However, it failed to provide a suitable platform for the deliberation and redistribution of public goods, and it effectively produced levels of inequality that the West has not seen since the s and s. In short, almost all the gains of the welfare state, democratic accountability, and human rights have been rolled back, and new environmental threats, xenophobic fears, and illiberal modes of governance have become indistinguishable from each other.
Modernity was driven by technical transformations and massive migrations. Movement underpinned the era of industrialization and increased the mixture of peoples and their cultures.
The rhetoric of globalization was thus stitched into the modern promise of mobility. Diasporas and networks have created alignments which exceed the conventional structures and feelings of belonging within the parameters of the nation state. These brutal changes were often glossed by the success stories that either celebrated the heroic examples of migrants rising from rags to riches, or trumpeted the huge leaps forward in life chances.
Globalization built upon this modernist commitment to a forward momentum and the transgression of borders, standing as it did against closed markets, impatient with institutional procedures, and opposing inhibitions of traditional cultural values. Globalization promised to mobilize vitality and innovation through willful disruption.
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Yet how many have been enlivened, enriched, and emancipated by this process? Has the nation really withered away, or does it matter even more than ever before? A decade ago many of us expressed a wide-eyed optimism about the possibilities of mobility to extend the forms of cultural exchange and cross-cultural translation. So now that everyone is able to journey to distant countries, to experience other cultures and traverse geographical barriers; now that obstacles in the form of political systems, languages, cultures, differences between countries and regions are disappearing, and perpetual transformation is perhaps the one constant of our contemporary modernity, especially now that the foundations of national governance, in the sense of belonging to a nation-state, is becoming increasingly weaker.
This is what characterizes the world we live in and artists are undoubtedly one of the social classes that possess more freedom of movement in this era. In a relatively short time, such emphatic declarations have disappeared. Sociologists, political theorists, and curators who predicted the appearance of a post-national identity—one that could find sanctuary in the cosmopolitan city, or generate new horizons of connectedness through globalizing networks—have today adopted more circumspect perspectives and redefined the relationship between mobility and belonging.
The discourse is now more jagged as the violent extremes have come closer to our attention. In terms of political rights, the proliferation of flexible citizens and stateless refugees mark the two ends of this spectrum. In relation to the cultural condition, there is a growing despair that mobility is fueling the McDonaldization of culture. When we see that humanitarian challenges have stumbled in the face of the neo-militarization of border controls, or note that new thinking on cultural hybridity has also stoked old fantasies of ethnic purity, there is a strange sense of how the political is merging with the cultural.
The political backlash against globalization has been interpreted as the end of the cultural ideals of cosmopolitanism.
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This is not just a consequence of the debunking of the hype on mobility and hybridity that, in some instances had blurred deeper inequalities and produced a chain of equivalence between people with platinum frequent flyer cards and stateless refugees.
It is more fundamentally linked to the material and symbolic questions of building a viable community and defining the forms of solidarity that can deliver, not just promise, institutions for the distribution of pleasure, justice, and opportunity. Unless we take comfort in platforms like Facebook, we cannot believe that globalization is aiding the cosmopolitanism of society.
On the contrary, the global condition is now registered not just in terms of accelerated flows, but also as a looming anxiety over endless crisis. In Greece, for instance, crisis has become a way of life, and this is just the tip of a wider freeze of the political imagination. Throughout the world, one crisis merges with another. Causes that lay in economic inequity are morphed with anti-humanitarian consequences.
It no longer makes sense to talk about a crisis. Crisis is not only plural, it is ambient. However, globalization and cosmopolitanism are neither equal nor co-dependent. This would be obvious to Immanuel Kant, who apart from two very short trips never left Konigsburg. Reflecting on the current landscape, we can assert that globalization has an integrative logic that seeks to facilitate flows by establishing transparent pathways, standardized classification services, consistent platforms and totalizing networks.
In short, to enable mobility and lubricate exchanges, globalization requires a hermetic, flat, homogenized world. This smooth machine has nothing to do with cosmopolitanism, which in my view is to be open to the world in all its differences. There is a wonderful paradox at the heart of cosmopolitanism: it creates a radical equality among all people, but accepts that the encounter with different people can only be meaningful if both our similarities and our differences are articulated. Cosmopolitanism thus tends toward heterogeneity; a vivid world of generative differentiation.
