GS: I don't know if you recall, but at an edition of the Art India Fair I had used the term post-global and you had popped the question from the audience about its validity as a category. While my position may have reflected a priori a resistance to the 'global' how do you read globalisation under the present political regimes? How do you see the future of transcultural art systems as the “contact zone” of the UK and the US (Pratt, Clifford) may shrink in the near future.
TJD: We’re living in non-synchronous times, and the global carries multiple meanings, some of which are in conflict with each other, and consequently create different forms of support or resistance. I recently returned, last December, from the Kochi Biennale, where there was a conference organized by TBA21, an art research foundation based in Vienna, and which brought participants from London, New York, Hawaii, Delhi, and myself from California, to consider, in part, the Pacific Ocean as a site of multivalence and conflict between the economic interests of deep seabed mining and the rights of nature, between global capital accumulation and radical eco-centric legality. In that context, the global was clearly in operation as a productive contact zone for an international networks of artists, art institution representatives, and interdisciplinary scholars, one occasioned by the attraction of the biennale as an appealing setting for a public gathering around such a discussion. The fact that one of the participants, Ute Meta Bauer, was unable to attend, owing to Indian visa problems, also signaled the current limitations of the global. Specifically the case belied the global’s now outmoded claims of representing an emergent order of open borders, international inclusivity, and the post-historical hegemony of liberal capitalism. We currently face an ongoing international turn to illiberal capitalist governance in Europe and the US, driven in many cases by xenophobic and racist fears of migration. At the same time there is the crumbling of the welfare state and the intensification of austerity economics, militarized police forces, and various guises of nationalisms from Brexit to Trumpism. As such, we very may well be entering a period of post-globalism. In this sense, your use of the term was prescient.
Let’s also not forget the recent histories of anti-globalisms either, from the Battle in Seattle to Genoa, from the Spanish Indigñados to international Occupy and the Movement of Squares in Athens, Cairo, Hong Kong, and Istanbul. All of which, in diverse ways, have contributed to the resistance to economic globalism-the globalism of the IMF and World Bank-which, far from dissolving, continues to gather steam today. The question is how we can continue to benefit from the positive aspects of global connectivity, transnational solidarities, and progressive anti-provincialism, while also rejecting the negative aspects of economic globalization, including the expansion of inequality, closed borders and xenophobia, and the ecological destruction of petrocapitalism.
GS: One of the lateral effects of globalization was to cut short the kind of local theoretical readings that had emerged. I am referring to the subaltern studies program (1984-2008), shared across post-colonial cultures. Effectively nothing of critical significance has emerged in its wake. Do you see this as a consequence of globalization?
TJD: From my perspective, subaltern studies and post-colonial studies have not so much been cut short but seen a transmutation of their concerns articulated in the current energies around decolonial studies and practice, which are also often tied to local cultures of resistance. One important realization that informs these developments is that colonialism has not come to an end, but has continued under the conditions of what might be called late liberal settler society, to use the terminology of the anthropologist Elizabeth Povinelli. This has also been the argument of some of my recent work, including Return to the Postcolony, 2013, which examines recent artistic practices that have investigated the legacy of European colonialism in sub-Saharan Africa and made apparent the financial neo-colonialism of the current structurally adjusted order, of its military-humanitarian complex, and of its poverty-porn image economies; as well as in my book Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Nature, 2016, which considers how nature itself, as analyzed, imaged, and contested in diverse artistic practices (including one chapter on practices in India), has been subjected to financialization and thus thoroughly colonized, where market mechanisms of privatization, cap and trade policies, extractivism, and bioprospecting for biogenetic capital, have transformed nature itself-from human DNA to plant species, from seeds to water, and monocrops to plantation ecology-into a source of ongoing wealth accumulation, leaving environmental destruction in its wake. Decolonial studies, for me, is composed of diverse theoretical contributions, including, for example, Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s Undercommons, Achille Mbmebe’s Critique of Black Reason, Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor’s From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Povinelli’s Geontologies, Glen Coulthard’s Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition, and Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Surely there are more, such as Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. But whatever else we might add to the list, in my view, would also need to contribute to an intersectionalist account of not only the colonialisms of contemporary biopower (analyzing the often interlinked inequalities and violences occurring in relation to race, sex, gender, ethnicity, economics, and religion within human cultures). It would also include an analysis of geopower (the ways in which the hegemony of current political-economic rule today defines and regulates the differences and relations between life and non-life, such that water, for instance, is seen primarily as a commodity rather than as life, as it is understood by many of the Dakota Sioux who have been struggling against the development of fossil-fuel infrastructure on their ancestral lands at Standing Rock in the US).
