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<nettime> Hou Hanru: Time for Alternatives
geert lovink on Tue, 25 Feb 2003 11:56:26 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Hou Hanru: Time for Alternatives

(posted to nettime with the permission of the author /geert)

From: <Houhrparis {AT} aol.com>

Time For Alternatives
By Hou Hanru

In fact, the question of art institution's relevance is becoming
increasingly crucial and urgent today. In our age, art equates art event. If
the artwork is to be effectively presented, it needs to be part of an art
event. We are now living in the society of communication. Spectacle is the
form. The spectacle, or the event, is the very horizon and the bottom line
of "reality." To hold an event, the institution is an indispensable physical
condition. More importantly, it is also the ideological foundation. What
kind of institution should be created is now the crucial question. This is
because the institution is the central element in the power system, or
mechanism, that defines the notion and the boundary of art itself. "Where do
you show your work?" has become a more telling question than "What kind of
work do you make?"

The question of the global versus the local is now the central issue in
artistic and cultural debates. However, the global and the local are not
separate entities positioned to fight against each other. Instead, they are
two sides of the same coin. They are mutually binding and stimulate each
other, creating a continuously changing and increasingly open world. There
is no global without the local. The two are deeply interwoven and from their
merging new differences arise. In this process of producing new localities
the global is constantly being reformulated as a "summary" of the multitude
of singular new localities. No place in the world today is immune from this
turbulent movement. It makes our lives much more exciting, and of course,
challenging. Art and cultural activities are driving forces of this
formidable transformation, and they typically embody all the advantages and
all the problems of this global-local negotiation. Every event should result
in the production of new localities in the context of globalisation.[1]
Cultural differences and diversities are produced by positioning the event
directly in the local context. Discourse on cultural differences-especially
those of non-Westerners-and their equal right to exist in and influence the
global scene seems to be the commonly accepted new virtue. The production of
new localities in order to make them significant in the modern world, or to
generate different modernities, is the very root and aim of the actions of
artists, from different parts of the world, participating in the "global

Further, it internally challenges and alters the established definition and
boundary of art itself because it tends to be (1) multi-transdisciplinary,
(2) multi-transcultural, and (3) a merging of art and real life to generate
new distinctions between private and public spaces. This generates new
paradigms of art language, which is by nature immaterial, fluid, flexible,
ephemeral, and constantly changing. These paradigms echo the current
geopolitical situation in which the Empire exists in a virtual but real,
fluid, and omnipresent network, in a shifting in-between space that thrives
on the hybridity and conflicts of cultures and identities.[2] This should be
capable of carrying out efficient strategies of critique, resistance, and
transgression against the hegemonic power of the Empire. However, the
mainstream "global art world," or the dominant art institutions, still
remain in the high-modernist tradition of the white cube and
post-minimalist, post-conceptualist forms. This "transcendent" physicality
constitutes a hegemonic ideology and practice paradigm. This centralized
power controls the definition, the boundary, of contemporary art and
propagates it across the world as if it were the "universal truth," the only
legitimated way, of "global" art.

Against such a background, resistance to this hegemony becomes necessary and
urgent, especially in places where new local identities are facing the
pressure of globalising powers. This resistance naturally generates and
articulates new forms of action and organization fundamentally different
from those of the establishment. In fact, a great number of initiatives
already have been launched and promoted, and they strongly emphasize the
philosophy of "Do-It-Yourself." Indeed, DIY communities and
self-organizations are the main source of sustainability, the main force in
the revival and continued development of today's post-planning cities. The
creation and development of alternative art spaces is a perfect example.
Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ)[3] shifts constantly between the
existing centre and the periphery, creating a kind of "emptiness" that
subverts the established order. T.A.Z., according to Hakim Bey,  is "a
certain kind of 'free enclave'" resisting to the mainstream, State power
structure. It's "an essay ('attempt'), a suggestion, almost a poetic fancy"
that encourages "Uprising", or, "insurrection" against the State power. It's
situated beyond all kinds of established forms of organization and acts like
uprising guerrilla. "The TAZ is like an uprising which does not engage
directly with the State, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of
land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form
elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it." It's invisible, always
shifting, "a microcosm of that 'anarchist dream' of a free culture." "The
TAZ is an encampment of guerrilla ontologist: strike and run away." "The TAZ
has a temporary but actual location in time and a temporary but actual
location in space. But clearly it must also have 'location' in the Web." At
the end, "The TAZ is somewhere. It lies at the intersection of many forces,
like some pagan power - spot at the junction of mysterious ley-lines,
visible to the adept in seemingly unrelated bits of terrain, landscape,
flows of air, water, aninmals." It can bring about ultimate liberation "on
the condition that we already know ourselves as free beings."

