Yesterday, Boris Buden was giving a lecture on art criticism and the state of the question of critical thinking and writing at Trubarjeva Hiša in Ljubljana. He discussed first the concept of criticality from Iris Rogoff, which, in Buden’s terms, emphasizes the present time, tends to see “potentials, more than reveal forms” in art production and has “no illusions of changing the conditions” in which the critical act occurs, because we are in constant changing, “historical reality is a reel of cultural injustices” and, thus, the act of criticism is “adding information, rather than thinking structures”. This leads Buden to put into question some notions of historical and the relation we develope with past time, going back to the beginnings of Modern thinking and the engagement of the concept of crisis with an idea of the Old in urgent neccesity of being replaced by the New. The dissociation of the old and the new as place of crisis is a commonplace and an invention of Modern thought (Rousseau).
Then Buden went on from this point to the analysis of the relation that contemporay art production stablishes with past. “Art practices today are engaged with past, with its own past and history and with history in general.” There is a general tendency to “historic storytelling” in art, evident in the constant apparition of some cliche words like “re-enactment”, “monument” or “forensics”. In spite of some contemporary analysis, Buden quotes Nietszche, who already accused his contemporaries to be “pathologically obssesed with past”. This obssesion with past leads art production “to be blind of the bigger picture and even prevent to create it”. “We live in an age of conmemorations.”
These issues are also related to the industry of cultural memory, which Buden relates to the 70’s in France and the invention of curating as “major political role”: the president take in his hands the “cultural heritage” of the nation in an international context of repression and the failure of democratic masses to influence the bigger political decissions, paroxistically proved in 2003 when the massive demonstrations against the war on Iraq. Memory becomes “a substitute of history” and “a naïve” attitude of artists and critics when the “massive use of violence” of our age is merely opposed with arguments and practices which feeds the “engine of cultural memory”. In Buden terms, “this could be interesting, but itsn’t re-writing history” because in these conditions “the present is unable to relate past with future”, the past stays “as a foreign country (they do thing differently there)”. What we need, says Buren, is “new isms”, a “theory of the present” and “an excavation of future”. In this context, one interesting phrase of the conference was: “Communism is getting lose in future, Post-Communism is coming back from future”.
Some moments of the critical analysis of Buden made me remember some texts of Suely Rolnik, specially this, which I quoted also in a critical essay about re-enacment practices in contemporary arts. One thing to think in this context is the fact that the forms, devices and ways of displaying are the same in post-dictatorial contemporary art of South America and in the Post-Communist art practices of East Europe. Something it’s wrong about it. I thing that’s because Contemporary Art could be understood as a style, with identical forms for interchangeable contents. Buden suggested yesterday “even to abandone the concept of Contemporay Art”. I think we’ve already done it, in practical terms.