© Nicolas Bourriaud, Sternberg Press
This book was written between 2005 and 2007 in the places to which
circumstances brought me: Paris, Venice, Kiev, Madrid, Havana,
New York, Moscow, Turin, and finally London. Cities and places, rather
than countries. Nations are abstractions I distrust, for reasons that
will become apparent.
Indeed, it is a way of life that inspires this theoretical reflection on
contemporary art, a reflection that responds less to existing texts than
to lived experience. Too often have I had occasion to deplore the
absence of a vital link between critics and works—not to underscore
the fact that this theoretical reflection is born of my nomadic life—in
the course of which I have crossed paths with most of the artists whose
work will be discussed here. The ideas expressed in this book arise,
for the most part, from my contact with these artists and from assiduous
observation of their work.
Multiculturalism; postmodernism; cultural globalization. Such are the
key words around which this essay is organized: words that refer to
unresolved questions. As is well known, certain generic notions, far from
grappling with the cluster of problems they designate, settle for
simply naming them. Thus, a nagging question constitutes the point
of departure for this theoretical work: why is it that globalization has
so often been discussed from sociological, political, and economic
points of view, but almost never from an aesthetic perspective? How
does this phenomenon affect the life of form?
In reflecting on the important role of the journey and on the iconography
of mobility in contemporary art, I remembered a text I had published
in 1990 in the journal New Art International, titled “Notes on Radicantity.”
The present text simply develops and deepens this youthful intuition,
which at the time was supported by only a few examples. Aside from
a couple of chapters in Part Three, however, The Radicant is entirely
new. “Under the Cultural Rain” was published in the Pompidou Center's exhibition catalogue Sonic Process; a revised version appeared in Hz,
on the occasion of an exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt.
“Artistic Collectivism and the Production of Pathways” served as the
introduction to the exhibition Playlist, which I organized at the Palais
de Tokyo in 2005.
An image, an idea: such is the rhythm I have sought to reproduce in this
essay. My readings of Walter Benjamin and Georges Bataille have
taught me that the exposition of an idea through fragments, through
a roving and disconnected type of writing, can sometimes better
circumscribe its object than can a more linear approach. Moreover, this
method corresponds to the subject I propose to treat. I have thus
conceived this book as a kind of “PowerPoint presentation”: an image,
an orientation. Or again: as a necklace whose elements are linked to
each other by the prehensile power of an idée fixe, as a conceptual
archipelago, which also corresponds to the central image of this essay.
At the same time, The Radicant is composed of three distinct parts:
the first approaches the subject in a theoretical manner; the second
consists of an aesthetic reflection based on recent works of art; the
third extends radicant thought first to modes of cultural production,
then to modes of consumption and use.
Finally, during the writing of this book, I have tried never to lose sight of
an avid obsession: to look at the world through that optical tool that
is art, in order to sketch a worldly and worldwide art criticism in which
works are in dialogue with the contexts in which they are produced.