Whilst working through my archives of the photography that I did in the 1980s when I lived in Bowden, Adelaide I came across this outtake from the Mallee Routes exhibition that Eric, Gilbert and I had at Atkins Photo Lab in October/November 2016. It was an outtake since I eventually decided that I didn’t want to exhibit any large format black and white photos in this particular exhibition.
ruins, Mantung, SA
In looking back to this period I relaxed that I came to Adelaide in the 1970s in an attempt to escape from the influence of the high seriousness of American modernism that was then sweeping through the newly established photographic galleries. The modernist aesthetic in the US and Australia was established as the “institutional art” supported by the political establishment and championed by cultural conservatives, and thus the antithesis to the avantgardism that closely accompanied modernism’s diffusion in Europe. The post-modern movement in the US can be interpreted as the American version of the avantgarde when it began to take shape in the 1970s and it suggested “new directions and new vistas” for artists in cultural politics.
This period was the tail end of formalist modernism and industrial capitalism. If it was prior to the emergence of postmodernism
in Australia it was the beginning of the new era of postmodernity, then marked by the Reagan/Thatcher era, the process of de-industrialization, the advent of economic deregulation, the new salience of globalisation, the emergence of finance capitalism and a neo-liberal mode of governance.
In the ’80s there were other forms of art or of experience that seemed to exist outside the capitalist system, that resisted commodification, however provisionally or temporarily. Indeed, whole aesthetics, from Adorno’s notion of the negative to Left ideas of subversion, were based on the premise that there could be some kind of non-commodified art.The language was about art being a domain of contestation, resistance, activism, with the aesthetic seen as establishing a critical distance.
This is no longer the case today. Postmodernism is no longer with us.
Postmodernity, a new stage of capital, is globalisation conceptualized as an economic and cultural (read aesthetic) phenomenon
. Today everything has become, or is in the process of being commodified. There is little space for forms of art that resist commodification, despite the implosion of finance capitalism and the global financial crisis. Capitalism has wholly saturated our world, we struggle to understand the deeper logic of the new global system or its cultural logic. The idea of art establishing a critical distance appears outmoded.
Living in Bowden in the 1980s meant that I was disconnected from the iconoclasm of postmodernism in the US with its dismantling of the dichotomies of modernism–eg.,high and low cultural forms, avantgarde and kitsch, abstraction vs. representation, present vs. past, etc. What prevails in the American discourse on the postmodern is the aesthetic, with its narrative of realism-modernism-postmodernism. I was a naive realist photographer whose only contact with postmodernism was through the published conference papers from the humanities in Sydney, whose academics were engaged with the texts of Foucault, Kristen, Lacan and Derrida.
The postmodern humanities in Sydney, Australia were associated largely with a canon of post-structuralist texts imported as ‘French theory.’