“Ladies and gentlemen, this is not your typical art conference.” With these words artist Alfredo Jaar began his talk at Documenta 11 in Kassel, acknowledging that the discussion forum presents a rare possibility for shifting the focus of contemporary art from entertainment to serious reflection on the critical issues of our times.
We would like to offer Undercurrents as such a possibility. As an opportunity to extend the space for addressing the present conditions in the world marked by armed conflicts, ongoing violence, and terrorist attacks that are no longer matters of remote concern, but of our own concerns. This is not only the result of the current transnational political climate, enhanced so powerfully by the sophistication of the media, which involves everyone, regardless of social status, political and religious convictions, or geographic position. It goes hand-in-hand with the real potentiality of becoming directly, physically affected by what many prominent thinkers refer to straightforwardly and simply as war.
We have invited artists, curators, and scholars to debate themes that concern war today from within their own practice. Aware of the urgency of the situation, the invited participants present their research and work on subjects that we believe might help us understand the underlying forces behind this overwhelmingly present, new type of warfare. In weekly sessions organized as a series of presentations, performances, screenings, and lectures, we take a close look at the language associated with present-day war in order to seek distinctions between terms and expressions such as “war and terror,” “war on terror,” “war as terror,” etc. We also want to examine recent theories that provide insights into how to grasp the transformation from “traditional” war as an armed conflict between sovereign nation-states, defined both temporally and spatially, to Cold War as a competition and tension kept alive by an ongoing mutual anticipation of potential full-scale military assault by ideologically opposing blocks of states, into its current form, not isolated in space or time, but as a constant potentiality everywhere and anytime. We intend to analyze how fear is masterfully manipulated as a potent tool of those in power, and to scrutinize the troubling notion of democracy put “on hold” when the war strikes, and how to deal with the threatening consequences a permanent state of war would lead to under a prolonged “state of exception.” But most importantly, we aim to look at art, at the critical artistic and intellectual practices that address these issues and take a firm position in the discourse, believing that art can create a space in which to question the prevailing consensus about how the world is, and to imagine how it could be potentially transformed.
Undercurrents is a dynamic, informal forum for reflection about what is behind the contemporary state of warfare. It is developed as an equal parallel to the exhibition Soft Target. War as a Daily, First-Hand Reality. Because we are convinced, as Alfredo Jaar said in his aforementioned talk, paraphrasing the words of Jean-Luc Godard, “art is not only reflection of the reality, but also the reality of that reflection.”
On Documenting (truth and politics)
On Crisis (emergency and new heroism)
On Fear (war machine and threat)
On Rhetoric (language and new warfare)
On Mutation (post–Cold War and new order)
On Imagining (options and strategies of resistance)