PRINT December 2014



Jean-Luc Godard, Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language), 2014, 3-D digital video, color, sound, 70 minutes.

THIS WAS A YEAR OF TOO MUCH INFORMATION, and too little. We were inundated by news of deadly viruses, for instance—but it was the gap in communication, in safety protocols, in knowledge, that spread panic. What inspires fear reveals weakness. Systems leak, get interrupted, stop short. As science-fiction novelist William Gibson observes here, “There are more secrets than ever before, but they seem . . . exponentially harder to keep.” Systems of governance, finance, and surveillance—networks of control—are not as all powerful as we typically make them out to be.

In art, as in all spheres of culture, we tend to forget this. Too often, a heavy technological determinism prevails. We assume the omnipotence of the network, just as we presume that we are the technology we use: iPhone, therefore I am. But this kind of worldview is as blinkered as it is limiting. Readers of this issue will encounter artists and critics attempting to find a way out of, or at least a way through, a scenario in which culture is merely a mirror or an aftereffect of the latest product release.

In the pages that follow, writers muse about the active role of culture. Many contributors look at the numerous exhibitions in recent months that have taken as their theme art’s circulation and reception, its networked and seemingly disintegrating qualities. But, of course, works of art have been in circulation for a very long time—whether by ship or by screen—and it is this continuing duality of materiality and immateriality, of plastic and bandwidth, that must be reckoned with if we are to truly confront the kinds of assemblages, sculptures, and projections that are today proliferating. This is where “new materialisms” fall short: They are usually just some version of anthropomorphism in disguise, or a warmed-over theory of reification.

Likewise, legions of terms with the prefix post- continue to populate gallery press releases, often in an attempt to encapsulate the relationship between art and technology (post-human and post-Internet, to name a few). Such terms have been useful in certain contexts, but they seem increasingly inadequate to the art they aim to describe. These recycled expressions smack of both too little history and too much. On the one hand, they evince a deep historical amnesia, and, on the other, they rely on notions about culture, the market, and society that are literally from another century (and not even the twentieth). Take, for instance, clichés about the Internet: It is said to be overwhelmingly affirmative—a universal world of liking and sharing; at the same time, it is said to have become wholly privatized, a totalizing monopoly despite democratic appearances. But this latter position is itself a totalizing view of our networked condition—one that, with respect to artmaking in the information age, relies on hoary triusms about art and critique, often with recourse to old Bürger-esque theories of mass culture versus the avant-garde. Art, in this scenario, is asked to somehow oppose or hack into an ever-accelerating homogenizing structure, to uphold conflict over agreement, difference over conformity. In reality, the Internet is already filled with dissensus rather than consensus, as anyone who has descended into a comments section knows; while hyperdifferentiation and niche specialization are the very modus operandi of social media’s marketing apparatus, as is speed.

How can we address what is no doubt a new set of conditions, a distinct period, in all its historical complexity, specificity, and utter novelty? How can we stop relying on old ideas (or old ideas disguised as new ones), in order to forge a fundamentally new set of concepts and words? New forms of art and experience demand new languages, not old ones. One might even glimpse fits and starts toward just such a new vocabulary in the ensuing texts—in discussions of the “year in information,” of the fluctuating ways in which we communicate; in considerations of works and events that don’t fit into the normal fair-museum-biennial circuit; in the broaching of things and tools that are starkly alien, “another being entirely,” in the words of theorist Grégoire Chamayou—all carving a tentative foothold in an evaporating ground.