Time For Alternatives
By Hou Hanru
In fact, the question of art institution's relevance is becoming increasingly crucial and urgent today. In our age, art equates art event. If the artwork is to be effectively presented, it needs to be part of an art event. We are now living in the society of communication. Spectacle is the form. The spectacle, or the event, is the very horizon and the bottom line of "reality." To hold an event, the institution is an indispensable physical condition. More importantly, it is also the ideological foundation. What kind of institution should be created is now the crucial question. This is because the institution is the central element in the power system, or mechanism, that defines the notion and the boundary of art itself. "Where do you show your work?" has become a more telling question than "What kind of work do you make?"
The question of the global versus the local is now the central issue in artistic and cultural debates. However, the global and the local are not separate entities positioned to fight against each other. Instead, they are two sides of the same coin. They are mutually binding and stimulate each other, creating a continuously changing and increasingly open world. There is no global without the local. The two are deeply interwoven and from their merging new differences arise. In this process of producing new localities the global is constantly being reformulated as a "summary" of the multitude of singular new localities. No place in the world today is immune from this turbulent movement. It makes our lives much more exciting, and of course, challenging. Art and cultural activities are driving forces of this formidable transformation, and they typically embody all the advantages and all the problems of this global-local negotiation. Every event should result in the production of new localities in the context of globalisation. Cultural differences and diversities are produced by positioning the event directly in the local context. Discourse on cultural differences-especially those of non-Westerners-and their equal right to exist in and influence the global scene seems to be the commonly accepted new virtue. The production of new localities in order to make them significant in the modern world, or to generate different modernities, is the very root and aim of the actions of artists, from different parts of the world, participating in the "global scene."
Further, it internally challenges and alters the established definition and boundary of art itself because it tends to be (1) multi-transdisciplinary, (2) multi-transcultural, and (3) a merging of art and real life to generate new distinctions between private and public spaces. This generates new paradigms of art language, which is by nature immaterial, fluid, flexible, ephemeral, and constantly changing. These paradigms echo the current geopolitical situation in which the Empire exists in a virtual but real, fluid, and omnipresent network, in a shifting in-between space that thrives on the hybridity and conflicts of cultures and identities. This should be capable of carrying out efficient strategies of critique, resistance, and transgression against the hegemonic power of the Empire. However, the mainstream "global art world," or the dominant art institutions, still remain in the high-modernist tradition of the white cube and post-minimalist, post-conceptualist forms. This "transcendent" physicality constitutes a hegemonic ideology and practice paradigm. This centralized power controls the definition, the boundary, of contemporary art and propagates it across the world as if it were the "universal truth," the only legitimated way, of "global" art.
Against such a background, resistance to this hegemony becomes necessary and urgent, especially in places where new local identities are facing the pressure of globalising powers. This resistance naturally generates and articulates new forms of action and organization fundamentally different from those of the establishment. In fact, a great number of initiatives already have been launched and promoted, and they strongly emphasize the philosophy of "Do-It-Yourself." Indeed, DIY communities and self-organizations are the main source of sustainability, the main force in the revival and continued development of today's post-planning cities. The creation and development of alternative art spaces is a perfect example. Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) shifts constantly between the existing centre and the periphery, creating a kind of "emptiness" that subverts the established order. T.A.Z., according to Hakim Bey, is "a certain kind of 'free enclave'" resisting to the mainstream, State power structure. It's "an essay ('attempt'), a suggestion, almost a poetic fancy" that encourages "Uprising", or, "insurrection" against the State power. It's situated beyond all kinds of established forms of organization and acts like uprising guerrilla. "The TAZ is like an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/else when, before the State can crush it." It's invisible, always shifting, "a microcosm of that 'anarchist dream' of a free culture." "The TAZ is an encampment of guerrilla ontologist: strike and run away." "The TAZ has a temporary but actual location in time and a temporary but actual location in space. But clearly it must also have 'location' in the Web." At the end, "The TAZ is somewhere. It lies at the intersection of many forces, like some pagan power - spot at the junction of mysterious ley-lines, visible to the adept in seemingly unrelated bits of terrain, landscape, flows of air, water, animals." It can bring about ultimate liberation "on the condition that we already know ourselves as free beings."
