Contemporaneity is a meshwork of chaotic states and unresolved global political issues, from the ethics of survival, uncontrollability, the aesthetics of life, invasive relations, inclusion and exclusion, the slowing down of global changes, the transformation of existing systems, to the breakdown of a common cultural and philosophical identity.
The inability to fully recognize these issues and bring about the necessary tremendous changes in time and space, has been a permanent feature of European history, both in the period between the two world wars, as well as in the third millennium. It is as if the old lady would not dare to look at the changing lines on her own face map, as the face and the body are slowly but surely deforming, disintegrating, dissipating. Art, philosophy, and culture have been in the service of politics and the state, and vice versa every so often, at least according to the historical (majority) share.
The fourth and final out of international group exhibitions, which we are setting up as part of the project Risk Change, is a confrontation with reality. The title Tense Present calls attention to the critical importance of the 'here and now', in a time when it is increasingly popular to be selling the future, which is nothing but escapism into the ever unattainable tomorrow, or reminiscing about the past, as a form of nostalgia for the bygone, for the memory of better, or worse, times. Of course, this 'out-of-time' existence is a part of human nature, which always looks backward and forward, but which has also been an instrument of everyday use for the politics, so that it can justify its actions and manipulate the masses.
These ideas are the focal point of the exhibition Tense Present; by unveiling the structure systems behind the social categorization of invisible, virtual and relation processes, and by analyzing the material space and infrastructure, Tense Present seeks to accentuate the topicality of the space and time we live in. It is a fact that for the past few decades, we have been living through a continuous string of political. economic, environmental and social crises, whereby a state of permanent crisis has become the new reality, and the seeming resolution, or sustainment of the latter has become the new modus operandi of global politics. As a result, the public discourse has (yet again) become defined by a steep rise of widespread populism, which is legitimized through the sustained state of crisis, while at the same time – through stereotypes, and through simple and shallow political and historical interpretations – it conceals the reality of the operation of (infra)structural systems, which shape the contemporary social and economic reality beyond the constraints of political ideology.
The conceptual groundwork for the exhibition is determined by two key notions: infrastructure, and mapping. In this context, infrastructure is understood not only in terms of physical structure and the built, material space, utilitarian objects and the like, but above all as the organizational levers and processes, which condition our everyday reality. Systems of telecommunication, security, health care, education, culture and other institutionalized systems, maintain and accelerate the flow of global capital. Infrastructure, therefore, is a means of steering the flow of global production, exploitation of natural resources, work, (the production of) knowledge and exchange of information, while at the same time these processes are used to identify, determine, categorize and discipline the individual and the mass. Infrastructure is therefore defined beyond the scope of a neutral and efficient functioning of logistic systems – as a set of (geopolitical) power relations, antagonisms, ways of managing the collective and as a multitude of internalized individual and collective routines and practices. Nevertheless, there is no way of getting around a basic definition of infrastructure, which is in fact a synonym for technological progress and a symbol of hungriness, profit, and social inequalities.
Selected authors and works in the exhibition share more than just a conceptual framework, within which they position various conceptual discourses; they are joined by a distinctly interdisciplinary methodological approach and formal presentation. Within the field of contemporary art, namely, a series of turns (e.g. ethnographic, pedagogic), or processes of turning has resulted in the formation of new methodological and interpretational models, which gradually began to redefine the established ways of knowledge production, as ways of understanding and responding to the changing political, economic, and social circumstances. Today, a reciprocal use of artistic strategies in science and of scientific strategies in art is no longer something new, to which the exhibited works and research projects surely testify. Mapping, i.e., establishing relations between individual actors and elements, is a strategy observed in all the exhibiting authors, and as such, it is one of the criteria for the selection of the artworks in the exhibition. From a cartographic mapping of territorial borders and border regimes, through visual and archive analyses of the architectural metamorphosis of conflict zones, militarization of the state, the pharmaceutical industry, research institutes for robotics, databases, systems of online surveillance and the disintegration of the welfare state, to fine art analyses of the material and the abstract.
Art is here and now, it acts in the present space-time, and directly addresses the public. It can also place a mirror, or become a mirror in itself, or even move behind the mirror, into that 'dark universe', where it can find a space for contemplation, serenity, creation. Although art (may) draw on the experience of the past, citing myths and pointing out historical truths, and although it looks to the future, anticipating and foretelling – it uses both as tools for elucidating the present. What is it like to be and to exist, to endure in the increasingly turbulent, seemingly globalized, but actually localized world, where those who rule think only about hanging onto their own positions – about staying in power in the future as well?
Art confronts the views of conflicting monoculture interests, it neutralizes them through its literalness, as it faces the crude segmentation of the broader social reality and the individual, and establishes unexpected, unseen, unspoken and yet unformed relations in the complex hues of grayness. Art creates a four-dimensional mirror and a wider, deeper insight into reality. However, the question arises, to what extent even contemporary art is a hidden instrument of various politics?
Contemporary art moves along the lines of various principles, from criticism, activism, experimentation, through ephemeral research, nuancing and layering established concepts and meanings, to the subtle perception of anthropocentric points of social neuralgia; from the layered and concentrated urban space, to extended notions of nature as we know it today: autochthonous and modified, genetically restructured.
Upon the substantive premises of art, technology, science, geopolitics, demography and social sciences, interdisciplinary interplays generate art forms, constructions, concepts, visualizations and psycho-physical structures of anthropocentrism in internal and external spaces, between existence and disappearance.
This is why connecting art and science has become topical (again) in recent times. Although we could say that these two systems are opposite – art as the kind of work, which offers endless solutions, and science, with one single correct answer – it is precisely in their intertwinement that the universe of man's purpose comes full circle. Art incorporates scientific research into its terminology, opening up new dimensions of survival, addressing other fields and collaborating with nature, pointing out broader social themes, requestioning the meaningfulness of social hierarchies, dealing with issues of inequality, with worsening differences between the rich and the poor, between the comfort of a certain number of people and the destitution of so many, between the still topical master-slave relations, between the first, second and third worlds, and all those that follow. The production of food is nothing but a monopoly in the ruthless race of the biggest economic sectors with others, although it is supposed to be an inalienable right of everyone, just like health, whereby in health care, the most important thing seems to be to set up a system, in which medicine and pharmacy are not a form of social inquisition, but a matter of public and common well-being. Like air and water. Not only for human beings, but for all living and 'still' nature.
Art and science have always been bound by fate. Have been and will be. For millennia, or at least since the discovery of the atom, science has known that a dividing line between still and living nature is inexistent. The existence of atoms was first suggested in the 6th century B.C. by Greek philosophers (Democritus, Leucippus and Epicurus), however, the idea sank into oblivion all until it was revived in the 18th century by Ruđer Josip Bošković, before it really took off with John Dalton's suggestion to apply it in chemistry. Simple: all substances in nature consist of atoms.
Art teaches us about co-existence with nature, and with ourselves. It tells us that everything is alive, that we need to be creative, vigilant, and empathetic. Even when we do not understand something, because the point is not in the result, but rather in the process, in the path that takes us there. When the path ends, the journey begins – and only then can we look behind the mirror. With the realization that everything is inseparable and interconnected. That we cannot take from the whole, without infringing upon that whole. That we need to see the big picture. That behind physics, as a scientific notion, follows metaphysics, something above material physics, which cannot be explained by means of physics' definitions. Although science attempts to do that as well, as it goes deeper and deeper into subatomic levels of quantum mechanics, or quantum physics, searching for the holy grail – the particle of eternal truth. No need to be surprised, if this particle turns out to be art.