This approach resonates with the current global economic system, which is
moving toward a new perspective that focuses on productivity rather than the
production of objects. Driven by the development of new technologies,
conventional modes of production and consumption have been altered and
substituted by new paradigms. In different locales around the world, new
autonomous zones of economic activities are being established that resist
and at the same time contribute to the globalisation of dominant modes of
production. These zones become an oppositional yet actively participatory
force against the domination of state and global economic superpowers.
Self-organizations such as international NGOs (Non-Governmental
Organisations) are now counterparts to the established bureaucratic order,
in which trans-national and global corporations push for the disintegration
of national and continental borders and for the dissolution of state
sovereignty. Under the imperial mantle of the new global economic-political
power structure, the immediate challenge is how to preserve freedom of
speech, to encourage critique, and to promote different modes of living and
thinking. Anti-globalisation movements incarnated by the protests in
Seattle, Genoa and currently in Johannesburg on the occasions of
international conferences on economic development, ecological crisis, AIDS
and other globally urgent issues are the most spectacular events of this
kind of struggle while more down-to-earth, everyday actions are being
carried out by NGO's across the world. These claims and struggles for
economic and political transformation have a direct cultural consequence: it
reveals the necessity of searching for and creating alternatives to the
established cultural institution. This is particularly obvious when the
economic and social tensions become explosive. Latin American countries have
been suffering from  regular economic and social crises in the last decade
due to the imposition of ultra-liberal policies by the mainstream global
economic institutions such as World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
The current collapse of Argentina's economy is the most dramatic symptom of
the crisis. Today, 60% of Argentineans are living below the line of poverty.
To survive, highly interestingly, they organise themselves to develop a
parallel and alternative economic exchange system, the "Trueque" (barter).
"Trueque Clubs" are being formed across the country in which people are
exchanging consumer goods and services with tickets of "creditos" instead of
the official currency that only very few can have access to. This is
becoming unexpectedly successful in terms of social solidarity. As a
resistance model it's no doubt an inspiring example for us to think about
economic, social and even cultural alternatives facing the pressure of
globalisation. Even more interesting and inspiring is that some artists have
already imagined and explored this alternative possibility in their projects
before the Argentina crisis in order to re-endow art with its social
engagement. The Colombian-Spanish group "Cambalache Collective" (with
"unfixed" members like Carolina Caycedo, Adriana Garcia and Federico
Guzman), in their "Museo de la Calle (the Street Museum)", started from
Bogota in 1998 and active in many different cities in the world today,
propose to the public to exchange their objects as the centre of their
"installation/performance". This promotes "the idea of non-monetary exchange
and barter as economic and cultural activities parallel to the mainstream.It
also allows us to question the nature of social and human relationships in
today's context dominated by money and market."[4] The Danish artist Jens
Haaning, for his exhibition in Friart, Fribourg, Switzerland, last year,
imported consumer goods from neighbouring countries where the taxes were
much lower than in Switzerland and sold them at the original prices. The
public can buy the same goods at a significantly lower prices than the
normal prices in Switzerland. This clearly defies the legal system dictated
by the monetary policy of the country. Equally concerned with the question
of economic inequality, the Thai artists Surasi Kusolwong has been setting
up markets of plastics goods imported from Thailand in European art
institutions. The public can buy these goods, "imported" as art objects, at
the "Minimal price" with great joy.in the meantime, questions of cultural
differences, economic inequalities, social solidarity and global-local
conflict, etc. are clearly brought up. These artists respond to the
continuous social crisis of political-economic struggles, bringing to the
fore conflicts between the concepts-strategies of immediacy/multiplicity and
the stability of established norms. They have proposed new solutions to the
global-capitalist problem. Similar to the abovementioned examples, at the
2002 Gwangju Biennale, the Mexico City based artists run gallery and working
group Kurimanzutto realized a wonderful project that is extremely relevant
to the non-western economic and social context. Ironically calling their
piece "Friendly Capitalism", they set up a space with a blue carpet and a
photocopy machine inside the exhibition hall. They made photocopies of the
official Biennale catalogue and sold them to the public at a much lower
price. By miming the piracy of information products-something largely
welcomed by the local public as a means of access to information and new
technologies-Kurimanzutto hit upon a fundamental problem in the logic of
capitalist systems of production and communication. In fact, piracy and
other alternative economic activities are the most efficient, and very
often, the only available means for people from the non-West to access
technological and economic progress

