Is Art really beyond borders?

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Is Art really beyond borders?

  ‘Art’ has been traversing paradigms. It is (or may seem to be) inherently beyond borders because it keeps pushing its limits and fields of inquir

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‘Art’ has been traversing paradigms. It is (or may seem to be) inherently beyond borders because it keeps pushing its limits and fields of inquiry. Ideally, for something to be a ‘work of art’, it ought to be a novelty – something that is aligned with the pulse of its time, something that reacts to time, something that stands the test of time, and something that is ahead of its time. In this essay I argue that Art is not (so much) beyond borders. Once you break, circumvent or transcend a border, you create another one by default. This idea may be a metaphysical one if we believe in the ontological; humans have certain attributes and innate characteristics necessary to their identity and being.


For the sake of limits, ‘borders’ here are considered a man-made concept and not a natural phenomenon. However, topographical physical features of ‘natural barriers’ (rivers and mountains) have been used my humans, for centuries, as a means to politically divide. According to Border Theories in early modern Europe, the meaning of the term became crisper in the 18th century. It acquired a linear form over an abstract one, and denoted a line of division. Cult ideologies determined physical state territories, so borders and frontiers were ruled by state ideologies and socio-political thoughts.


The progression of human thought gives rise to new philosophical boundaries. Fresh milestones and practices develop that reflect its zeitgeist and outlive the beliefs and canons of older times. Changing paradigms, instinctively or consciously, shape the arts, aesthetics, emotional power and creative thinking of its era. Cultural ideologies influence artists and vice versa. Artists respond with a range of pedagogical, cognitive and intuitive strategies to domesticate art and make meaning of their creative outcome.


As we step into Post-postmodernity (po po mo) or meta-modernism as some may call it (although these designations are not mainstream yet) – we create yet another boundary for our self.


Premodernism (1650 onwards) was about revealed knowledge from authoritative sources. The source of ‘Ultimate Truth’ was primarily through direct revelation or divinity. According to the Western belief system, Church was considered the interpreter of divine revelation. Modernism was enveloped as a period based on totalitarianism, empiricism, logic, and a dependency on grander narratives. Postmodernity was about excessive skepticism and nihilism of those archetypal narratives. It celebrated the universality of art, architecture, critical theory, literature, culture and philosophy. Everyone was right; all opinions mattered; all voices were heard; anything was believable and dismissive at the same time.


So, values and meanings keep hopping from one envelope to the other through ages. Recent attempts define post-postmodernism as a time where “faith, trust, dialogue, performance, and sincerity can work to transcend postmodern irony”[1], hence giving time and context new kinds of terms, forms, boundaries and borders. The Arts, some say, is now entering a ‘post-conceptual’ zone. Landscape architect and urban planner Tom Turner (1995) criticizes the postmodern doctrine of ‘everything and anything’, and suggests a kind of ‘po po mo’ that “seeks to temper reason with faith.”[2] More specifically, he advocates for “timeless geometrical and organic patterns in urban planning[3]. The Russian-American scholar Mikhail Epstein in 1999 foresaw postmodernity becoming conventional and paving way for a new, non-ironic kind of poetry, which he describes using the prefix ‘-trans’[4]. The later part of the 20th century stated mostly as “post,” suggests an exit of modern concepts of “truth, objectivity, soul, subjectivity, utopia and ideality, sincerity, sentimentality”. According to Epstein, all these concepts are now being reintroduced as “trans-subjectivity, trans-idealism, trans-utopianism, trans-originality, trans-sentimentality” etc.[5] to place ‘post-post modernity’ into yet another box. Many scholars (including the British scholar Alan Kirby and cultural theorists Timotheus Vermeulen, Robin van den Akker and Eric Gans) have also ascribed words to define the direction of current times. Consequentially, the moment we (humans) assign a word to an idea or phenomena or endorse a concept, we give it worth and value, we bestow responsibility on it, we concretize it and inadvertently exert power over it – Ripped off its abstraction, we enjoy the control and the limitation it brings, hence giving rise to more borders, boundaries, delusions and definitions.


Art beyond borders can be dangerous, self-dismissive and nihilistic. If art is really beyond limits, it would mean that anything and everything falls under it. In other words, it leads to absolute anarchy. If anything and everything is art (or intended to be) – if ‘visual art’ is devoid of (or beyond) beautification and aesthetic concerns – if visual pleasure and formal understanding are no longer under its purview – if an artist could be any person who knows well the trick of her/his trade and is able to discern and see afresh – if creativity is the domain of any profession – then what is the realm of the ‘Arts’? What is its forte? Inclusivity could be self-destructive.


Art, as a notion or word (colloquially and in academic discourse), has been straddling multiple grounds in the last few decades. A lot of it, predominantly due to advances in social/ new media, and exponentially developing ICT and digital networks. Obsessed with their virtual, augmented and mixed realities, humans seek compulsive validation, instant gratification and endless self-assurance in this ultra-connected age. All this ought to influence the production of Art and, and its maker – the artist – now a self-marketing whore.


