The new is contemporary.
In thinking about the contemporary, a drawing by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya titled For Being Born Elsewhere (Por Haber Nacido en Otra Parte, 1814-1823) initiates a frisson. It is taken from a series of sketches depicting persons prosecuted by the Inquisition. The esteemed art historian Albert Boime describes the victims as wearing “the long conical cap known as the coroza and the tunic known as the sanbenito, which fit over the chest and upon which were inscribed the reasons for condemnation” primarily stemming from faith. It occurred to me that while in another time, to be born elsewhere meant fate worthy of death, an exclusion by virtue of a different genesis, in the ecology of the contemporary, to be birthed elsewhere might be a privilege, in fact an exception by virtue of a genetic, that is natural, difference. For a body to emerge in another place is to affirm a vast worldliness that enables equivalent histories and humanities to reciprocate, to demonstrate the index of belonging and the attendant violence and promise this belonging entails in the process of by turns being conquered and being in the world with others. “Being born elsewhere” is a condition and at the same time, in light of the word “for,” the basis for a decision to claim to have originated locally, to be native and folk not as heritage but as entitlement, and to be self-conscious about this lineage and the modernity of this self-consciousness, just like the feeling of others who have been verisimilarly born elsewhere in their own province and in a world within. It is this locality of origin, this autonomy of emergence eccentrically, that ensures the disposition to move beyond it, to explore the finitude of difference and the infinity of the new. It is this freedom to emerge elsewhere that guarantees the subject of contemporary means to properly participate in the project of emancipation or transcendence—to be free, at last. The “contemporary” is, therefore, radical to the degree that it motivates us to at once internalize the totality of the self and of the universe and to transcend it. On the one hand, there is the belief that global art or art that is made contemporaneously all over the world in the present is coordinated by some meta-structure of neo-liberal persuasion. On the other, there is the always-already resolute desire to resist this totality, an everyday hope that resistance would actually inhere in the truly worldly. In this vein, the “global contemporary” because it lives in the same time but in different places, at discrepant rhythms, through a gamut of vectors, is by nature, to borrow a phrase from the philosopher of the Baroque José Lezama Lima, “errant in form, but firmly rooted in its essences.” It is this errant form and essential rootedness that is quite elusive, too nimble to be caught by any instrumentalist impulse. But it is also neither eternally inchoate nor aleatory; it is errant, and therefore conscious of norm, aware of translation, decisively political; it is rooted, and therefore sensitive to origin and the future. It invests in the procedures of communication, dialogue, collaboration, reciprocity; it is determinate at the same time that it is chastened by the “commonality of finitude,” and so open to chance and precarity, and the dreams of lastingness. This construction site, this laboratory, this emergent place of making and unmaking, is an effort to create a situation of this play, speculation, critique, bricolage, going out on a limb for art that must outlive certain contexts that oftentimes refuse it, from an earth in near exhaustion to a multitude in unimaginable poverty and persecution.
Patrick D. Flores is Professor of Art Studies at the Department of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines, which he chaired from 1997 to 2003. Flores is also Curator of the Vargas Museum in Manila, and Adjunct Curator at the National Art Gallery, Singapore. He was one of the curators of Under Construction: New Dimensions in Asian Art (2000), and the Gwangju Biennale (Position Papers) in 2008. He was a Visiting Fellow at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1999 and an Asian Public Intellectuals Fellow in 2004. Among his publications are Painting History: Revisions in Philippine Colonial Art (1999); Remarkable Collection: Art, History, and the National Museum (2006); and Past Peripheral: Curation in Southeast Asia (2008). He was a grantee of the Asian Cultural Council (2010); a member of the Advisory Board of the exhibition The Global Contemporary: Art Worlds After 1989 (2011), organized by the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe; and a member of the Guggenheim Museum’s Asian Art Council (2011). He co-edited the Southeast Asian issue with Joan Kee for Third Text (2011). On behalf of the Clark Institute and the Department of Art Studies of the University of the Philippines, Flores organized the conference “Histories of Art History in Southeast Asia” in Manila.