Anti- Globalization & (Alter)Modernity

“Methods of thought which claim to give the lead to our world in the name of revolution have become, in reality, ideologies of consent and not of rebellion.”

– Albert Camus

‘What better characterises this period than the mythification of origins? The meaning of a work of art, for this second-stage postmodernism, depends essentially on the social background to its production. “Where do you come from?” appears to be its most pressing question, and essentialism its critical paradigm. Identification with genre, ethnicity, a sexual orientation or a nation sets in motion a powerful machinery: multiculturalism, now a critical methodology, has virtually become a system of allotting meanings and assigning individuals their position in the hierarchy of social demands, reducing their whole being to their identity and stripping all their significance back to their origins. Thus postmodernism has moved on from the depression of the Cold War to a neurotic preoccupation with origins typical of the era of globalisation. It is this thought-model that today finds itself in crisis, this multiculturalist version of cultural diversity that must be called into question, not in favour of a “universalism” of principles or a new modernist esperanto, but within the framework of a new modern movement based on heterochrony, a common interpretation, and freedom to explore.’

Nicolas Bourriaud, Altermodern: Tate Triennial, Tate Publishing, 2009 (p.20).

Charles Avery | Aleph Null Head and Installation of drawings | Altermodern Exhibit @ Tate Triennial 2009

Charles Avery | Aleph Null Head and Installation of Drawings | Altermodern Exhibit @ Tate Triennial 2009

Over burritos a few weeks ago, right before we all headed off to the McCaffery reading at This Ain’t the Rosedale Library, a few friends and I joked about the prevalent what now question of modernity. There seem to be a lot of words to describe it (post-pomo, hypermodern, supermodern, and now Bourriaud’s altermodern), all of which sound like equally alienating intellectualisms (judging by the groans over our ginger ales), but the common thread seems to be a reaction against pomo’s deconstructive mandate which has now proven to be a tool of capitalist expansion. Sure, as a twenty-something, I really don’t know anything other than postmodernity, considering my entire subjecthood is built in postmodern deconstruction and modernist nostalgia. Yet, because of this, I am also acutely aware of its pitfalls; those that formerly seduced me into the world of postmodern art.

The idea of breaking down distinctions in service of individual, and thus, social justice made my young mind swirl with Utopian fantasies, but as we’ve all seen, the end of the project of postmodernism is far from Utopian. It seems as though postmodernism, in spreading so wildly and creating endless boundaries for the individual, eventually fed on capitalist greed with no sense of a singular revolutionary cause. What could have been a new era for the builders of this new modernity has become a cesspool of individual want, alienated from the notion of social activism, complicit with economic oppressors, and passive to the paradoxical homogenization of the individual through the rejection of binaries. Neo-liberalism has become the capitalist colonizer of the world, and the Western mind.

As a lover of capitalist comforts, though, I can’t quite complain. This is all I’ve ever known. I have no naïve expectations that our current system will be speedily overturned in favour of a Utopian social democracy, keeping all of the social comforts with which capitalism pacifies us. I do, however, believe that revolutionary action against the spread of global captialism is necessary during our lifetime, and that we are capable of creating change in the world. I want what most Canadians do: peace, intellectual and personal freedom, and social justice. I don’t need too many comforts to survive; my bachelor apartment and my cat keep me sane enough. My struggle, however, is with the paradox of globalization which, in its very constitution, liberates and enslaves us. What I can celebrate in the miscellany of global culture and art, I can also lament in global commerce. The spread of global capitalism creates mass pockets of poverty and feeds into established oligarchic greed. Where’s the social justice? Is this about human beings, or just having more convenient smart-phones and seedless watermelons? With the G-20 summit approaching this June in Toronto, I find myself on the anti-globalization side, vowing protest as the government vows to throw protesters into a lakeside jail if the social outcry is too fierce. Vive la démocratie.

Will our opposition do anything? Often, when I talk to people about social activism they quickly assert that protest is futile and can change nothing. Wouldn’t an oppressive regime want you to think you’re powerless? Isn’t there power in numbers? Am I insane to sincerely believe in my own agency?

I believe that revolutions start in art, alongside collective action. Perhaps we’re at a difficult point in history, where the fragmentation of now-dead postmodernity mixed with the miscellany of globalized culture creates an indistinguishable soup of social passivity, wherein difference is tolerated and subsumed. Is there a way of reinvigorating the Western masses to care about the state of their social and economic structure in a way that can release the individual from homogenization? Can we extend this to all citizens, instead of playing fun intellectual games on our blogs or in our obscure journals?

As a response to the rise of null capitalist art and politics, I am hereby officially embracing the Altermodern as means of carrying out social change. I want singularity, not in the sense of individualism which subsequently dissolves into the homogenization of a  single-minded capitalist structure, but in the sense of collective singularity, of irreducible opposition and difference in flux. A singular identity connecting to social awareness. It is possible to facilitate difference while maintaining social and cultural tolerance, but not to the point of passivity toward injustice. I want to envision a modernity sans nostalgie, as Bourriaud put it, but also with a necessary link to past knowledge, without being inextricably linked to the events of a long-lost notion of humanity. It is possible. It is our responsibility to write the altermodernity of the future, looking forward, making distinctions not based on historical lingusitics and binary systems, but in the name of a new configuration of the modern subject. I’m starting here, and now. Let’s begin with the basics, and work together to elaborate:

  • Let the revolution begin in our art.
  • Oppose capitalist expansion and support regional difference.
  • Do not allow your practices to be subsumed into the system.
  • Take a Neoist approach to change, while keeping your ideals.
  • Relativism is for the weak.
  • Unabashedly embrace social idealism.
  • Do not be pacified.
  • Deconstruction is another tool of oppression. Reject it.
  • Choose singularity.
  • Be sincere.

More information on Altermodernity here.


  1. Grant wrote:

    So interesting! I know what you mean when you say that all of the flashy new intellectual -isms seem dull and empty. Sometimes people just don’t want to have opinions about these things and they become passive because the words lose meaning. Your argument is sound, but actual social change would take mass participation. I guess we just have to wait and see what happens and keep writing manifestos.

  2. Paden wrote:

    Very articulate and optimistic. I used to be pretty skeptical about the idealized image of revolution, but I recently realized that you need those ideals to get anything done. Revolutions only start with revolutionary ideals, right? How’s the work on your manifesto on humanism coming?

  3. Work is going well. I just need to edit it and save up a little bit of money to get it printed. I’m currently in love with my heinous state of poverty.

  4. Adèle wrote:

    I went to the Altermodern exhibit last year at Tate, and it was amazing. Even though the ideological backing was revolutionary, I wasn’t entirely sure that the formal aspects were revolutionary. It was largely hybrid and mixed media, which has been around for a while. But then again, huge revolutions in art don’t necessarily have to be grounded in form, think of all of the painters whose style in the exact same medium revolutionized art for years afterward…

    It’s interesting that you’re connecting the altermodern with anti-globalization. This actually makes a lot of sense, though Bourriaud probably would never say it himself. Making altermodern art in the name of anti-capitalism? I both fear it, and like it. Intense stuff.

  5. Major Wetterauer wrote:

    Hi there could I reference some of the information from this blog if I link back to you?

  6. Bernard wrote:

    This is very interesting.

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