Hence, the meaning and role of an artist also changes, evolves or convolutes. Self-awareness and self-placement become essential. One needs to know the art and craft of marketing, representation and projection. It is more important than ever to be visible and even more important to be viral. ‘Likes’ or ‘Followers’ determine how famous, immersed or integrated you are. The gauge and parameter for an ‘artist’ changes; the boundaries shift, but are not transcended. Artists just have an additional agency to creatively express and be visible.


Instagram is a network sensation. This photo sharing service is an extraordinary platform for viewers (or followers) to get hooked to their favorite artists creative journeys. The artists are able to present their works to a diverse and large audience (which nonetheless is beyond national, geographic borders), allowing direct communication with the art patrons, viewers and collectors. In a way, it has become an art dealer/ art manager as well that allows fresh artworks as well as young artists an accessible space to sustain their creative expression.


Although ‘Art’ production and its dissemination in the age of Social media is democratic, self-governing and egalitarian, it is still time and place bound. A recent artist survey [6] enlists the top Instagram sensations; Banksy (‘the Most Famous Anonymous’), Cindy Sherman (‘The Master of Disguise’), JR (‘A Prolific Photographer’), Evoca1 (‘An Activist’), Guerrilla Girls (‘The Feminist Art Collective’), CYRCLE (‘An Exciting Duo’), Jeff Koons (‘The King of Postmodernism), David Choe (‘A Korean gone bad’), Petra Collins (‘Capturing Youth, Sexuality and Femininity’), KAWS (‘An Artist Without Borders’), Shepard Fairey (‘Blurring the Boundary Between Traditional and Commercial Art’), Sickboy, (‘An Infamous Graffiti Artist’), Kenny Scharf (‘The Practice Full of Color’), Martin Parr (‘The Chronicler of Our Times’), Ai Weiwei (‘The Artist and Activist’), Daniel Arsham (‘A Crafty Magician’), Olafur Eliasson (‘Creating Immersive Environments’), Pixel Pancho (‘A Friend of Robots’), Anish Kapoor (‘An Influential Sculptor’). Some of these practices, including that of Cindy Sherman, involve prolific photography designed only for Instagram/ social media dissemination. KAWS moves beyond the realm of the art market hierarchy to engage with the complex global commercial market with no reservations in placing high art in the wider visual culture.


We, of course, ought to acknowledge that these digital networking methods have nevertheless expanded the nature, dynamics and strategies of art production. It has broadened our horizon of thinking. However, a few aspects of this approach still remain restricted. It is ironic that many artists’ work on social media is either site-specific or ephemeral, which confines their practice to a time and space. Most works are only photographic re-presentations. Some (particularly those of Ai Wei Wei, Jeff Koons and Anish Kapoor) are more like meta productions or meta displays. They indicate the presence of something original elsewhere – the online presence is a kind of simulacrum – merely indexical and iconic.


Alternative virtual art spaces, parallel realities, global online platforms and digital networks have reflexively influenced art history, staunch academia, critical theory and the strategies of making but these phenomena have also given birth to many un-trained, self taught artists who have received considerable limelight and constructive critique from the ‘stakeholders’. All this perhaps seems to water down hegemony and decentralize power and authority, but perhaps not yet. The gatekeepers of the art world and mainstream artists (although they may have a strong, analogous social media existence), still heavily rely on institutional patronage, public programming, museum support and State affiliation. Only the top tier manage to cut across borders and travel for international coverage; never really diluting or dissolving any boundaries – in fact reinforcing them. The irony of it all is that the most renowned artists and their works are least visible in their own country because internationalism (another boundary) takes precedence over local exhibits. As a consequence of this exclusivity, their value escalates creating a monetary hegemony and many more economic barriers in the art market.


In almost all social media introductory biographies, there is heavy dependency on the artists’ ethnicity, region or country of origin in order to define his/her positionality. Open any ubiquitous browser to read web intros of eminent practitioners or search a random typical social media ‘status’. There is a pattern to it; the country, the place of belonging or location is stated directly after one’s name. The achievement or practice comes later. It’s a basic human instinct, this natural tendency to identify and classify people through the spaces and borders they live in (and later perhaps, through their occupation). Hence artists can seldom be beyond borders. Even if they have migrated to a foreign land, they will always be categorized as the ‘diaspora’.


The moment we interact with someone for the first time, we bring our entire history with us in the most unassuming and honest ways (accent, clothes, color, body shape, demeanor, vernacular, education). Everything falls into respective boxes and boundaries (for people who can read). Nothing is devoid of mental barriers. Art or any kind of creative expression behaves in a similar manner. It is inherently political because it embodies a form. The form becomes content and the content is guarded by its meaning and context. Political thought, of any kind, ought to be polemic; it inadvertently develops borders to uphold its ideological sanctity (or physical territory). Breaking barriers simply means making new ones. Boundaries help humans keep a track of themselves and to define themselves. It helps them to belong.





[2]  City as Landscape: A Post Post-modern View of Design and Planning, (Taylor & Francis: London 1995), p. 9


[3] City as Landscape: A Post Post-modern View of Design and Planning, (Taylor & Francis: London 1995),

[4]  Epstein, Mikhail; Genis, Alexander; Vladiv-Glover, Slobodanka. Russian Postmodernism. New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture. Berghahn Books: New York, 1999.






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