When the editors of e-flux journal invited me to write about contemporaneity, they suggested that I take my own professional experience as a starting point. And it seems that, in order to understand contemporaneity, we cannot neglect the particularity of various approaches. Contemporary theory, however, and especially Badiouan theory, teaches that this can lead us astray and we should rather devote ourselves to thinking about a new understanding of universality. For this reason, I have tried to place my own particular story—which is linked to the broader context of Eastern Europe and, more narrowly, to my work at the Moderna galerija in Ljubljana—in connection with other, related experiences, especially those linked to the issues surrounding the Global South. One might even suggest that sharing various points of connection is, in fact, one of the key concepts of contemporaneity.
If we can no longer speak of the evolution of art over the course of history, we can certainly speak about the evolution of its accessibility. Accessibility to art increased exponentially in the twentieth century, primarily through the power of reproduction and the work of museums open to the general public. The democratization of art is, certainly, one of the important aspirations of modernity, although in many ways this is still limited to educating from above and the selective standards that entails. But today this enlightenment model is already being threatened by knowledge penetrating from below. I am speaking especially about current processes that oppose the various hegemonic models created by Western modernity. In this essay, I use the word “contemporaneity” as an alternative concept to modernity—a term which I do not connect with any specific time period.
“‘Modernity’ is not a historical period but a discursive rhetoric, that is, a persuasive discourse promising progress, civilization and happiness.” This is how Walter Mignolo describes modernity, especially with regard to its darker side, which he calls “coloniality.” For theorists of decoloniality, “coloniality” is something that still persists today, and in opposition to the processes of decolonization. The distinguishing features of coloniality, which link the issues surrounding the Global South, may also apply, at least in part, to Eastern Europe. Despite the fact that socialism was itself a unique project of modernity with its own globalization project, its own colonialism, and its own (pop) culture and art, the socialist countries, like other parts of the world, were hardly immune to Westernizing processes.
If attitudes in both East and West influenced each other mutually during the Cold War, then today the various interminglings of their processes can only testify to a further accelerated global dimension. To many, therefore, it seems that “planetary negotiations, discussions between agents from different cultures” are today taking place unhindered. For this reason, too, it is becoming increasingly important to ask how great a share a given space really inhabits in the global exchange of ideas, and to what degree this exchange reflects the polarization of the world into Global North and Global South.
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