Thought Exercise #1
Use these artists to demonstrate the author's feelings that “contemporary art tries to imagine the whole world as a differentiated yet inevitably connected whole.” And “It is contemporary with us in the most obvious sense, a vital part of our immediate experience of the present.”
Terry Smith, the author of Contemporary Art: World Currents, feels that “contemporary art tries to imagine the whole world as a differentiated yet inevitably connected whole” and “is contemporary with us in the most obvious sense, a vital part of our immediate experience of the present.” To better explain Terry Smith’s feelings, it is important to understand how Mr. Smith described different aspects of contemporary art. He categorizes contemporary art into three currents, first, second and third, none of which are more or less important than the others, just different. The first current is Contemporary Art itself, or “a cluster of closely related trends that are the most evidently up-to-date, cutting-edge, fashionable forms of art today.” This is art that is talked about in mass-media and the art we most often see in contemporary art museums. They are what is left over from the post-modern era, and are more concerned with style, practice and aesthetic than anything else. Some examples of this are Swarma and Manu Chitrakar’s painting The Titanic, Yasmin Almonte’s painting One, and Sam Nhlengethwa’s mixed media piece It Left Him Cold - The Death of Steve Biko. These, even though they may be political in nature, are simply about the style and practice of depicting a contemporary human condition that the artist lives under, rather than pointing out a problem to an international community.
The second current, Smith states, is The Postcolonial Turn, and “it is too diverse, uneven, contradictory, and oppositional to amount to any art movement in any of the usual senses.” It has no set style, medium or aesthetic and instead is aware of current ideologies and concerned with issues of nationality, identity and rights. Because of its international identity and lack of a specific medium, style or practice it becomes hard to pin to an area or a time period, thus transitioning us into a new era of art. The art has to do with the artistic struggle, ideology, or concerns of the artist in a particular area, or their focus on an ideology or issue of the world. An example of a second current work is Sue Williamson’s Messages from the Moat. In this piece Williamson depicts the dehumanization that happened during the slave trade, but brings in modern twists. Instead of simply presenting what is already known about slavery, (ie. that it was terrible) Williamson tries to make us look deeper into what slavery really caused and the people who benefited from it. This brings in a whole new contemporary element, because now we are longer saying “it was a thing of the past” it becomes forcefully pressed into our space. Another good example of second current work is Nalini Malani’s Remembering Toba Tek Singh. In this piece, Malani is bringing awareness to the contemporary nuclear conflict between Pakistan and India. When you step into the exhibit, Malani literally connects you between the two opposing figures endlessly trying to handle a piece of fabric that should be easily folded. This makes you a spectator to the problem Malani is trying to point out.
The third current is The Arts of Contemporaneity, and is even more diverse internally and more global, more particular yet more connected than any other form of art previously mentioned. It almost completely disregards aesthetic, style or medium and instead is hyperfocused on the concerns of a people or the world and the strategies to combat those concerns. Two great examples of third current work from our reading are “the Land,” a community started by artists to invite other artists to make art communally, and David Medalla’s A Stitch in Time, where he invited participants to stitch their own belongings into his art, literally creating an art community in one room. Both of these artworks bring people to create and be a part of something bigger than themselves and through that creation people begin to open up and connect with people around them they may not have connected with otherwise.
Finally, to conclude, even though these three sections have their differences, they are still currents of the same contemporary river. While I have described the differences that make up the three currents, the very thing that intersects throughout them all is that they are created from and in the very immediate experience of the present. Therefore, to go back to the original question, through the new lense of the currents, contemporary art tries to “imagine the world as a differentiated yet inevitably connected whole” by doing just that, depicting the world as different, yet very closely connected. Contemporary art forces you into the space of the other, instead of forcing the other into your space. It shows the interconnectedness of human condition, yet it also shows how individually, communally, or culturally we all go through life a little different, or under different conditions. Thus, contemporary art, in the most literal sense tries to unpack and make you aware to the very immediate “presentness” we all live in.