say the least, a second-order plane reflecting upon a first-order practice of life and human experience. "Valentin Y. Mudimbe, "The Surreptitious Speech," in The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945-1994, exh. cat., ed. Okwui Enwezor (Munich, London, and New York: Prestel Verlag, 2001), p. 17.

32 See Etienne Balibar, et al., "Globalization/Civilization," in Documenta X: The Book, p. 783.

33 Japanese critic Midori Matsui has identified this trend in Japanese art as the "New Hippie" movement or "Zero, Zero Generation"; see Bijutsu Techo (Japan) 54, no. 816 (February 2002).