From this perspective, we can note not only a critique of the global commodification and instrumentalization of culture, but also glimpse another way of making the world. The globe in globalization is not the same as the cosmos in cosmopolitanism. The links between globalization and cosmopolitanism need to be rerouted. These institutions are increasingly seeing themselves as part of a wider trans-national dialogue on the cosmopolitanism, we can rethink the way cultural values are linked to institutional capacities.
Cities and nation states are mediating forces between the cultural ideals of cosmopolitanism and ideology of globalization. Yet cities and nations are not neutral players. They come with their own baggage that includes primordial prejudice and hierarchies of exclusion. Cities that proclaim the vitalism of diversity cannot function as a sanctuary for difference. If diversity is trapped in the principle of sanctuary, then the city would spin into multiple spirals of withdrawl.
Each difference would take sanctuary in its own sphericle. Dialogue would cease and an infinite regression would reign. However, in the context of diverse publics and networked public spaces, the traffic in culture cannot survive is a relative isolation. No city can last for long if it installs rigid barriers on exchange, just as the endless fracturing of the public sphere is a surrender to noise. Once again, we seem stuck before bad options. In the neoliberal-hyper-communicative-city, the choices for a museum are often reduced to either hanging on as a relic from the quaint past, or emerging as a service provider in the market place of spectacles.
However, rather than either accepting the pragmatic resignation that civic identification is not as bad as neo-colonial corporatism, or indulging in the simplistic opposition between bad nationalism and good cosmopolitanism, the basis of a cosmopolitical venture should be re-examined, involving a closer exploration of the way people mediate between different systems and the existence of institutions that realize collective cultural practices. Otherwise we are entangled in a dance of dependency and disavowal. While cosmopolitan agents are dependent on national institutions but disavow their dependency, the national imaginary is dependent on cosmopolitan values but disavows any binding force to anything that compromises its sovereign independence.
How can we break out of these stultifying oppositions? Collaboration is one of the most important concepts for opening up the space for dialogue and exchange in contemporary culture. It is a term that has special significance in the museum and arts sector. From an instrumental perspective, it is a tool that coordinates the multiple roles that are necessary in cultural production.
At a conceptual level, it is also useful to debunk the mysterious hierarchies of artistic genius and highlight the creative interplay that occurs in the mess of cultural production. However, this still offers a small view on collaboration. It simply tracks the difference between the vertical process of implementation that emanates from above and the horizontal activity of collaboration that proceeds from the middle. Apart from the recognition that collaboration spreads outwardly, there is the further challenge of understanding it in a wider social space.
The capacity to offer a space for contemplation and reflection, as well as engagement and entertainment has been stretched to a breaking point. In this context, collaboration is nor organized via a vertical command structure, but unfolds through a horizontal process of experimentation. The willingness to play together can only proceed if there is also an ambient process for generating trust. As artists connect their practice to the idea that the city, or in more general terms of the urban condition, is the site of production and the zone for contestation, it also prompts double-edged questions about institutional roles and boundaries.
On the one hand, it widens the museum as it embraces agents from outside the institution. On the other hand, it fractures the evaluative frame as it disperses the event of art into an unbounded zone. In either case, there is no more sanctuary for the world in the museum, and the museum is less and less a sanctuary for the history of the city. Thus, networks were not only important tools for dissemination, but also a vital element in a new conceptual framework.
From this perspective, agency exists insofar as there is a network, and in turn, networks are activated through the actions of individuals. Petresin-Bachelez, alongside others like Maria Lind, co-founded Cluster, a network of small-scale institutions that are located in the peri-urban area of European cities and Holon in the Middle East.
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Other prominent transnational networks include Arts Collaboratory, which provides a platform of exchange for arts organizations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Coalitions of artists, activists, and scholars have formed working groups such as Decolonial Aesthetics and The Southern Conceptualisms Network. New artist unions such as Gulf Labor and W. On a national basis, there is CAOA, a network of contemporary art organizations, that offers knowledge sharing and peer support in Australia.
Even the Reina Sofia, the largest institution in the confederation, is too small to offer a genuine base for artistic refuge, and today, all cities are culturally too big to be represented by any singular institution. In an age of mobility, collaboration is inevitable. However, the counter-force of globalization and the ideology of neoliberalism prioritize competition and tethers creativity to the dictates of instrumental benefit and commercial return. At a time in which the European Union is being dominated by cannibalistic economic and political objectives, the proposition of a new confederation, one that elevates the cultural values of difference and opens a new frontier for the exchange between local and global agents, seems to not only go against the grain of history, but also reiterate a faith in cosmopolitanism.
