This month a research project at Aarhus University, The Contemporary Condition, launched a new book series published by Sternberg Press in Berlin. The first three publications include an introduction to the project written by Geoff Cox and Jacob Lund from Aarhus University, while the two other books are written by Finnish media theorist Jussi Parikka and Australian art historian Terry Smith.
The incorporation of the past in the present through the artistic use of archives, the impact of the biennial format on our concept of the present, and the micro-temporality of computers are some of the themes that will emerge in future publications. Jacob Lund, who leads the project with Geoff Cox, points out that unlike previous studies of contemporaneity in contemporary art, The Contemporary Condition will apply a media theoretical approach and focus on computational and communication technologies.
Kunstkritikk: What is your take on the concept of “the contemporary”?
Jacob Lund: The objective of this research project is to explore contemporaneity as a condition that underpins and governs our globalised historical present. At a macro level, the term contemporaneity refers to the temporal complexity arising out of the fact that different cultural groupings with different historical backgrounds, hailing from different locations and operating on different scales are brought together in the same cultural space, occupying the same historical present. In other words, the term describes the bringing together of different, but equally present temporalities in our present time – the temporality of the globalised world. At a micro level it is also about how this contemporaneity affects the ways in which the individuals and cultural groups who inhabit these spaces perceive time.
What is it you wish to examine with this project?
The objective is to explore how contemporaneity can be addressed and made an object of experience in contemporary art on the basis of the assumption that contemporaneity entails a number of fundamental shifts in our perception and experience of time – i.e. in how we understand and live in time, and how we even perceive concepts such as “presence” and “present”. With the accelerating globalisation, the concomitant ubiquitous impact of information technologies, and with the spread of neoliberalism and capitalism, different cultures across the world have become mutually linked and contemporaneous with each other. There are now many different concurrent ways of existing in time and belonging to time. As we grow increasingly aware of existing in the present, we become aware of other kinds of time. It would appear that we live in an expanded present, a present in which several different temporalities take part in what we perceive as present and presence.
The climate changes and our entry into the Anthropocene – an epoch where the human race begins to glimpse its own extinction on the horizon – can in a certain sense be said to impose contemporaneity on us, a shared planetary presence – and a potential common absence. Another factor in the evolution of contemporaneity is the development of “planetary-scale computation”, what the sociologist and architectural theorist Benjamin Bratton calls “The Stack”. The Stack interconnects a range of different layers, facilitating a mutual interpenetration of digital and analogue times, and of computational, material and human temporalities. This prompts a kind of planetary-wide instantaneity in which everyone and everything takes part – even if the access to participation is of course very unevenly distributed.
In what ways is this reflected in contemporary art?
The project is based on the fundamental assumption that art can operate as a sophisticated laboratory for studying processes of meaning-making and for understanding broader cultural and social developments. This is why the project primarily focuses on contemporary art and experimental artistic practices – with a particular interest in present-day media and the impact of computational technologies.
Could you briefly introduce the three publications that have just been presented?
The book written by Geoff Cox and myself is an introduction to the entire project. Here, we seek to establish some parameters for a discussion of contemporaneity and contemporary art. Compared to existing research on contemporary art, and building on the work of Terry Smith and Peter Osborne, we highlight the need for more in-depth and nuanced reflection on the temporal and historical aspects of the phenomenon of “contemporary art”. We distinguish ourselves from the two aforementioned theorists by devoting greater attention to analysing the role of media and technology in producing contemporaneity. From an art historical perspective, Terry Smith asks whether we can now, in an era characterised by a contemporaneity of divisive differences, speak of “contemporary composition”. He does this through analyses of Christian Marclay, John Akomfrah and a number of other artists. Taking a more materialistic perspective, Jussi Parikka’s book is about planetary temporalities and about how different design and art practices unfold complex temporalities and thematise what he calls “slow environmental violence”.
What other publications are in the pipeline?
In addition to books by the members of the project group, the series will include books by media archaeologist Wolfgang Ernst, art historian Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen, philosopher Knut Ebeling, and the artist group Dexter Sinister. We also hope to be able to publish books by other stakeholders involved in the project: curator Joasia Krysa, curator and theorist Irit Rogoff, philosopher Peter Osborne, theorist and activist Franco Bifo Berardi, media and aesthetics theorist Knut Ove Eliassen, and Michael Schwab, who works with art research, to name some of them.