Share Article   
Submit to Facebook

December 28, 2013

Elsewhere in time


By Gitanjali Dang and Christoph Schenker



You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

― Richard Buckminster Fuller



It has long since been accepted that the metaphor is a function of both language and thought. Subsequently, right at the very onset we’d like to point out that most terms—including metaphor, rhizomatic, elsewhere, interdisciplinarity, decentralisation—mobilised in this essay double as tropes for plurality, heterogeneity and the like.


And so without further a do. Starting January 2014, the Institute for Contemporary Art Research (IFCAR), Zurich University of the Arts ZHdK, and Khanabadosh, an itinerant arts lab based out of Bombay, have embarked on a research project focused on overlapping public spheres across a variety of urban contexts. We intend for these rhizomatic researches to culminate in a decentralised public art biennial tentatively titled Elsewhere.


The broad thematic for this project will be arrived at through dialogue between a host of interdisciplinary players, ranging from artists to lawyers, who have actively contributed to the identified contexts. This dialogue, in the form of two seminars, will bookend the project.


For the first edition of this biennial, which we aim to inaugurate in 2016, we have a modest goal of engaging with eight to ten cities from across the world, including Zurich and Bombay. Urban ecology is an almost overripe instance of the anthropocene—an informal geological term indicative of the impact human actions have had on our planet’s ecosystems— that is upon us.

In relation to Elsewhere, the focus will be on collaborating with artists—the term is meant very broadly here—who’re engaged in projects, wherein one embodies one’s aesthetic like a turtle embodies its home. Incidentally, the posthuman metaphor of the turtle is also central to Khanabadosh, Persian for those who carry their homes with them.


This process of embodiment is uniformly crucial because it entails slowing down. As this writer pointed out in a recent essay titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Moving, “Turtles and tortoises are slow in part because of the weight of their homes. The embodiment of aesthetic entails a certain slowness and lateness. Correspondingly, introspection and sustainability are hard-wired into the embodied practice.”1

The art works that emerge from this project will dwell on and intervene into public structures in a bid to understand urban processes and to draw attention to sustainable ideologies.

With a focus on grassroots engagement, Elsewhere intends to engage with homegrown models of public art, which are geared towards catalysing dialogue locally in urban spheres across varied contexts. For better or worse, our globalised contemporaneity reiterates the inherent hybridity of our being. Activating sites locally and yet identifying and working with enduring transnational concerns and thematics will be integral to the project. Consequently, despite the emphasis on the local, our proposal should in no way get confused with a refusal to engage with the outside, it merely insists on exchange.


Interdisciplinarity and decentralisation, essential components of this exchange, can be proposed as being somewhat analogous to the core proposition of object-oriented ontology (OOO), which rejects Kantian anthropocentrism, i.e. privileging of human presence over the presence of nonhuman objects. In Kant’s view, objects are congruent with the mind of the subject as objects of human cognition a priori; the human mind is always at the centre of the philosophical investigation. For object-oriented ontologists, however,all relations, including those between nonhumans, exist on an equal footing. This core proposition of OOO acts as powerful metaphor for multiplicity and plural existence.



Predilection for power is a constant in human societies, putting human beings at the centre is indicative of the same. In addition to creating power centres, anthropocentrism also highlights a propensity towards devaluing the other and pillaging our various ecosystems. As such, a tendency towards xenophobia, surveillance, global warming, communalism and pollution among others is also latent in societies across the world. Furthermore, ecofeminist and activist Val Plumwood, has pointed out that anthropocentrism is to ecology what androcentrism is to feminist theory and ethnocentrism is to anti-racist theory.


Bearing the aforementioned arguments in mind, it comes as no surprise that Okwui Enwezor explored a sort of decentralised model through Documenta 11. For this Enwezor initiated five platforms that were realised in four continents over a period of eighteen months; beginning with Vienna in March 2001, followed by New Delhi, Berlin, St. Lucia, Lagos, and ending in Kassel in September 2002.


“In a sense, then, Documenta 11's five Platforms, in a paradoxical but necessary critical move, begin with a series of deterritorializations which not only intervene in the very historical location of Documenta in Kassel but also emblematize the mechanisms that make the space of contemporary art one of multiple ruptures,”2 writes Enwezor in the exhibition catalogue for Documenta 11, Platform 5.


Vis-à-vis Elsewhere, decentralisation and interdisciplinarity are pivotal in keeping the insinuations of the anthropocentric paradigm at arm’s length. They also ensure that traditional and increasingly restrictive typologies such as artist and artwork are not privileged over the expanded artistic field.

Having said that, it must be underscored that multipolarity too has a long history. Consider the case of the 16th century Italian monk, mathematician, philosopher, astrologer and astronomer Giordano Bruno. In On the Infinite Universe and Worlds (1584), Bruno went beyond the Copernican model and asserted that the universe contains an infinity of inhabited worlds populated by other intelligent beings. Several centuries later in 1927, Hubble’s Law made the universe’s stance on decentralisation quite clear when it stated that the cosmos is centre-less and expanding.


