What is art today? Cai Guo Qiang, a Chinese installation artist, sums it up well when he states that art is “evidence of life lived”, others have defined art as “anything a human calls art”. (Theirry de Duve, Kant after Duchamp, The MIT press, 1996) But what sort of definition is that? Art is a complicated social product, an aesthetic document of humankind and its culture. Contemporary art often interrogates issues relevant to our times, and is a stimulant to further thought and discussion. It can be strange and hard to understand, ugly and confrontational, and hard to define or classify. Ultimately, art can act as a synergistic agent to affect a change in the viewer, be it joy, wonder, love, fear, disgust, or any of the varied human emotions, and through that change generate an awareness and connection to ones humanity.
The advancement of the ‘world wide web’, with the instantaneous, media infused, commercially motivated, culture of commodity, has created a time in which individuals are constantly bombarded with information and images, generating a disconnection with real events. The world is experienced through our little boxes, be they television, computers, or mobile devices. The overexposure and informational overload, has landed the individual into an isolated and false sense of reality that exists through our global connections. We have become a society of non-being beings, a network of public false identities.
This fracturing of our society has generated a backlash in the art world, against these technologies, and artists are now creating works that embrace the individual, the personal connections, and the novelty of a single moment, events to be enjoyed in the flesh with another human being. Marina Abramovic states, “Life is getting faster so we absolutely have to make art slower and slower”. In this fast paced world, the artists and the audience need to dedicate time to the works, actually make the effort to revel in the moment, to be fully present. Her recent exhibit at the MoMA in NYC was a testament to this ideal, with “The Artist is Present” being the longest performance of her career. The recent economic downfall has also created an opportunity for these types of objectless works, opening the door for performance, installations, and happenings where there is nothing to sell; it is a progressive move away from the focus on ‘the market’. Art is not a commodity, but instead, it can be a “legacy of ideas” (M. Abramovic), a lasting impression and an enjoyable memory, and still be enough.
Nicholas Bourriaud, in his book “Relational Aesthetics” (Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, le presses du reel, ’98), addresses the differences between the current moment in the art world versus the prior (post-modern) times. This is an art form that attempts to remove the membrane between the artist and the audience. Intention is key, and the goal is to change the state of the viewer. The transformation of the audience becomes the artwork, the relations of all parts the work- the artist, the audience and the materials/form. As Bourriaud was unable to consider modernism as a model for postmodernism, the same is true with this new shift, it is something entirely different in theory, than what came before, unique and truly novel.
This new modality involves a synergistic experience between the artist, the form of the work, and the audience. This triad of all three parts creates energy in the space between, a filling of the gap. As the symbol delta (∆) is used in traditional and computer sciences as a signifier of the “change of state between two before and after state schemas”, it follows, that the thing which occurs in the viewers’ mind when witnessing art, creates what I call the “Delta (∆) Moment”. The viewer is crucial to artwork in that “his interaction helps define the exhibits structures.” (Bourriaud) It is this interaction, the meeting and conversion of all parts, the moments of interaction between all three that I see represented in the delta symbol, and the truth of artworks of this nature.
So where does this leave us? With time, the ability to define and classify this era will become easier. As Abramovic states, “We can’t do anything about the past, and we don’t have the future. We only have the present”, so we must stay vitally involved and connected to the contemporary artists working today within these modes, discussing the meanings behind the work, and in turn expanding ideas, our minds and cultures.