Where is Contemporary Art ?
by Suhail Malik
Contemporary art circulates via transnational channels of exhibition, discussion, publicity and transaction. It is attentive to the histories, exclusions and sensitivities of places near and far; preoccupied with the specific textures, memories, and futures being lost and gained wherever it takes place; it presents counterviews to the political, social and mediatic orthodoxies of prevailing state organisation. In this contentful concern, contemporary art is highly determined by localised and geosocially embedded conditions.
But if contemporary art presents a practicable global endeavour from the ground up, it does so through mechanisms and actors that hop from one place to the next; it is configured in self-similar ways and formats in all of its venues around the planet; and it is a communication of these particularities to all who are involved in it wherever they might be. And with this mechanism of ethical recognition, which is a condition of its globality, contemporary art is highly deracinated.
Contemporary art operates in two geospatial orders simultaneously: the local and particular as regards its content-based claims and interests, and the sectorial and global as regards its mechanisms and communicative ethos. While every international exhibition, biennial and residency demonstrates how these two orders intricately support one another in the standard operations of contemporary art, they are however theoretically and politically incongruous. Furthermore, if one side of this geospatial order holds the other to account in its own terms, they are even contradictory: localism binds and destroys deracination, and deracination upends and destroys localism. And this contradiction moreover wrecks securing an answer to the question: where is contemporary art? The question will nonetheless lead this talk precisely because the fact that it has no unique answer makes apparent the limitations of the contemporary art condition and, with it, the insurmountable difficulties that ruin an ethically-inclined globalization.