Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Glory At Sea

“I’m always asking my dad how that boat knew to go down right there, right over us. He laughs and says, ‘God did it.’"
Glory at Sea (2008) is a 25-minute short film about a rag-tag group of survivors of a terrible storm who together build a boat and sail out in search of the loved-ones they have lost. It is never explained why they think their children, lovers and friends are still alive; yet they simply steadfastly believe it to be true. The boat they construct is simultaneously grand and woefully inadequate to the task of sea travel; yet sail it intrepidly into the sea they do. Hurricane Katrina is not referenced by the film, yet it haunts its fabric; one need not know that the film was conceived and shot in New Orleans to feel the weight of the tragedy in its every frame. Before reading on, I would suggest that the reader watches the film here: it will be a brief but glorious use of your time.

I take
Glory at Sea to be metamodern simply in the sense that it embodies one of the discourse’s many strands: a contemporary form of Romantic Irony – what Schlegel called “the eternal oscillation between enthusiasm and irony”. This is a feature that we can see reappearing in different forms in a significant number of recent movies, and one which I shall be returning to on this blog.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Best Coast

The first time I heard Best Coast I was green with envy. This was the music I had wanted to make when I was sixteen. At that time I was listening a lot to Bikini Kill, Hole and Sleater-Kinney. I never managed to pick up a guitar and now I see why: I was afraid to turn sour, cynical and frustrated, just as the girls from these bands were. Though it might be easy to file away Bethany Cosentino with screamers like Courtney Love and Kathleen Hanna, she’s got much more to offer than that. Along with bands like Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls and Frankie Rose & The Outs, Best Coast offers a disarming naiveté and sincerity that has been long lost in popmusic. The scuzzy lo-fi production, the echoing drums and overdose of reverb may hide that at first, but when you hear Cosentino sing The other girl is not like me she's prettier and skinnier / She has a college degree, I dropped out when I was seventeen / If only I could get her out of the picture / Then he would know how much I want him in the song Boyfriend without a hint of irony you cannot help but empathize. Where sixties girl groups like The Ronettes sang pleadingly about boys full of giddy hope, Beth Cosentino knows she won’t get what she wants, but either way still tries. And you’ve got to admire her for that.

Image: Best Coast Sun Was High (So Was I) 7" released by Art Fag Recordings

Monday, 26 July 2010

Etymology of the term metamodernism

The prefix 'meta' has acquired something of a bad rep over the last few years. It has come to be understood primarily in terms of self-reflection - i.e. a text about a text, a picture about a picture, etc. But 'meta' originally intends something rather more colloquial. According to the Greek-English Lexicon the preposition and prefix ‘meta’ (μετά) has several meanings and connotations. Most commonly it translates as 'after'. But it can also be used to denote qualitative 'changes' or to designate positions such as 'with' and 'between'. In Plato's Symposium, for example, the term metaxy designates an ontological betweenness (we will return to this in more detail in a later post). The Online Etymology Dictionary gives the following description:

prefix meaning 1. "after, behind," 2. "changed, altered," 3. "higher, beyond," from Gk. meta (prep.) "in the midst of, in common with, by means of, in pursuit or quest of," from PIE *me- "in the middle" (cf. Goth. miþ, O.E. mið "with, together with, among;" see mid). Notion of "changing places with" probably led to senses "change of place, order, or nature,"

When we use the term 'meta', we use it in similar yet not indiscriminate fashion. For the prefix 'meta-' allows us to situate metamodernism historically beyond; epistemologically with; and ontologically between the modern and the postmodern. It indicates a dynamic or movement between as well as a movement beyond. More generally, however, it points towards a changing cultural sensibility - or cultural metamorphosis, if you will - within western societies.

Image: Gregory Crewdson, Untitled (2006). Courtesy White Cube.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Financial Reform Bill

Last week the US Senate passed the Financial Reform Bill. After decades of Neoliberal deregulation, the legislation intends to re-regulate the free-floating financial system which was at the root of the 2008 crisis. Symbolically, therefore, the bill signals the end of the postmodern (late-capitalist) years of unbridled lending and unfettered trading. As CNN Money aptly summarises, the legislation:

‘… establishes a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that could write new rules to protect consumers from unfair or abusive practices in mortgages and credit cards; …creates a new council of regulators that would set new standards for how much cash banks must keep on hand to prevent them from ever triggering a financial crisis; …puts new limits on Wall Street banks' speculative bets for their own accounts and their ability to own hedge funds; …aims to shine a brighter light on some complex financial products, called derivatives, that are blamed for exacerbating the collapse of financial;…and inserts a middleman between trades, so that financial firms are less interconnected, to prevent the domino effect of financial firm failures in 2008.’

