Posted on Frieze Issue 120 Jan-Feb 2009
Nicolas Bourriaud, curator of the next Tate Triennial, ‘Altermodern’, talks to frieze about botany, modernity, time, class and exhibition-making image
TOM MORTON Your forthcoming book The Radicant employs a botanical metaphor to identify a form of cultural production whose roots are not static and buried, like those of a tree, but mobile and above ground, like those of a creeper or ivy. How has this informed your approach to the forthcoming Tate Triennial, an exhibition that has traditionally consisted of British artists but for which you have selected non-British ‘passers-by’, including Subodh Gupta and Loris Gréaud.
NICOLAS BOURRIAUD Whether buried or visible, roots and origins constitute brakes or barriers in contemporary art. The Postmodern period has been active in levelling the different ‘versions’ of time and space across the planet, by de-occidentalizing them. Artists nowadays start from a globalized cultural state, from where they try to reach more specific fields, and not the other way round. Pascale Marthine Tayou or Navin Rawanchaikul, for example, can observe the world from Cameroon or Chiang Mai. They no longer need to sell their cultural roots but to organize connections between signs and forms, circuits of meaning: they progress in a ‘radicant’ way. Let’s not forget that ‘radical’ means ‘belonging to the root’. The Triennial’s hypothesis consists in affirming an emerging modernity for our century, based on planetary exchanges, on translation, on the intertwining of space and time in a multi-layered world. That is why it comprises artists who are UK-born, residents and those who are passing through. Being British means having been sufficiently irradiated by a certain amount of specific cultural wavelengths. I prefer to show London as a magnet for influences and energies that originate elsewhere.
TM Both The Radicant and the Tate Triennial arrive at a moment of global economic crisis. Is this significant to your construction of ‘altermodern’?
NB The term ‘Postmodern’ first appeared around the time of the 1973 oil crisis, an event that caused the world to realize for the first time that our energy reserves were limited – i.e., it put an end to the idea of superabundance, infinite progress and the Modernist idea of culture as a projection into the future. The oil crisis represents for me the ‘primordial moment’ of Postmodernism. Since then the economy has been disconnected from natural resources and reoriented towards an immaterial ‘financialization’, whose limits we clearly see now, with the partial collapse of the system. While the economy was severing its ties with concrete geography, culture was becoming divorced from history as a coherent scenario. Postmodernism was the story of this disconnection, leading to a reified conception of ‘origins’. What I call ‘altermodern’ is the narrative of our reconnection with both, through a new set of parameters linked to globalization: instantaneity, availability, displacements …