contemporary

Email invitations for the curation learning group are going out today. i was just finding some links to start us off and i came across Manifestos for the Future by Hans Ulrich Obrist. This quote on being contemporary struck me as being important not just to the art community…

The impossibility of capturing form in Boetti’s Cieli ad alta quota takes us to Giorgio Agamben’s “What Is the Contemporary?” which shows the one who belongs to his or her own time to be the one who does not coincide perfectly with it—to capture one’s moment is to be able to perceive in the darkness of the present this light which tries to join us and cannot: “the contemporary is the person who perceives the darkness of his time as something that concerns him, as something that never ceases to engage him.”19

Defining contemporaneity as precisely “that relationship with time that adheres to it through a disjunction and an anachronism,” he goes on to describe this contemporary figure as the one who is not blinded by the lights of his or her time or century: “The contemporary is he who firmly holds his gaze on his own time so as to perceive not its light, but rather its darkness.”20 Agamben takes us to astrophysics to explain the darkness in the sky to be the light that travels to us at full speed, but which cannot reach us, as the galaxies from which it originates recede faster than the speed of light. To discern the potentialities that constantly escape the definition of the present is to understand the contemporary moment.

Jean Rouch often told me about the immense courage required in order to be contemporary, to engage in the difficult negotiation between the past and the future. Like Agamben, he spoke of a means of accessing the present moment through some form of archaeology. Both Rouch and Agamben agree that being contemporary means to return to a present we have never been to, to resist the homogenization of time through ruptures and discontinuities. Agamben concludes:

This means that the contemporary is not only the one who, perceiving the darkness of the present, grasps a light that can never reach its destiny; he is also the one who, dividing and interpolating time, is capable of transforming it and putting it in relation with other times. He is able to read history in unforeseen ways, to “cite it” according to a necessity that does not arise in any way from his will, but from an exigency to which he cannot not respond. It is as if this invisible light that is the darkness of the present cast its shadow on the past, so that the past, touched by this shadow, acquired the ability to respond to the darkness of the now.