Art, Geography and Hermeneutics

Theoretical models no longer embrace contemporary issues as a whole. The first phase of Arts Cabinet’s work in the MENA region, revealed that the concept of Post-colonialism, the duality between North and South or gender approach amongst others, and therefore the paradigms of modernity and post-modernity, can’t contain all the interrogations raised by contemporary art.
The main structuring dynamic of our times seems to be the hermeneutic.
If postmodernity was essential to deconstruct the Enlightenment model of progress, the hermeneutic, based on a deductive approach, allows to overcome this model. The exponential and limitless progress of humanity is no longer an efficient concept.
Whereas certain artists continue to borrow the idea of universalism, they refuse the belief in a better world. Free of moral judgements associated with progress, they produce a greater flexible perspective that can encompass their thinking as a whole. Despite being localized, their thinking is not reduced to a sheer physical location. In fact, the adverse effect of the post-colonial model is to link strongly artist identities to geography which produce powerful assignations. Assignations that artists refute as definition of their works whereas a great number of institutions are still structured within those boundaries.
Of course, one cannot deny that artists work locally, but sometimes this locality is less visible in artworks themselves than in the artist careers. Understanding how artists try and achieve to escape or fit their original locality is as important as understanding how it’s at work in the art pieces themselves.
Indeed, hermeneutic is no synonym of relativeness. Power relationship between centers and peripheries are still structurally relevant. But it has become impossible to subsume practices in a geographical definition increasingly rejected by artists, as a way to approach their work precisely because they refuse to be reduce to it.
Deductive approach of the hermeneutic led by reflexive analysis highlights the plurality of ways artists explore different worlds. It’s a true space of innovation of the last two decades in contemporary art as well as in social sciences (at its highest through in the North American Auto-Ethnography). The collaborative works carried out by artists and researchers play a key role in this development. This is the wonderful project Arts Cabinet want to carry out.

Dr Annabelle Boissier is a socio-anthropologist. Her research focusses on contemporary art worlds, writing processes in social sciences and alternative ways of producing knowledge.