Wells pointed out, there is no evidence that the cosmopolitan city has ever been built, but it is also equally clear that, in each era, the dream of cosmopolitanism has been expressed anew. So, what would a confederation look like, and how does it differentiate itself from, either mega-institutions such as the Tate, which has consolidated its central base through the development of satellites, or the strategies of Guggenheim, that structures its growth through a horizontally distributed franchise system?
Manuel Borja-Villel stressed that the emergence of the confederation was moved by the radical disruption of the bases upon which museums were established. They refer to their practice of working together as a confederation in order to distinguish it from either a temporary project or a tactical alliance. In the past five years, this confederation has yielded countless publications, conferences, and projects. However, the significance of this collaborative institutional turn cannot be measured in terms of increased productivity.
It must generate new knowledge about the historical place of the museum, adopt alternative models of institutional governance, rethink the spaces of aesthetic production, and ultimately accept the role of the publics as constituents. Across each of these four domains, we can also identify the need to pursue of three aims that have been palpable for some time across the whole of the sector but remain unresolved: decolonizing the imagination, democratizing the institution, and instituting the commons.
Thus, there is a zig-zag process of practical identification and testing, as well as a mercurial method of conceptual articulation and reflection, that transpires in the pursuit of these three aims. Decolonizing the imagination compels a departure from the colonialist orientations and modernist attitudes. The decolonizing of art institutions is more than an attitudinal shift. It has also spurred a rethinking of the organization of collections, the identification of multiple historical narratives, the partnership with artists to expand the archival sites, the development of trans-national curatorial programs, and in more general terms, the re-orientation of historical knowledge around issues of urgency and the exploration of affects.
The challenge of decolonizing the imagination is to generate pluriversal narratives in which identity is defined in a relational rather than fixed manner and the interplay between part to whole is an opening towards multiple worlds rather than the confirmation of a singular nation-centered perspective. Democratizing the institution is not just a matter of expanding public access to the museum, it has also meant a radical rethink of the public as a constituent whose presence shapes the museum. This expanded notion of public agency was at first evident in the evolution of artistic practice, in the shift of emphasis from creative autonomy to cultural collaboration.
In opposition to the vertical hierarchy, or pyramid-like structure of creative agency that positions the artist at the peak, as the sole creator, and appends the curatorial and education staff as mediators whose function is to transfer and translate the message that is embedded in the artwork for a general audience, it is now necessary to embrace an alternative model where creativity is distributed more openly and the artist collaborates with curators, mediators, and the public to co-produce the realization of an aesthetic proposal within a collective and reflexive context. Instituting the commons is distinct from both an imaginary proposition of alternative culture and the modernist hierarchy that elevated a specific worldview as the pinnacle of universal culture.
Instituting the commons is produced through the coming together of diverse agents to interpellate a shared agenda. Pursuing and testing these aims in a world of heightened mobility is full of challenges. Understanding how ideas, symbols, and aesthetic objects change as they move is difficult enough.
Seeing how they operate and mutate in a field of other flows will also require attention to the cascading effects of geo-political shifts, ambient communication platforms, and institutional pressures that arise in each specific setting. Mobility is therefore not just a phenomenon that is reshaping our sense of place, but also altering our ways of seeing and sensing the world.
This has significant implication for the way museums organize the representation and opportunities for the dissemination of knowledge.
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New communication technologies are spawning new forms of intimacy at a distance and accelerating feedback relationships between producers and consumers, collapsing many of the traditional boundaries from which critical distance was gained and upon which the authority of the museum rested. The outsider perspective is no guarantee of objectivity and neutrality. New kinds of cross-cultural intimacies and complicities are necessary to gain not just trust but also familiarity with complex webs of cultural formation. In this context, knowledge ceases to be definitive and universal. It is contingent, pluriversal, and interwoven within the struggles between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic public cultures.
In museum studies, most evaluations tend focus on the impact of individual museums in terms of their support of artistic practices, development of cultural knowledge, interaction with local communities, influence on national culture, or economic partnership in cultural tourism. As a confederation, the significance of trans-national collaboration requires more than widening the frame and extending these points in a comparative evaluation. The point of a confederation should be more than either scaling up to generate greater purchasing power, or shielding partners from the turbulent forces of change.
Similarly, the knowledge produced through a confederation should be more than the sum of the contents in six-silos. Such a complex formation is neither akin to the standard object of attention in museum studies, nor comparable to the phenomenon of corporate franchises. We can propose that networks, coalitions, confederations are more like discrepant objects in this field. They should open new horizons and confront old problems.
Is it a means to more object based work, or a material end in and of itself?
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