GS: The critique of the 'biennale aesthetic' and works with consumerist orientation has long been articulated. Again this may well change but artists like Hirst, Koons, Murakami, Ai Wei Wei, and Kapoor have come to symbolize transnational populism. Do you see any shifts in the concerns of museums going forward?
TJD: Museums of contemporary art have succumbed to a megalomania that is registered in their obscenely expanding architectures-consider the enlarged Tate Modern, SF MoMA, the new New Museum, andthemuseumcomplex in Abu Dhabi. The gigantism of these institutions, and their spectacular architecture, appears to respond to a growing global tourism that pays inordinate sums to visit them, as if they constitute the sites of a contemporary secular pilgrimage, of course stopping at the major biennials and art fairs distributed throughout the world as well. The artists you name are only the most visible offerings in those places, where populism equals the post-critical celebration of art, where art has been reduced to the spectacular commodity form, and to a phantasmatic objectification of an obscene economic value that many viewers desire. Hirst’s For the Love of God, his infamous diamond-encrusted skull, for me, perfectly and cynically embodies the relation between such value and the necropolitics it represents. If there is a shift in concern then it’s a matter of an intensification of the contradiction between, on the one hand, elite cultural tourism, and, on the other, the securitization of borders, involuntary migration, and racist xenophobia, which composes our contemporary cultures of profound inequality. The culture of death is one that reduces everything to monetary value, creating enormous inequality such that today eight of the world’s richest people now own as much wealth as the bottom half of the population! That level of inequality-which The Guardian recently called “beyond grotesque”-necessitates a militarized police force to silence dissent, one that kills off opposing values including the collective life of mutual care, love beyond materialism, social justice, environmental wellbeing, and the values of commoning. Accordingly, the challenge for museums of the future, in line with such ecological-justice-oriented values, would be to re-localize, achieve smaller scales and lower costs, de-hierarchize and democratize, without, that is, succumbing to provincialism, and instead favoring what might be termed a new critical regionalism-that’s a challenge we should all be thinking about.
GS: Dipesh Chakrabarty has spoken of the migrant as the new subaltern. The framing of migrants revives readings of ethnicity and difference even as images of war foreground and lead to new aesthetic transformations. How do you read this time in our history?
TJD: In my 2013 book The Migrant Image, I also argued that the migrant was emblematic of contemporary conditions, particularly the social conditions of globalization-riven as it is between, on the one hand, the elite fantasies of nomadic existence (corresponding to the triumphalist globalism of the 1990s when artists and curators valued their professional identities by racking up flight miles), and on the other, the wretched of the earth for whom travel was often not by choice but a matter of economic desperation, involuntary displacement from zones of conflict, or flight from social, religious, and ethnic persecution. More, the migrant worker, whether in Dubai or London, was the ideal subject of neoliberalism precisely because of its disenfranchisement-a laborer and, in the best cases, a consumer, who had no political rights or agency (in fact I lived in London under these conditions, and though paid taxes from my full-time academic job, never could participate in the most basic, even if impoverished, acts of citizenship, such as voting in local or national elections). Yet, despite 2015 being a watershed year in European migration, owing to conflict in the Middle East, creating all sorts of crises in relation to the EU’s borderless Schengen territory (including the growth of neo-fascist rightwing politics, and nationalist media preparing the ground for Brexit), we’re likely to see far worse in the near future in relation to climate change-driven mass migration. In the next few decades many more millions will be on the move, escaping from unlivable environments burning with heat, parched by water scarcity, and subjected to rising seas and destructive storms, all of which will likely push governments to the brink of collapse and exacerbate military conflicts and resource wars within and between nations. With the globalization of petrocapitalism, we’re literally destroying our collective home and turning all-including nonhuman life-into refugees without a refuge, or worse, worsening the mass species extinction event that is already in motion following the last one some 65 million years ago. We’re entering historically unprecedented conditions and the migrant is globalization’s ultimate subject, even increasingly representing our shared existential truth, now defined by the unwieldy and political unstable term Anthropocene. That is why it’s crucial to join the struggle for alternatives in whatever way we can. The struggle for a post-carbon future of social justice and equality, a world certainly beyond the paradigm of capitalism, is one that necessitates not only scientific research, technological solutions to environmental challenges, but also a transformation of fundamental values. I’m convinced that the arts, and culture more broadly, has an integral role to play here, which my recent research, including Decolonizing Nature, and my forthcoming book Against the Anthropocene, is dedicated to exploring. More than ever we need art’s ambitious and experimental creativity, together with its ethical and political integrity, especially where it explores alternative forms of life beyond our current economic order.