David Joselit
Translated by:
Mahan Moalemi


In May 2016, Pejman Foundation: Argo Factory opened “Nose to Nose” Slavs and Tatars’ first exhibition in Iran. The second installment of their mid-career survey, the exhibition at Pejman Foundation’s newly opened Argo Factory in downtown Tehran, appropriately enough a stone’s throw from the Russian embassy, featured all three axes of the artists’ practice: publications, lecture-performances, and exhibitions. Marking ten years of the collective’s activity, art becomes a platform of translation – of one organ into another, the heart into the mind, the stomach into the head, as part and parcel of any Abrahamic understanding of hospitality.
To coincide with the exhibition, a translation of David Joselit’s “On Aggregators”, originally published in October, was made available in Persian.
The term contemporary has shifted from an adjective to a noun. Once a neutral descriptor meant to indicate recentness, the contemporary is now widely claimed as a period, composed of loosely related aesthetic tendencies, following and displacing modernism. In this regard, it enters a tradition of now discredited movements that includes “pluralism” and “postmodernism.” Unlike these predecessors, however, which took Euro-Amer ican art as their pr imary archive, contemporary encompasses the temporally coeval but geographically diverse expressions of a global art world—a point critics often emphasize by noting that the literal meaning of con-temporary is “with time,” which in turn is sometimes poetically glossed as referring to “comrades in time.” A framework for global art is thus furnished through the undeniable and ostensibly value-free contention that work so designated occupies the same moment in time. There is, however, a paradox in rendering the adjective contemporary as a noun: When packaged as a period, the contemporary unconsciously reinscribes a model of temporal progression that was fundamental to modernism. While discussions of the contemporary typically emphasize its synchronic dimension—calling upon, as I’ve mentioned, the con to suggest simultaneity across different locations and perspectives—by definition it is always advancing. Like an avant-garde, the contemporary can only go forward, but unlike an avant-garde, the contemporary doesn’t have an avant: Its forward movement does not carry the productive shock of being in advance or, perhaps more appropriate, of being out of sync with its time. In its discursive structure, the contemporary is a kind of blank or denatured modernism, one that is only ever “with” its moment. And this seemingly innocuous “with” masks the dramatically uneven development of globalization. For being together in time does nothing to redress economic disparity, as the victims of collapsed Bangladeshi garment factories producing inexpensive clothes for Western corporations can attest.

David Joselit is an American art historian, currently a Distinguished Professor of Art History at The Graduate Center, CUNY, and also a published author, including being a contributing author to October. At Yale, he was a Carnegie Professor and also a past Harris Lecturer at Northwestern University.

Founded in 2006, Slavs and Tatars mine the complexities and unexpected affinities across cultures through three axes: publications, lecture performances, and exhibition-making. They have exhibited in major institutions across the globe, including MoMA NY, Tate Modern, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, NYU Abu Dhabi, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Slavs and Tatars have published several books including a translation of the legendary Azeri satire “Molla Nasreddin: the magazine that would’ve could’ve should’ve”, currently in its second edition. The artists work across cycles, where extended periods of research give life to an eco-system of installations, sculptures, lectures, and printed matter that question our understanding of language, ritual and identity. Imbued with humor and a generosity of spirit, their work commonly blends pop visuals with esoteric traditions, oral rituals with scholarly analysis in a way that opens new paths of contemporary discourse.