Bracketing Categories: Contemporaneity: Changing Global Hierarchies of Value?

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    Art history as a discipline presents historical narratives which implicitly and/or explicitly accept Hegel's articulation of zeitgeist (the spirit of the age). However, in an expanding world where technology allows for immediacy to cross geographical time zones as well as historical times, art history, possibly alongside other arts disciplines, are finding it progressively more difficult to operate within the boundaries of their academic discipline. One way of addressing the difficulty might be through Nietzsche's articulation of the 'untimely'. Nietzsche's articulation can thus be used against Hegel to argue that the 'contemporary' is precisely that which does not fit within 'the spirit of the age'; 'contemporariness' is the condition of neither coinciding nor adjusting to the demands of the time. The contemporary, Agamben argues, 'is not only the one who perceives the darkness of the present, grasps a light that can never reach its destiny; the contemporary is also the one who, dividing and interpolating time, is capable of transforming it and putting it in relation with other times' (Agamben, 2011, 18).

    The paper will look at the work of three artists from China and Hong Kong working in the fields of visual art, music and dance. All three are facing difficulties in negotiating between 'contemporary' often understood as 'Western' expectations and 'tradition' often understood as 'Chinese' expectations. This is further complicated by expectations of gender specific behaviour which is in tension with the above expectations under both 'contemporary' and 'tradition'. All three have chosen to do so in at least one of their works through fragments from an old art practice by peasant women who develop their own form of phonetic scrip which took place in a small area in Hunan Province, China. The practice of Nushu (literally, women's writing/book) was never acknowledged whilst the practice was a presence. The artefacts produced (written, embroidered, sung) were buried or burnt with the owner. The paper will discuss the conflicting demands and expectations all three artists face, in their different practices and different disciplines, and how each is addressing their 'contemporaneity' in their respective field.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationUniversity of Copenhagen
    Subtitle of host publicationChanging Global Hierarchies of Value?
    Publication statusUnpublished - 20 Aug 2018


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