The contemporary moment, largely perceived as one without a horizon and thus with no sense of direction, is also one that unmasks modernity’s misunderstandings about the place of the so-called West in the narration of the post-1989 world. Immersed in its own fiction of superiority, the West has continued to cling to its old sentiments of domination by spreading, often forcefully, misconceived notions of human agency under free-market capitalism in the guise of progress. Now that what we thought of as the inevitable charge forward has proven both wrong and impossible to sustain, we seem to be faced with an overwhelming sense of cluelessness as to how the future can be imagined, let alone constructed. In place of a path of improvement, advancement, betterment, and growth that we once believed was unstoppable and irrevocable, it appears we are amidst an enduring standstill characterized by disorientation and disillusion. What do we need to know and what do we need to unlearn as we form allegiances to act in order to provoke a movement within such a condition—a movement different from what we imagined in the past? How might we grasp that standstill and reclaim from it a field of possibility?
One among the places we could consider as a starting point to cautiously unfold such a trajectory may be located within the way of the world since 1989 as we tend to understand it. In its creases and folds, however, we can seek the knowledges, thoughts, and interpretations that have been arrested by the political, social, and aesthetic prejudice of the prevailing consensus. We may recover documents—not yet known, or known and misunderstood—that lay bare the fault lines of “formerness” and carry seeds of reorientation for our understanding of the prospects ahead.
Within this makeshift and provisory logic, the current Dissident Knowledges attempts to bring together artworks, performances, lectures, readings, conversations, talks, and other encounters that not only defy conventional fictions about our contemporary history, but arrange for other formulations than those we have grown accustomed to over some quarter of a century into the making of the “new world order.” Taking crisis and instability as knowledge, this ideational landscape not only challenges the way things are, but actively thinks through how they could be otherwise, proposing in tandem the shape of things to come. The artworks at the core of these constellations, following much the same protocol, are bodies of knowledge: both the documents uncovering the cracks through which we might see the “formerness” of the West, and the resources for how to think differently. Much like what lies at the core of philosopher Bruno Latour’s invitation to “compositionism,” we could then tentatively try to “put things together,” yet differently than is customary, and propose a draft of a “common world,” one that “has to be built from utterly heterogeneous parts that will never make a whole, but at best a fragile, revisable, and diverse composite material.” 1 There is no exhibition and no conference; no order in that sense, but rather rhythms and accidents; no certainty but rather a set of propositions; no script but rather an invitation to imagine the “what if” scenario, and with it—the world otherwise.
1 Bruno Latour, “An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto,’ ” New Literary, History 41 (2010), p. 474.