Purple Magazine
— F/W 2014 issue 22





I don’t like the idea of homogenizing globalization. I don’t like extinction and the disappearance of species. I love mondialité. This is a protest against homogenizing globalization.

Every day, I read the writings of Édouard Glissant. His work is a toolbox for the 21st century, and he shows us how global dialogue can produce and preserve differences. It’s urgent that we all read Glissant; it’s urgent that he’s translated into English. The 21st century, one could say, is Glissantian. Although he is not widely known, Édouard Glissant (1928-2011) is one of the most im- portant 20th-century writers, whose thinking remains fundamental. We should even be worried about his relative obscurity, since he dis- cusses with great insight the most important issues surrounding globalization: homogenization and extinction. His theory of the “creolization of the world” pertains to questions of national identity in view of the colonial past that characterizes his Antillean identity. He broaches the urgent question of how best to sustain a plurality of culture within the terms of an ongoing global exchange.

Global homogenization is a tendency Stefan Zweig had already observed in 1925, when he wrote in Die Monotonisierung der Welt (The Monotonization of the World): “Everything concerning the outer life form becomes homogeneous; everything is evened to a consistent cultural scheme. More and more countries seem to be congruent, people acting and living within one scheme, more and more cities becoming similar in their outer appearance… More and more the aroma of the specific seems to evaporate.”

The forces of globalization are impacting the world of art at large and the process of exhibition curating specifically. There has been great potential in the new global dialogues of the last couple of decades, some of it realized, but there has also been the persistent danger that the homogenizing influences will discourage difference. I worry about this, and so I read Glissant every morning when I wake up. He anchors my thoughts regarding producing shows internationally — encouraging me to listen to and learn from whatever culture I may be work- ing within. Since time is losing its local variety at a global speed that leaves no room for an individual pace, it has become as important as to curate and resist the homogenization of space.

Cultural homogenization is nothing less than cultural extinction. We see this at work in the death of languages. If language is the intellectual DNA of society, then we may be fast losing the code. The linguist Nicholas Evans predicts in his 2010 book Dying Words that while “language death has occurred throughout human history … the pace of extinction is quickening, and we are likely to witness the loss of half of the world’s six thousand languages by the end of this century.” Another startling statistic: “Every two weeks, somewhere in the world, the last speaker of a fading language dies.”

As the art historian Horst Bredekamp writes in his book Theorie des Bildakts (Theory of Picture Acts), in today’s globalized war, iconoclastic acts have become a prominent strategy. Consider, for example, the public extinction of monuments and cultural symbols, such as the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan statues in Afghanistan. Through the mass media, war thus becomes a globalized battle of images that crosses the borders of territories and persists after the event, functioning as legitimation for military action and diplomatic policy.

Scientists today are increasingly debating the possibility of the extinction of human civilization and even of the species itself. The astronomer Martin Rees talks about “our final hour” and questions whether civilization will survive beyond the next century. The specter of demise is felt across the humanities, too. For the philosopher Ray Brassier, the inevitable fact of our eventual extinction grounds the ultimate meaninglessness of human existence, and thus for him the only proper response for philosophy is to embrace and pursue the radically nihilistic implications of this most basic insight. As he writes in his book Nihil Unbound (2007): “Nihilism is … the unavoidable corollary of the realist conviction that there is a mind-independent reality, which… is indifferent to our existence and oblivious to the ‘values’ and ‘meanings’ which we would drape over it in order to make it more hospitable.”

Most would stop short of this absolute conclusion, and there are of course other places to look — sources of hope and meaning. The artist Gustav Metzger, for instance, has made extinction a central theme of his practice. In works that make use of his enormous archive of newspapers, he stresses the point that the prospect of human extinction is raised in the innumerable little extinctions that continuously occur in the world. By re-presenting newspaper stories on the subject, Metzger highlights the problem of our collective attitude of resignation in the face of the sheer regularity of such disappearance, and our apparent impotence regarding the major cause of its recent acceleration: climate change.

Extreme weather events are nowadays commonplace, and we have grown used to the images of mass destruction on our television screens. We might then conclude, after Paul Virilio, that the cataclysmic effects of our own super-sanitized, super-comfortable lifestyles in the North are now being turned upon us.

How should we combat this inertia? How do we wake up to the immense responsibility that we have today for the generations still to come? As Metzger has long pointed out, the forward march of global capitalism has irreversible effects upon the world and its resources. And as these effects continue to snowball beyond our control, the possibility of extinction becomes ever more present. The fate of species and ecosystems, indeed of humankind itself, rests in the balance, and the need for urgent, globally coordinated action to halt the world’s environmental decline cannot be over- stated. Today more than ever we should worry about extinction.

Gerhard Richter says that art is the highest form of hope. I would add that art is the primary form of resistance to homogenization and extinction. To quote Zweig again: “Art still exists to give shape to multiple ways of being.”

Swiss-born Hans-Ulrich Obrist is a chief curator at the Serpentine Gallery in London, the author of the ongoing The Interview Project, and co-editor of the magazine Cahiers d’Art.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2014 issue 22

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON





purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple SEX

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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