As such, plural rhizomatic realities have very much been part of the building blocks of the universe; their arrival though has always been delayed on account of the sheer density of their non-linear rhizomatic network, which slows down progress. As mentioned before, while this embodiment of plurality allows breathing room for introversion, the interim is, nevertheless, regularly strained. Nowhere else is this tension more visible than in the warp and weft of the urban fabric.


Rejigging old patterns in the hope of giving lateness latitude is one of the key motivations of this project. Lateness is about deliberate incompleteness, deferred arrivals and in-betweenness.



In early 1990’s, pedagogue, literary theorist and thinker Edward Said taught a course on late style/ work at the Columbia University, he also gave a few lectures under the same rubric in London. The term gained wider circulation following Said’s posthumously published collection of essays titled On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain (2007).  It was, however, Theodor W Adorno who first proposed the idea in his essay Late Style in Beethoven, where he expounded on the disharmonies found in the composer’s late music.


According to Adorno, “The maturity of the late works of significant artists does not resemble the kind one finds in fruit. They are, for the most part, not round but furrowed, even ravaged. Devoid of sweetness, bitter and spiny, they do not surrender themselves to mere delectation.”3


Discussing late style, Said wrote, “Each of us can readily supply evidence of how it is that late works crown a lifetime of aesthetic endeavour. Rembrandt and Matisse, Bach and Wagner. But what of artistic lateness not as harmony and resolution but as intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction?”4

Although On Late Style is one of Said’s lesser-known works—at least when compared to Orientalism, 1978—the titular provocation nevertheless has great resonance in our current cultural climate. The dearth of late work in contemporary art for instance is primarily a result of capitalism’s takeover of it.


While ‘approaching death’ inflects Adorno and Said’s elaborations on late work,

Said’s privileging of ‘anachronism and anomaly’, in his writing on late style,

makes arriving at an expanded conception of lateness, which may or may not be predicated on imminent mortality, easier still.


Could it be, then, that object-oriented philosophy, the anthropocene epoch and the multipolar public art biennial be late styles for philosophy, our planet and the biennial format respectively?


Critical mass also appears to be building around the ideas of anachronism and anomaly, which are relations of lateness. Said’s emphasis on them also gets mirrored in Giorgio Agamben’s essay What is Contemporary?, where the philosopher writes, “Contemporariness is, then, a singular relationship with one’s own time, which adheres to it and, at the same time, keeps a distance from it. More precisely, it is that relationship with time that adheres to it through a disjunction and an anachronism. Those who coincide too well with the epoch, those who are perfectly tied to it in every respect, are not contemporaries, precisely because they do not manage to see it; they are not able to firmly hold their gaze on it.”5


The word contemporary can be used interchangeably with aesthetic because the aesthetic project is thoroughly dovetailed with the contemporary, as identified by Agamben.



Biennials, however, are rarely late. They are over-determined by their many smooth segues and are more often than not in sync with the demands economics and politics makes on art.


Be that as it may, the spectacle of large-scale exhibitions and festivals is not entirely without its merits. Curated by Bose Krishnamachari, artistic director, and Riyas Komu, the first edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which opened in December 2012 in Kerala, is a perfect instance of the same. The biennial has galvanised locals who’ve adopted the exhibition big time. In addition to thronging its many sites they’ve also come to recognise the cultural and economic benefits of the event.


Despite standout specimens the role of the biennial in the economy of contemporary art is progressively hallowed and by extension specious. This project intends to rethink the traditional biennial paradigm in a bid to create a more decentralised model that enables multiple entry and exit points, literally and metaphorically. Elsewhere, we hope, will eventually perform as an open source tool, which encourages collaborators in various contexts to reconstitute, if need be, their engagement with the broader project.

Gitanjali Dang is an artist, curator and writer who initiated the itinerant arts lab of Khanabadosh in 2012. She has contributed to a number of Indian and international newspapers and magazines such as Art Papers, Art Agenda, Frieze, The Times of India, CNN GO, The Economic Times, Hindustan Times, The Caravan, and Art India

Christoph Schenker has headed the Institute for Contemporary Arts Research (IFCAR) at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) since 2005, the year the institute was founded. There he leads transdisciplinary research projects in the field of contemporary art, in particular in the context of art and the public sphere. In his capacity as Professor of the Contemporary Art and Philosophy of Art, he also teaches as part of the Master of Arts in Fine Arts offered by ZHdK's Department of Art and Media.




1 Gitanjali Dang, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Moving” in Life Between Borders (apexart, 2013)


2 Okwui Enwezor, ‘Preface’ in Documenta 11, Platform 5: Exhibition Catalogue Appendix (Hatje Cantz, 2002)


3 Theodor Adorno, ‘Late Style in Beethoven’ in Essays on Music edited by Richard Leppert, translated by Susan H. Gillespie (University of California Press, 2002)


4 Edward Said, ‘Timeliness and Lateness’ in On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007)


5 Giorgio Agamben, “What Is the Contemporary?” in What is an Apparatus? and Other Essays, translated by David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 2009)