Text by Branislav Dimitrijević / What is Contemporary? project / 2008


What we highly esteem about contemporary art is that it questions. It questions aesthetical traditions, social values, political standpoints, economic logics, ethical norms; it questions our own involvement in art and the conditions in which we comprehend it. It even questions the notion of art itself, its very definition. In his seminal video performance from 1976, Rasa Todosijevic shouts violently at a seated female figure: Was ist Kunst? Ah? If conceptual art began with complex definitions such as Kosuth’s Art as an Idea as an Idea, it ended with a single tormenting question: Was ist Kunst?
If “art”, as in “contemporary art”, gets questioned endlessly, what happens with the term contemporary? Or is this too naïve or too superfluous to ask? Isidora Ficovic seems not to take care to be dismissed with a counter-question: What kind of a question is that?, replies one of her examinees. As opposed to a sadistic interrogation carried out by Todosijevic, Isidora Ficovic conducts a poll among artists, curators, and other “art professionals” who happen to be at her hand during her residency in Istanbul in 2006. She outlines a certain community based on common interest in the field of contemporary art and its social, political and aesthetic concerns. Every examinee is put in front of a camera and unvaryingly asked a persistent, repetitive, obvious and maybe even annoying question: What is contemporary?
How to respond? To dismiss this naiveté: What kind of a question is that? To ask for clarifications as if there would be any: What does the word mean or what does it signify? To be smart, self-ironic and withdrawn: Contemporary is the blankness I think now! To argue already a certain line of reasoning: Contemporary is not new but actual! To offer an intelligent paradox: Contemporary is not about time but about space! Or to be frank yet un-cooperative: Hmmm, never thought about that…
It may be quite clear that the contemporary is something perceived directly, not as a recollection or a speculation. Modern physics has not yet been able to explain what we normally understand by ‘now’. Furthermore, there is no demonstrable reason why time should move in any one particular direction. Contemporary seems illusory and does not reflect the true nature of reality. As it follows from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, there is no such thing as absolute simultaneity. Therefore, if we define “contemporary” to be the collection of events that are simultaneous with a given event, then “contemporary” takes different meanings for different observers.
However, it may not be the intention of this “artistic opinion poll” to offer a common definition, nor to conclude that there is this multitude of definitions. The artist puts herself in position of the provisional naiveté during the “first round” of the “poll” recorded in 2006 on a video film. Yet, she has repeated her question two years later in an e-mail message distributed to all of her original examinees in order to establish the differences occurring due to the passage of time and shifts in the individual positioning in relation to the new now. Is this permanent shifting a real “essence” of the contemporary? Is “contemporary” a process which evolves but cannot be recollected? How can we think about it when we cannot recollect it? To pose the question over and over again seems to be the only way how to deal with this definitely deferred definition.

Text by Branislav Dimitrijević