This approach resonates with the current global economic system, which is moving toward a new perspective that focuses on productivity rather than the production of objects. Driven by the development of new technologies, conventional modes of production and consumption have been altered and substituted by new paradigms. In different locales around the world, new autonomous zones of economic activities are being established that resist and at the same time contribute to the globalisation of dominant modes of production. These zones become an oppositional yet actively participatory force against the domination of state and global economic superpowers. Self-organizations such as international NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) are now counterparts to the established bureaucratic order, in which trans-national and global corporations push for the disintegration of national and continental borders and for the dissolution of state sovereignty. Under the imperial mantle of the new global economic-political power structure, the immediate challenge is how to preserve freedom of speech, to encourage critique, and to promote different modes of living and thinking. Anti-globalisation movements incarnated by the protests in Seattle, Genoa and currently in Johannesburg on the occasions of international conferences on economic development, ecological crisis, AIDS and other globally urgent issues are the most spectacular events of this kind of struggle while more down-to-earth, everyday actions are being carried out by NGO's across the world. These claims and struggles for economic and political transformation have a direct cultural consequence: it reveals the necessity of searching for and creating alternatives to the established cultural institution. This is particularly obvious when the economic and social tensions become explosive. Latin American countries have been suffering from regular economic and social crises in the last decade due to the imposition of ultra-liberal policies by the mainstream global economic institutions such as World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The current collapse of Argentina's economy is the most dramatic symptom of the crisis. Today, 60% of Argentineans are living below the line of poverty. To survive, highly interestingly, they organise themselves to develop a parallel and alternative economic exchange system, the "Trueque" (barter). "Trueque Clubs" are being formed across the country in which people are exchanging consumer goods and services with tickets of "creditos" instead of the official currency that only very few can have access to. This is becoming unexpectedly successful in terms of social solidarity. As a resistance model it's no doubt an inspiring example for us to think about economic, social and even cultural alternatives facing the pressure of globalisation. Even more interesting and inspiring is that some artists have already imagined and explored this alternative possibility in their projects before the Argentina crisis in order to re-endow art with its social engagement. The Colombian-Spanish group "Cambalache Collective" (with "unfixed" members like Carolina Caycedo, Adriana Garcia and Federico Guzman), in their "Museo de la Calle (the Street Museum)", started from Bogota in 1998 and active in many different cities in the world today, propose to the public to exchange their objects as the centre of their "installation/performance". This promotes "the idea of non-monetary exchange and barter as economic and cultural activities parallel to the mainstream. It also allows us to question the nature of social and human relationships in today's context dominated by money and market." The Danish artist Jens Haaning, for his exhibition in Friart, Fribourg, Switzerland, last year, imported consumer goods from neighbouring countries where the taxes were much lower than in Switzerland and sold them at the original prices. The public can buy the same goods at a significantly lower prices than the normal prices in Switzerland. This clearly defies the legal system dictated by the monetary policy of the country. Equally concerned with the question of economic inequality, the Thai artists Surasi Kusolwong has been setting up markets of plastics goods imported from Thailand in European art institutions. The public can buy these goods, "imported" as art objects, at the "Minimal price" with great joy. In the meantime, questions of cultural differences, economic inequalities, social solidarity and global-local conflict, etc. are clearly brought up. These artists respond to the continuous social crisis of political-economic struggles, bringing to the fore conflicts between the concepts-strategies of immediacy/multiplicity and the stability of established norms. They have proposed new solutions to the global-capitalist problem. Similar to the above mentioned examples, at the 2002 Gwangju Biennale, the Mexico City based artists run gallery and working group Kurimanzutto realized a wonderful project that is extremely relevant to the non-western economic and social context. Ironically calling their piece "Friendly Capitalism", they set up a space with a blue carpet and a photocopy machine inside the exhibition hall. They made photocopies of the official Biennale catalogue and sold them to the public at a much lower price. By miming the piracy of information products-something largely welcomed by the local public as a means of access to information and new technologies-Kurimanzutto hit upon a fundamental problem in the logic of capitalist systems of production and communication. In fact, piracy and other alternative economic activities are the most efficient, and very often, the only available means for people from the non-West to access technological and economic progress
