Territory without terrain

The Editors

From Bhanu Kapil’s “How to Write a Poem,” 2012. Published online by the Poetry Foundation, April 2012.

September 2, 2020

The Yokohama Triennale, according to its artistic director Raqs Media Collective, would this year illuminate the “forces that flow […] between the microcosm of singular lives [and] the connected life of the planet.”1 Which is a laudable aim, even if the curators were beaten to the punch by the flow through millions of singular bodies of submicroscopic agents reputedly introduced into the connected life of humans by a bat’s encounter with a pangolin in a Chinese seafood market. In terms of illustrating the point that we are each tangled up in complex intersecting global systems, a viral pandemic is hard to rival.

The crisis has thrown issues shaping contemporary art into sharper relief. How to act globally while preserving local difference? How to protect communities without excluding others? Which borders should be torn down, and which reinforced? What does it mean to share, to participate, to conserve? If neither isolationism nor globalization in their simplest forms are satisfactory, then the pressing task is to record how the agents that shape our lives—whether viruses, toxicity, information, or, most pertinently to this publication, ideas—move around the world, how they adapt to local conditions, and how they are experienced in diverse contexts. Hence the importance of Raqs’s aim not to flatten out the “different periods, cultural milieus, and geographies” that inform their confluent vision of art and its ecosystem, but instead work them into a “patchwork” that overlaps, interlinks, threads together in makeshift ways.

This tension between what is shared and what is particular is the dilemma of art. It is the critic’s responsibility to trace the links between artists, works, and cultures while conceding the independence of each; to think across boundaries while acknowledging the limits of that project. And so a publication such as art-agenda is also a patchwork, roughly stitching together various ways of reading the world as described through the culture it produces. This September, as in every month, these pieces take different colours and shapes—conversations between artists and writers; critical appraisals of biennials and triennials from around the world; reviews from spaces reopening into a new normal; reflections on how galleries and institutions can shape an uncertain future. The story they tell is sundry rather than singular, contains tensions if not contradictions, can be read in various ways.

The editors believe that this is not purely an academic exercise. That it might carry some value to reassert that commonality and individual freedom are not mutually exclusive; that to identify how communities are connected is not to deny their different experiences, but to show how those differences are constructed; that art is a field in which the meeting of objects, ideas, and forms can generate new and restless ways of thinking. That the study of culture might allow us to better comprehend the interconnecting causes of the troubled age through which we are living and, perhaps, to transform them. Raqs’ “sourcebook” for the Yokohama Triennale also quotes the self-taught Japanese philosopher Nishikawa Kimitsu: “We are part of the universe, but at the same time we are creating the universe.” You must be implicated in the system in order to change it.


Raqs Media Collective, “Sharing our Sources,” Sourcebook http://raqsmediacollective.net/sourcebook_en.pdf. Koichiro Osaka’s review of the Yokohama Triennale is published next week.

Land & territory, Globalization, Borders & Frontiers
Community, Covid-19
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September 2, 2020

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