To explore the issues of economic exchange, cultural difference and
hybridity in contemporary art, one must first and foremost consider the need
to create alternative contexts, namely institutions, for art activity.
Asia-Pacific provides a dynamic example of this transition in terms of
integrating itself in the globalisation process and reinventing different
modernities. The unprecedented speed of modernization and democratisation of
society in this region has led to self-discovery and to a search for
autonomous modes of living, thinking, and expression that stand in contrast
to conservative and hegemonic political systems and social values. There are
enthusiastic and fervent demands to put contemporary art from this region on
the global map. This is achieved through two intimately linked directives:
the creation of new infrastructures and conditions inside the region for the
activities, and the exportation of these activities outside the region,
especially in renowned "international arenas" such as major biennials and
museums. This encourages the artists living in the region to develop new
strategies, the most significant tendency being the creation and propagation
of self-organized alternative spaces run by the art community.[5] Some
individual artists like Judy Freya Sibayan from Philippines and Tsuyoshi
Ozawa have been developing their "global networks" of nomad "institutions"
such as "Scapular Galleries" and "Nasubi Galleries" to provide alternative
spaces for the art world to manifest their imaginations and creativities
beyond the established system. Other artists, working in more collective and
communitarian manners, organise themselves together to set up
self-organisations and exhibition spaces, etc. These organizations are
extremely diverse, responding to the specific cultural, economic, and
political conditions of their own localities and identifying the very need
to be different. This new movement, from the very beginning, was born from
the process of artists engaging themselves in the creation of new urban
spaces and life styles in light of the impact of urban expansion-the most
essential aspect of Asia-Pacific's modernization. Almost all self-organized
artists' groups and spaces emerge in cities and evolve in their negotiations
for particular positions in the urban life. They are often physically small,
flexible, and continuously adapting to the conditions driven by urban
development. Alternative spaces such as IT Park (Taipei), Para-site (Hong
Kong), Project 304 (Bangkok), Loft (Beijing), About Café (Bangkok), Big Sky
Mind (Manila), Plastic Kinetic Worms (Singapore), Loop (Seoul), Pool
(Seoul), Cemeti Art House (Jogyakarta), and Ruangruppa (Jakarta) are located
in the historic centers of their cities and effectively influence the
surrounding communities. Other groups such as Big Tail Elephants
(Guangzhou), U-kabat (Bangkok), APA (Kuala Lumpur), and Forum A (Seoul),
being more "immaterial," practice urban-guerrilla strategies by occupying
temporary spaces in their cities.  They all, however, share an interest in
new technologies and related cultural strategies as active reactions to the
demands of the epoch. Numerous alternative spaces and groups have focused on
such a direction. Videotage (Hong Kong) and Movelfund (Manila) are
influential bases for experimental video and film production and organizers
of multimedia festivals. Project 304 presents the biannual Bangkok
Experimental Film Festival. In the meantime, a new generation is actively
forging the new Asian youth culture and new forms of expression, which are
deeply rooted in the culture of consumption (advertising, etc.) yet highly
critical of this "raw reality." The complex, often contradictory, relations
between artists and their social conditions, especially the institutional
infrastructure, have led these artists to an understanding of the need to
develop different visions and methods of contemporary art creation. This
further pushes them to promote different ways of defining contemporary art.
For various reasons, ranging from personal to economic, from
social-political to strategic, these alternative spaces are constantly
appearing, evolving, and disappearing, and ultimately transform themselves
into different modes of practice. This is precisely the essence of the new
paradigm of "institution": always moving, flexible, changing, and
reinventing itself. These spaces have also formed a trans-regional network
to exchange their experiences and to reinforce their common power base.
Meetings and conferences among the various groups in Asian cities are
regularly organized. Information, experiences, and visions are published,
exchanged, and distributed. Many of these groups have also established
wider, transcontinental collaborations with artist-run organizations in
Europe, North and South America, and elsewhere. The Project 1 of 2002
Gwangju Biennale is perhaps the most important summit for such networking so
far[6]. It manifested the immense potential power of this new paradigm of
art infrastructures and action modes. This new paradigm has been generated
through the experiments of artists.  In turn, it is deeply informing and
transforming both the notion of art and the practices of artists. New
languages and issues are hence created and experimented with. This further
influences the global scene. If there is an irresistible drive to present
truly global contemporary creations in international events-beyond the
traditional Western paradigm-the most crucial shift that we should make is
first to learn how to present such a paradigm mutation. We need veritable
new initiatives and alternatives. It's the time for them.

29 August 2002


[1]  See Arjun Appadurai, "Modernity At Large, Cultural Dimensions of
Globalisation", University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

[2] See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, "Empire" (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard
University Press, 2000).

[3] See Hakim Bey "T.A.Z, The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological
Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism", Autonomedia Anti-copyright, 1985,1911, May be
freely pirated & quoted - the author & publisher, however, would like to be
informed at: Autonomadia, P.O. Box 568, Williamsburgh Station, Brooklyn, NY
11211-0568. (the book is available on the internet for free)

[4] See the press release of Combablache Collective's exhibition in "Sous la
terre, il y a le ciel", curated by Evelyne Jouanno, Projektraum, Kunsthalle,
Bern, Switzerland, 2002.

[5] For information about the current situation of alternative organizations
of contemporary art in the Asian-Pacific region, see Pause: Project 1
(Gwangju Biennale, 2002), and Alternatives: Contemporary Art Spaces in Asia
(Tokyo: The Japan Foundation Asia Center, 2002), as well as the Web sites of
the organizations discussed herein.

[6] Co-curated by Hou Hanru, Charles Esche and Sung Wang-Kuyng, the project
intends to break away from conventional biennales by emphasizing on
alternative ideas, approaches, languages and organisations in contemporary
art and culture activities. 26 artist run, alternative spaces from Asia,
Europe and other parts of the world have been invited to auto-curate their
programs in the biennale while meetings among them at a global scale have
been realised for the first time.

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