To explore the issues of economic exchange, cultural difference and hybridity in contemporary art, one must first and foremost consider the need to create alternative contexts, namely institutions, for art activity. Asia-Pacific provides a dynamic example of this transition in terms of integrating itself in the globalisation process and reinventing different modernities. The unprecedented speed of modernization and democratisation of society in this region has led to self-discovery and to a search for autonomous modes of living, thinking, and expression that stand in contrast to conservative and hegemonic political systems and social values. There are enthusiastic and fervent demands to put contemporary art from this region on the global map. This is achieved through two intimately linked directives: the creation of new infrastructures and conditions inside the region for the activities, and the exportation of these activities outside the region, especially in renowned "international arenas" such as major biennials and museums. This encourages the artists living in the region to develop new strategies, the most significant tendency being the creation and propagation of self-organized alternative spaces run by the art community. Some individual artists like Judy Freya Sibayan from Philippines and Tsuyoshi Ozawa have been developing their "global networks" of nomad "institutions" such as "Scapular Galleries" and "Nasubi Galleries" to provide alternative spaces for the art world to manifest their imaginations and creativities beyond the established system. Other artists, working in more collective and communitarian manners, organise themselves together to set up self-organisations and exhibition spaces, etc. These organizations are extremely diverse, responding to the specific cultural, economic, and political conditions of their own localities and identifying the very need to be different. This new movement, from the very beginning, was born from the process of artists engaging themselves in the creation of new urban spaces and life styles in light of the impact of urban expansion-the most essential aspect of Asia-Pacific's modernization. Almost all self-organized artists' groups and spaces emerge in cities and evolve in their negotiations for particular positions in the urban life. They are often physically small, flexible, and continuously adapting to the conditions driven by urban development. Alternative spaces such as IT Park (Taipei), Para-site (Hong Kong), Project 304 (Bangkok), Loft (Beijing), About Caf� (Bangkok), Big Sky Mind (Manila), Plastic Kinetic Worms (Singapore), Loop (Seoul), Pool (Seoul), Cemeti Art House (Jogyakarta), and Ruangruppa (Jakarta) are located in the historic centers of their cities and effectively influence the surrounding communities. Other groups such as Big Tail Elephants (Guangzhou), U-kabat (Bangkok), APA (Kuala Lumpur), and Forum A (Seoul), being more "immaterial," practice urban-guerrilla strategies by occupying temporary spaces in their cities. They all, however, share an interest in new technologies and related cultural strategies as active reactions to the demands of the epoch. Numerous alternative spaces and groups have focused on such a direction. Videotage (Hong Kong) and Movelfund (Manila) are influential bases for experimental video and film production and organizers of multimedia festivals. Project 304 presents the biannual Bangkok Experimental Film Festival. In the meantime, a new generation is actively forging the new Asian youth culture and new forms of expression, which are deeply rooted in the culture of consumption (advertising, etc.) yet highly critical of this "raw reality." The complex, often contradictory, relations between artists and their social conditions, especially the institutional infrastructure, have led these artists to an understanding of the need to develop different visions and methods of contemporary art creation. This further pushes them to promote different ways of defining contemporary art.
For various reasons, ranging from personal to economic, from social-political to strategic, these alternative spaces are constantly appearing, evolving, and disappearing, and ultimately transform themselves into different modes of practice. This is precisely the essence of the new paradigm of "institution": always moving, flexible, changing, and reinventing itself. These spaces have also formed a trans-regional network to exchange their experiences and to reinforce their common power base. Meetings and conferences among the various groups in Asian cities are regularly organized. Information, experiences, and visions are published, exchanged, and distributed. Many of these groups have also established wider, transcontinental collaborations with artist-run organizations in Europe, North and South America, and elsewhere. The Project 1 of 2002 Gwangju Biennale is perhaps the most important summit for such networking so far. It manifested the immense potential power of this new paradigm of art infrastructures and action modes. This new paradigm has been generated through the experiments of artists. In turn, it is deeply informing and transforming both the notion of art and the practices of artists. New languages and issues are hence created and experimented with. This further influences the global scene. If there is an irresistible drive to present truly global contemporary creations in international events-beyond the traditional Western paradigm-the most crucial shift that we should make is first to learn how to present such a paradigm mutation. We need veritable new initiatives and alternatives. It's the time for them.
29 August 2002
 See Arjun Appadurai, "Modernity At Large, Cultural Dimensions of Globalisation", University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
 See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, "Empire" (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2000).
 See Hakim Bey "T.A.Z, The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism", Autonomedia Anti-copyright, 1985,1911, May be freely pirated & quoted - the author & publisher, however, would like to be informed at: Autonomadia, P.O. Box 568, Williamsburgh Station, Brooklyn, NY 11211-0568. (the book is available on the internet for free)
 See the press release of Combablache Collective's exhibition in "Sous la terre, il y a le ciel", curated by Evelyne Jouanno, Projektraum, Kunsthalle, Bern, Switzerland, 2002.
 For information about the current situation of alternative organizations of contemporary art in the Asian-Pacific region, see Pause: Project 1 (Gwangju Biennale, 2002), and Alternatives: Contemporary Art Spaces in Asia (Tokyo: The Japan Foundation Asia Center, 2002), as well as the Web sites of the organizations discussed herein.
 Co-curated by Hou Hanru, Charles Esche and Sung Wang-Kuyng, the project intends to break away from conventional biennales by emphasizing on alternative ideas, approaches, languages and organisations in contemporary art and culture activities. 26 artist run, alternative spaces from Asia, Europe and other parts of the world have been invited to auto-curate their programs in the biennale while meetings among them at a global scale have been realised for the first time.
Further Reading: Sharing a Sensibility: a Conversation with Hou Hanru