To give a few examples: Raqs Media Collective from New Delhi with their projects on porous time; Guillermo Kuitca with his portable homes and mattress maps; the Hungarian documentary filmmaker Péter Forgács with his “what if” histories and recreated home movies; Anri Sala with his “out-of-synch videos; New York–based artist Rebecca Quaytman with her “lateral moves” towards the forgotten tradition of the East European avant-garde; South African artist William Kentridge with his re-animation of the atonal Soviet opera; experiments in the reinvention of the public sphere through art in the Tirana façade project orchestrated by the artist, Mayor Edi Rama; and experimental public performances using mimes and commedia dell’arte to enforce urban citizenship and the performance of law in Bogota, Colombia, organized by the former mayor of the city, mathematician, philosopher, and unconventional theater director Antanas Mockus. The seemingly peripheral situation of these artists and politicians reveals the eccentricity of the center, and asynchronicity questions the progress of cultural trends and artistic movements that are supposed to succeed one another like well-behaved citizens in the express checkout line. The off modern does not focus on the external pluralism and values of states, with their political PR and imperial ambitions, but on internal pluralities within cultures tracing elective affinities and diasporic intimacies across national borders.
We might be living on the edge of an era when the accepted cultural myths of late capitalism and of technological or digital progress no longer work for us. We are on the cusp of a paradigm shift, and to anticipate it we have to expand our field of vision. The logic of edginess is opposed to that of the seamless appropriation of popular culture, or the synchronicity of computer memory. This is a logic that exposes wounds, cuts, scars, ruins, the afterimage of touch. Its edginess resists incorporation and doesn’t allow for a romance of convenience. Clarification: the off-moderns are edgy, not marginal. They don’t wallow in the self-pity or resentment that comes with marginalization, even when some of this is justified.
So the off-modern edge is not a line in the sand, but a space. Thoreau once wrote that one has to have “broad margins” to one’s life. The off-modern edges are not sites of marginality but those broad margins where one could try to live deliberately, against all odds, in the age of shrinking space and resources and forever accelerating rhythms. To be edgy, then, could also mean avoiding the logic of the cutting edge, even if the temptation is great not to. If you are just off the butcher’s knife on the cutting edge, you will end up devoured before you are examined. The logic of the cutting edge makes you part of the bloody action movie so common in contemporary popular culture, where tears and affect are only computer generated. Edginess requires a longer duration. Only at the risk of being outmoded could one stay con-temporary.
The term “off modern” came to me by accident, as I was dueling with my computer printer, turning it on and off, violating its instructions in the hopes of performing an unpredictable knight’s move in a battle with so-called artificial intelligence. I didn’t have a new black-ink cartridge and wanted to see how my cheap printer would cope with the situation of technical scarcity. It continued working, letting its psychedelic unconscious spill out and yielding a few photographic prints that were unrepeatable and unpredictable. Images without black (without melancholia?) led to a project about nostalgic technologies that involved even more battles with the printer. In a series of “ruined prints” showing our decaying modern landscapes, I pulled the photographs prematurely from the printer, leaving the lines of passages. This error made each print unrepeatable and uniquely imperfect. The process is not Luddite but ludic, not destructive but experimental. An error has an aura.
Erring was also erotic; it teased the technological superego of the digital apparatus, subduing the machine and yielding to it at the same time. Technê, after all, once referred to arts, crafts, and techniques. Both art and technology were imagined as forms of human prosthesis, missing limbs, imaginary or physical extensions of human space.
Many technological inventions, including film and space rockets, were first envisioned in science fiction; imagined by artists and writers, not scientists. The term “virtual reality” was in fact coined by Henri Bergson, not Bill Gates. Originally it referred to the virtual realities of human imagination and consciousness that couldn’t be mimicked by technology.