Altermodernism and the Assemblage of Things

Two concepts are key to altermodernism: nomadism and the archipelago. The artist as a nomad in spacetime, as well as in various cultures spanning across spacetime, investigates the world along these planes, often all at once, without being tied down to any one set of conventions at any single point in history. Exploring the world at multiple positions in time and cultural development results in a body of work that Nicolas Bourriaud likens to an archipelago—fragmented yet unified. Altermodernism, contrasting with modernism’s linear view of time progressing steadily to the future, views past, present/“contemporary”, and future as interconnected in a myriad of ways, a complexly linked network of signs. Nor does altermodernism view the aggressive categorism of postmodernism, which pushes for multiculturalism as a mosaic of strictly defined characteristics, as productive; rather, it fights an increasingly standardized, globalized world through the assemblage of cultural objects individually given significance through their re-contextualization.

Bourriaud’s skepticism towards postmodernism’s philosophy of so-called “neurotic preoccupation with origins” is understandable, though I wonder whether remediation of signs is necessarily much more effective at establishing non-standardized identity than postmodernism’s sorting of people and objects. Building identity on things such as national or ethnic origin, Bourriaud points out, carries the danger of reductionist thinking, trying to decipher the complex human being or individual in far too simple terms. I find there is also a certain danger in depending overly on “cultural nomadism” in the struggle to assert one’s identity: when codes are “done to death”, they become cliché; overabundance engenders aversion; signs that were once meaningful lose any nuance, lose any of their original sense except for the most watered down. Further, could focusing too much on using pre-existing signs in our work create an over-reliance on them and discourage further engagement and creation? Then again, perhaps relying on history and existing forms is simply unavoidable in our hyper-mediated world; anyone who consumes media regularly—and more and more of us do—will be influenced by it in numerous ways, in thoughts and, consequently, in our actions and what we create. After all, no human being is an island entire of themselves; we all react to the world around us, and maybe the best we can strive for is to do so in a way that is as unaffected by outside duress as possible.

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