Course correction

The Editors

View through the window of Mark Beldan’s workspace in Toronto, fall 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

December 1, 2022

The recent death of Bruno Latour prompted us to revisit an idea that has been influential on this publication’s editorial position. In the era after the avant-garde, asks Latour, when modernist presumptions of a headlong march into the future have been discredited, what does it mean to believe in progress? How to hold out the possibility of moving forward without falling into the same old traps? Latour draws a subtle distinction between what he calls the “idea of inevitable progress” and a “tentative and precautionary progression” that pays more attention to the direction of travel than its speed.1 We must be attentive to the route we are taking, and should always be correcting its course.

The name he gives to this approach is “composition,” making an explicit connection to the creative process generally and the arts specifically. The futures we imagine into being, Latour proposes, must always be adapted to the conditions of the present. By focusing on that dynamic relation, he replaces the question of how to achieve utopia with the critical task of identifying “what is well or badly constructed, well or badly composed” and adjusting what one thinks according to the findings. Which sounds a lot like the work of art criticism, albeit that it takes place at a very humble scale.

This month’s program is characterized by reflections on the futures—not always progressive—being constructed by artists and institutions. Repeatedly our writers consider how well those visions are composed, whether they are properly adapted to their conditions, and for whom they are designed. Reviews from around the world, meanwhile, reveal how artists respond to different social and historical circumstances to produce different and intersecting versions of the future. We’ll also publish the latest instalment in our series of features on the “ecological turns” in contemporary art, the ideas behind which are much indebted to Latour.

As well as to the arts, Latour also linked “composition” to the process of “composting” by which organic material is broken down and reconstituted. To compose is equal parts decomposition and re-composition, and so the past is transformed into the future. This publication is also in the process of transforming itself, with—exciting, expansive—news to be announced soon. Like art criticism, the materialism of which Latour is an advocate is based on close observation. So watch this space...

Each month, to accompany the editors’ letter, we publish a photograph of the view through the window from an artist’s place of work. This month we feature an image taken by the painter Mark Beldan during his recent residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point in Toronto, where he was developing a new series of free-floating painted works. Based in London, he also hosts The Skelf Podcast, a series of conversations with other artists.

Notes
1

Bruno Latour, “An Attempt at a “Compositionist Manifesto,” New Literary History, vol. 41, no. 3 (Summer 2010): 473.

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December 1, 2022

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