There is no culture is my brag: The Classical and the Contemporary

Next month I am flying to Brisbane, Australia for a conference run by the Postclassicisms research network at Princeton University called ‘The Classical and the Contemporary’. I will be giving another presentation under the aegis of Minus Plato following my intervention at ICAN V (International Conference on the Ancient Novel) in Houston last Fall – you can read about that here. In short, I want to consider what it means to intervene in contemporary debates as a contemporary Classicist, taking inspiration (yes, that is the right word) from contemporary artists’ multifaceted interventions in the contemporary world. I am especially excited by the prospect of the conference taking place in close conjunction with the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. This context gives an additional potential for intervention and engagement.

But for now you can read the general description of the conference, interspersed with some potentially interventionist bile made with the highest British attention to the wrong detail.

Over the past fifteen years, the category of “the contemporary” in art history has been rapidly institutionalized, embedding the scholarly engagement with art practices in the present within the established discourses of history and redefining the space of exchange between the academy [The Classical] and the world outside its walls: “contemporary art” is now at once a field of academic study and the art world in real time. Art historians’ interest in whether the institutional category of “the contemporary” marks a potentially troubling unmooring of their discipline from history and traditional scholarly practice [There are twelve people in the world/The rest are paste] seems to have been (symptomatically?) fleeting.


Charles Ray Boy with Car, 2014

Bringing together art historians as well as classicists, ancient historians, and artists [THIS IS THE HOME OF THE VAIN!/THIS IS THE HOME OF THE VAIN!], we aim to take up the category here under more capacious comparative conditions, as a phenomenon both specific to the global art world right now and a case study for thinking about points of engagement between academic study, especially history and philosophy [Snobbier Snobbier], and the practice and production of art; between the study of ancient Greece and Rome and interventions in the present; between Greco-Roman antiquity and other classical traditions [Too much romantic here/I destroy romantics, actors]


Charles Ray Huck and Jim, 2014

Rather than opposing “the contemporary” to history or the past tout court, we partner it with a term that’s been a less familiar companion, “the classical,” in order to explore the dynamics not of disjunction but of conjunction: not the contemporary or the classical but the contemporary and the classical [You wont find anything more ridiculous, than this new profile/razor unit, made with the highest British attention to the /wrong detail, become obsolete units surrounded by hail]. The workshop aims to occupy not just a temporal axis but also, in its conjunction with the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, a spatial axis [MESSAGE FOR YER! MESSAGE FOR YER!]. The idea is not for participants to be occupying all axes at all times but to create a space for unpredictable intersections and resonant affinities [THE CLASSICAL!].


Charles Ray Boy, 1992

We want to ask, in part: Can these terms, classical and contemporary, be thought together? Or does bringing one into focus obscure the other? Is the classical just another way of marking a historical consciousness foreign to the state of being contemporary? Or does it suggest, rather, a strategy for eliciting untimely dimensions of the contemporary? How does the conjunction of the classical and the contemporary change when we replace the classical with the postclassical? Does joining the classical with the contemporary expose the Eurocentrism that persists into current notions of the contemporary? Or is “the classical” itself a global concept? [I KNOW IT MEANS A LOT OF STOMACH GASSSSS] By contrast, what happens if we think of the classical not as a homogenizing term—a common tradition or the object of a “classical” education—but as a body of material encountered locally and contingently within a present at once pluralistic and networked? How does the enactment of these questions in and around art mimic or diverge from other forms of cultural production? [Play out Classical] We also want to invite participants to enact the conjunction of the classical and the contemporary—that is, not so much to theorize, defend, or reject the partnering of these terms as to map possible practices of imbricating past and present, classical and postclassical, local and global. [I’ve never felt better in my life/Better in my life…]


Charles Ray Family Romance 1993

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