Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Epilogue: Origins, Futures, Becomings

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Epilogue: Origins, Futures, Becomings

Article excerpt

History is always written from a sedentary point of view and in the name of a unitary State apparatus, at least a possible one, even when the topic is nomads. What is lacking is a Nomadology, the opposite of a history.1

All history does is to translate a co-existence of becomings into a succession.2

Southeast Asia and Contemporary Art History's Contingent Imaginaries

HOW DOES CONTEMPORARY Southeast Asian art history contribute to current and future debates on a developing contemporary art history, particularly in an increasingly globalized, homogenizing art world with its propensity to 'Oneness'? How might contemporary Southeast Asian art reinforce an historiography that situates Southeast Asia as a distinct regional space and identity with its own art trajectories but which at the same time has relevance for the world? Can contemporary Southeast Asian art offer ways of rethinking the conventional frames of art history, revising established epistemologies and methodologies for researching art and for researching Asia? How might this art help shape the future of art? Whither the projects of contemporary Southeast Asian art at the dawn of the 'Asian century'?

These are some of the central questions and concerns behind my engagement with contemporary Southeast Asia art throughout this book and which I hope will resonate with art-historical work being pursued by others. While the present volume, it is hoped, may have shed some light on these matters, many of these questions underline the fact that defining contemporary art is necessarily a work in progress, of futures and of becoming rather than a tracing of narratives already played out. These questions, along with others, might therefore serve as prompts and cues in the project of contemporary art history. Significantly, contemporary Southeast Asian art -its multiple forms, cultural and historical contexts, influences, audiences, and exhibiting contexts, as well as its high degree of self-reflexivity and the kinds of 'art criticism' this elicits - is itself an immediate and driving force in imagining and imaging the future shape and problematics of art historiography. It is already playing a role in prompting re-examination of what we mean by art and art history, their methods, forms, subject-matter, and reception. It demands different ways of seeing from the established Western models of art-historical practice. A contemporary art history for the world faces the challenge of recalibrating Western art history's traditional tools, methods, and scope to register the manifold currents of contemporary art-making in diverse yet specific temporal and spatial contexts.

In addressing this task, contemporary Southeast Asian art demonstrates the plurality and diversity to be found in the world's contemporary art, not only through the multitude of artistic expression seen within the region itself and throughout the region's diasporas, but also in its function as a marker and model of the rich modern and contemporary art histories existing in locales beyond the art centres of Europe and the USA. The particular significance of contemporary Southeast Asian art to a growing discussion of contemporary art globally is to reveal the plural, conjunctive, and overlapping histories that come into view in art's globalized context and which demand that we recognize art history as a differentiated field even within the shared space-time of the global. To borrow from Huw Hallam's reconceptualization of cosmopolitanism for art history, this is to recognize the latter not as "a singular, everexpanding yet concentric" project but one that is "multiple overlapping [and] polycentric"3 in its design, dependencies, and trajectories. Contemporary Southeast Asian art, in other words, plays a vital role in disrupting the universalizing impulse to institutionalize contemporary art in a singular, unified, homogenized perspective, in line with the twenty-first century's institutionalization of the global (most pronounced in the frame of the world circuit of international art biennales and the proliferating commercial art fairs). …

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