In the review I briefly touch on the question, "what does it mean to be contemporary?" It's a simple question, but there are significant problems that burble-up when we try to answer it.
Hans Ulrich Obrist's article, "Manifestos for the Future," in e-flux is pretty great reading. As he states,
the phrase “contemporary art” has special currency today, as a commonplace of the media and of society in general. If “contemporary art” has largely replaced “modern art” in the public consciousness, then it is no doubt due in part to the term’s apparent simplicity [....]But, of course, every work of art, every text, every action is always committed to in the present; and as such is always a product of contemporaneity, right?
|The Street Enters The House. Umberto Boccioni (1911)|
"Not necessarily," says Giorgio Agamben (with whom I studied this summer at the European Graduate School). As he states in his essay "What Is the Contemporary?" contemporariness is a singular relationship with times in which one lives. "Those who coincide too well with the epoch, those who are perfectly tied to it in every respect, are not contemporaries, precisely because they do not manage to see it; they are not able to firmly hold their gaze on it" (41). It sounds like an easy, off-the-cuff, maybe even elitist, dismissal: there are important people and then there's the rest of the rabble, and they are unimportant and of little currency with which to effect current events. But then Agamben goes on to discuss the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam (whose works we studied this summer in Judith Balso's poetry class—my notes from these classes will be available as soon as I can get them typed-up, promise).
Mandlestam's poetry exemplifies well what I'm getting at in my review of Performances in Nearly-Inaccessible Environs: works of art have a weird temporality. Mendelstam's poetry is written at a particular time in Russia's history, but his poetry speaks to more than only Russianness or 20th centuriness. This is because, for Mandelstam, the relationship between world and language is not fixed; they elide one another. As a result of this slippage, the work of Mandlestam's poems are never finished—they continue to create the worlds they seem to be describing.
This is why I am asking for your help in collecting the documentation of the Performances in Nearly-Inaccessible Environs... series. By allowing the documentation to evaporate, the works are forced closed and that's a shame because I suspect some of those works still have a lot to say about Atlanta and, perhaps more interestingly, about the housing boom that swept-up the country during the Aughts and precipitated this (why aren't we just calling it a depression already) prolonged recession.
As an aside: for those of you not familiar with Giorgio Agamben, maybe you could start by reading the introduction from the editors of a special issue of the journal Theory & Event.