How soon was now? What is Modern and Contemporary Art?
By Francis Halsall & Declan Long
1 – In a Dark Room
In a dark room, on a large screen, three Indonesian kids in matching purple Adidas tracksuits, wrap-around sunglasses and sun-visors are singing a karaoke version of a song by the 1980s pop group The Smiths. It is equally serious and joyous. The piece is part of Phil Collins's work The World Won't Listen. It is a great work of contemporary art and Phil Collins is an important artist because his work is richly suggestive of a number of significant questions about national identity, popular culture in a global context, and the role of the mass media in representing these.
Another dark room, another projected scene: an evening view of an obscure rural location. In the near-distance we see an odd elongated piece of architecture: a fragile but imposing shelter, an elaborate cylindrical tent that seems simultaneously out of place and yet somehow at home in this natural landscape. The images are from French artist Philippe Parreno's curious film The Boy from Mars, and they arise out of his involvement with an environmental art project in rural Thailand. Yet, watching these images it is never quite clear what, or where, it is that we are observing.
Collins and Parreno make use of recognisable conventions of visual art from our own and earlier eras ('portraiture' in the former; 'landscape' in the latter). Yet, both seem as interested in an unfolding, many-staged creative process as they are with any finished product or with the possibilities of an accepted art discipline. As such, they practice types of art, that, as the influential curator Nicolas Bourriaud has argued, remain "around the edge of any definition" – drawing on much from what would customarily be considered beyond the 'frame' of art, urging us to consider the place of art in the contemporary world, while offering up images and experiences characterised by uncertainty or...