Globalisation from scratch–where is south?

French curator and writer Nicolas Bourriaud presents his concept of the altermodern as the 21st century ‘frontier’.

There are many who would contest the Western-centric view of modernism, yet do not subscribe to the idea that it has an ‘other side’ in the South. Nicolas Bourriaud, author of Relational Aesthetics, presents the idea of a ‘globalisation from scratch’, which is a flat symmetrical world where all peoples have equal access to the global electronic stage. Thus one of the critiques of a ‘southern perspective’ is that it is beholden to a cold-war mentality the divides the world neatly into west and ‘the rest’. Bourriaud presents a context that is not complicated that by this past and celebrates plurality.

So from a ‘southern perspective’, there are questions of such an approach. While celebrating plurality, its product as a curated exhibition is still concentric. This plurality is still inevitably concentrated in the art galleries of metropolitan centres.

And like its precursor ‘relational aesthetics’, altermodernity depends on an immanence that is liberated in free play. Such deferral of necessity and tradition is subject to the Bourdieu’s critique of aestheticisation in Distinction. It becomes a marker of class which has garnered the necessary surplus capital to rise above political squabbling over resources.

These are familiar criticisms of Bourriaud, but there is a danger that they position ‘southern perspectives’ as a voice of resentment, rather than an active site for engagement of ideas. At the least, there should be a possibility of dialectic between north and south, whereby each exposes the other’s limits. But for this to happen requires an acknowledgement that the world is divided, albeit messily.

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