According to President Obama – and most, if not all, commentators tend to agree - the bill is ‘the toughest financial reform since the Great Depression.’ Still, however, as the NY Times writes, ‘the financial industry won some important victories, even if they face significantly heightened regulation. They fought off some of the toughest restrictions on their ability to invest their own funds. Most significantly, they thwarted an attempt to make them give up their highly profitable derivatives trading desks.’ As so many other aspects of the metamodern, therefore, the reform is both-neither, as it both-neither fully regulates and-nor completely deregulates the financial system. For one can not return to the day and age of modernism, one cannot undo the day and age of postmodernism, one can only go beyond them.

Image: financial reform now. Courtesy

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Jerry Saltz on to something?

Jerry Saltz is digging the decline of the postmodern and discerning the rise of something else... As he writes in a recent article in the NY Magazine:
"I’m noticing a new approach to artmaking in recent museum and gallery shows. It flickered into focus at the New Museum’s “Younger Than Jesus” last year and ran through the Whitney Biennial, and I’m seeing it blossom and bear fruit at “Greater New York,” MoMA P.S. 1’s twice-a-decade extravaganza of emerging local talent. It’s an attitude that says, I know that the art I’m creating may seem silly, even stupid, or that it might have been done before, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t serious. At once knowingly self-conscious about art, unafraid, and unashamed, these young artists not only see the distinction between earnestness and detachment as artificial; they grasp that they can be ironic and sincere at the same time, and they are making art from this compound-complex state of mind—"

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

David Thorpe (1)

I remember the day I was introduced to David Thorpe's work. It was winter, but it felt like autumn. I was reading one of those pieces of writing you were supposed to read as an aspiring philosopher in the early 2000s. I think it was Lyotard's interpretation of the sublime. So I was thinking of Malevich's white square when a friend with a far keener eye for contemporary concerns showed me another picture engaging with the 'unrepresentable'. It was Thorpe's Life is Splendid (2000). It took me a moment to appreciate it. It was not that I didn't immediately experience the work. It was rather that my mind, set to think postmodern, could not instantly process it. Appreciating this peculiar piece meant silencing that sarcastic homunculus whispering in my ear that this was too grandiose, too mystically meaningful, and too sincere. I needed to consciously decide to be naive. Life is Splendid cuts-and-pastes through various media and surfaces, and eclectically references at once the iconology of the Western, Friedrich's landscapes, Le Corbusier's architecture, populuxe and Nietzsche's tightrope walker - but sincerely, without wincing. The moment it acknowledges them is the moment it disavows them. The instance it declares its knowingness is when it asks you whether you know anything at all. Whatever the history it references, it is mostly just in awe of a future it cannot yet predict (for are the three tightrope walkers celebrating life, or contemplating death?) but puts its faith in nonetheless. Valuing Thorpe's Romanticism is to value the metamodern: acknowledge one, but believe its opposite.

Image: David Thorpe: Life is splendid (2000). Courtesy Maureen Paley

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Previous uses of the term metamodernism

We feel we need to justify our use of the term metamodernism. In a future post we will explain its etymological origin and its relationship to the Platonic/Voegelin concept of metaxis. Here we will briefly refer to some of the term's previous uses. Although we are the first to use the term metamodernism to describe the current structure of feeling in terms of an oscillation between a modern hope and a postmodern disappointment (a mutual re-signification, if you will, of one by the other), we are not the first to use the term per se. It has been used in writings on law, politics, economics, data analysis and architecture as far back as the 1970s. Most significantly, it has been used with some frequency in literature studies. Here it has been applied in order to describe a post-modern alternative to postmodernism as presented in the works of authors as far apart as Blake and Guy Davenport. The literary theorist Alexandra Dimitrescu, for example, describes metamodernism in terms of the integration and interconnectedness of contrary approaches. We would like to stress however that our conception of metamodernism is by no means aligned to these notions, nor is it derived from them. It is in so far related to these notions that it too negotiates between the modern and the postmodern. But the function, structure and nature of the negotiation we perceive are entirely our own and, as far as we can see, wholly unrelated to the previous perceptions. Metamodernism as we conceive it does not integrate; but neither does it exclude. It oscillates. That is to say, it both-neither integrates and-nor excludes - desires a sens and-nor doubts of the sense of it all, longs and-nor laments, constructs and-nor deconstructs...

