Making meaningful connections in the infinite text of world culture

Learning to squander.

  • Ashraf Jamal
Keywords: visual arts, globalisation


In this article on South African visual art I fix my sight on a global interhuman and aesthetic sphere in which region/nation/transnation merge to produce a cultural economy that overlaps and cannot be satisfactorily grasped according to a centre-periphery model. This eschewal of existing binary models also means a reconceptualisation of the liminal as an in-between space in a fixed divide. Currently it is not only the margin that is indeterminate, but the infinite text of the global cultural economy within which visual art plays its part. This part, as Nicolas Bourriaud (2009a) notes, has become intensively immediate, pragmatic, or politicised – the visual arts replacing cinema, which succumbs to the seductive lure of the advertorial image. Following Bourriaud (2009a), the key question I pose is: “why it is that globalisation has so often been discussed from sociological, political, and economic points of view, but almost never from an aesthetic perspective?”. In this article, I provide an answer by shifting the focus to the aesthetic. My challenging of the solidity of a global cultural economy in this article institutes a logic of flux; a world in which migration meets creolisation; deindividuation meets the post-identitarian; the rhizome

meets the radicant. The upshot of these shifts is a move away from the sterility of multiculturalism – the relative autonomy of reified cultures – towards a global (local-and-generalised) culture in perpetual translation. Key to this shift is the move away from origins and a move towards unforeseen destinations. It is this drift, transmigration, or translation that comes to shape and define contemporary aesthetics and the formation of a mobile population of artists and thinkers, comprising the immigrant, the exile, the tourist, and the urban wanderer. It is these figures, or tropes, which are the focus in my reading of contemporary South African visual art and its