Peter Osborne: I think there are different categories of analyses involved here. The question is to what extent you can try to think the history of post-war and especially post-1960s art in terms of another historical ontology of art, and how you can articulate that level of discourse with a historical discourse. The main mediating categories are political and economic ones. In terms of what is currently going on in critical art history, there is a very liberal tendency to think of the history of the 20th century as containing an enormous parenthesis, which stretches from 1917 to 1989.
A significant part of the globe went into this parenthesis called the project for the construction of communism. After it ended, having returned, the project was to go and pick up all the national pieces from within the project for international communism and reintegrate them into the old national historical narrative by multiplying that narrative. So the basic move that applies to Eastern Europe is the same as the way of extending the history in Latin and South America and also in Southeast Asia – which is to expand the canon, render it more inclusive and accept its plurality. These are the basic movements of a liberal art history. They try to recover non-communist content through these other categories.
But it makes no sense if we think of globalized processes in this regard, because the way in which the Soviet Bloc was conceived at the level of global history was in terms of the concept of the Second World. There is an East-West narrative, which has always been very problematic and goes back a long way. But the political narrative of the post-war world was the Three World narrative. What happened when communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, as a conceptual effect, was the abolition of the Third World, because there was no longer a Second World. The whole imaginary of what, under conditions of anti-imperial nationalisms and constructive post-colonial nationalisms could be conceived as a Third World, disappeared.
People haven’t known how to think this new geopolitical entity. That’s when they came up with the concept of North and South. This is a constructive but wholly political-ideological category. South means ‘the extent to which your solidarity extends’. It has a definition in a certain body of countries. It’s also an American continental term. So it’s a metaphor that doesn’t work for Africa at all, and doesn’t work for Russia. If you are in the South, you belong within the circle of an anti-capitalist, anti-globalizing category of solidarity. That’s why Greece is now part of the South, as a part of the category of solidarity. This however, is dangerous, because people think there is more reality to it than there is.
The São Paulo Biennial was centered on this notion of the South because of the journal South. But what that journal reveals is that the South is an ideological projection of a certain European Left. On a more general categorical level, it opens up the lower level to a greater possibility of determination. If you think in these categories as a curator you simply reproduce the system. So do you reproduce this new set of spatial divisions, or do you disrupt and deny them, or simply not use them at all? What annoys me about biennale curating is the way in which a regionalized globalism has renationalized artists at the level of their biographies. Individual artists are doomed to represent regions or nations, or nations without a state. In order for them to be represented, they have to be coded and decoded like this.