Image: Kaye Donachie, Early Morning Hours of the Night (2003). Courtesy Maureen Paley

Friday, 16 July 2010

One Bryant Park, NYC

Over the last few years it has become increasingly clear that contemporary architecture, like so many other aesthetic practices, is no longer postmodern. Although one could also point towards somewhat more stylistic changes (and we will definitely do so in later posts), the end of the postmodern is most clearly signaled here by the return to commitment. The growing awareness of the need for sustainable design has led to an ethical turn in the attitude towards the built environment. Roof gardens and solar panels are heavily subsidised, carbon neutral buildings and ecologically friendly neighbourhoods are widely commissioned, and, yes, even entirely green cities are being designed from scratch. Necessitated by a competitive market, urged by demanding politicians and inspired by the changing Zeitgeist, architects increasingly envision schemes for a sustainable urban future. The Bank of America Tower (One Bryant Park, NYC) might be considered to be amongst the prime examples of this development. Perhaps its form is not cutting-edge; but the technology certainly is. You'll find a video here.
Image: One Bryant Park. Courtesy World Architecture News

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Ragnar Kjartansson

Although Ragnar Kjartansson's work is often characterised by a melancholy sadder than the most postmodern pessimism, it never becomes apathetic. And while it tends to be as ecstatic as modern optimism can get, it never turns fanatic. Performances like The End (2009) and the truly inspired Sorrow Conquers Happiness (2006) are ironic, parodic and frequently pastiche. But at the same time, they are sincere, sentimental and heartfelt. In The End, Kjartansson takes up residency in the Venice Biennale for six months. He drinks beer. He smokes cigarettes. And he paints images of a man in his underpants. One beer after the other, one painting after the next. In Sorrow Kjartansson sings one line over and over. The notes change, the tone alters, but the line remains the same. The End and Sorrow resemble the child that takes the joke too far. The joke loses one meaning but gains another, as yet undefined one (irritation? tragedy?awkwardness? confusion? slapstick comedy? sincerity? naivety? etc). They are as absurd as they are instantly comprehensible; and if they alienate, they also attract. Indeed, like so many metamodern art works, they oscillate between a desire for sens and a doubt about the sense of it all.

Image: Ragnar Kjartansson, The End (2009). Courtesy Luhring Augustine Gallery

What is metamodernism?

As we define it, metamodernism oscillates between the modern and the postmodern. It oscillates between a modern desire for sens and a postmodern doubt about the sense of it all, between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, order and chaos, purity and corruption, clarity and ambiguity, between naïveté and knowingness. Indeed, metamodernism is an oscillation. It is the dynamic by which it expresses itself. One should be careful not to think of this oscillation as a balance however; rather it is a pendulum swinging between two poles. Each time the metamodern enthusiasm swings towards fanaticism, gravity pulls it back towards irony; the moment its irony sways towards apathy, gravity pulls it back towards enthusiasm.

Image: Selja Kameric, Dream House (2002). Courtesy Gallery Tanja Wagner

Introduction to metamodernism

The postmodern years of plenty, pastiche and parataxis are over. In fact, if we are to believe the many academics, critics and pundits whose books and essays describe the decline and demise of the postmodern, they have been over for quite a while now. But if these commentators agree the postmodern condition has been abandoned, they appear less in accord as to what to make of the state it has been abandoned for. On this blog, we will seek to outline the contours of this discourse by looking at recent developments in architecture, art, and film. We will discuss practices and works as diverse as the grand buildings of Herzog & de Meuron to the installations of Bas Jan Ader, the collages of David Thorpe, the paintings of Kaye Donachie and the films of Michel Gondry and so much more!

Image: David Thorpe, Do what you have to do (1998). Courtesy Saatchi Gallery.