International symposium “Semiperipherality”
(Freie Universität Berlin / Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut)
Organized by Prof. Dr. Sérgio B. Martins and Prof. Dr. Eric C. H. de Bruyn
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While the historical avant-gardes typically embraced a rhetoric of progress that affirmed new developments by declaring preceding ones defunct, the emergence of the contemporary artworld has often been conceived in terms of its definitive posterity (vis-à-vis modernism, the avant-garde or even history) or relative undifferentiation (as in so-called “global” curating and art-history). The notion of semiperiphery, in contrast, is staked on the spatial and historical mediation of contradictions. Coined by Immanuel Wallerstein, it builds on the classic core-periphery model first advanced by Latin-American economists such as Raúl Prebisch and Celso Furtado, and further elaborated by dependency theorists, who challenged developmentalist assumptions – common both in conservative and left-wing circles – that peripheral nations could retrace the historical steps of central economies either to reach their development standards or to set the necessary conditions for revolution. Capitalism was not an intrinsically national affair, those theorists argued, but rather an international system within which productive processes were distributed unequally, with peripheries allocated to the function of supplying raw materials and cheap labor to core regions while importing back industrialized and more valuable products.
Crucially, core and peripheral productive processes coexist in semiperipheral states. On the one hand, this situation often leads to heightened social, political, and cultural contradictions; on the other, as literary critic Roberto Schwarz has argued, it has prompted art forms that captured the gist of those national contradictions and that, by doing so, also offered unique perspectives on crucial aspects of international capitalism that were not clearly discernible from the viewpoint of major European and North-American artistic centers. While art is certainly no exception to the predominance of unequal trade (think, for example, on how American Pop art swept the international scene in the 1960s), the case can be made for its occasional capacity to turn this very inequality on its head (think, for example, of how artists and critics in different semiperipheral countries responded to Pop). Also, as neo-avantgarde artists from semiperipheral regions began to circulate more and more in core regions (often due to political exile), they entered into unpredictable dialogues with peers both from those regions and from other semiperipheral contexts.
Relevant questions that may be raised in the course of the symposium include, but are not limited to: to which extent does the semiperiphery call into question the temporal mold of avant-gardism and its historiographical derivatives (such as the neo-avant-garde and post-avant-gardism)? Can the notion of semiperiphery exceed regional specificity and function methodologically in accounts of transnational exchanges and encounters in either pre- or postwar art? Does it complicate curatorial models such as those that underlie “global” exhibitions like The World Goes Pop and Other Primary Structures? Conversely, can it also propose alternatives to nationally-oriented historiographies? How do its critical and historiographical perspectives compare to those of postcolonial thinking? Is it also productive for reexamining the uneven artistic landscapes of countries that possess major artistic centers, but might be deemed semiperipheral due to their internal discrepancies? Do different geopolitical contexts yield distinct, yet coeval forms of semi-peripherality? Moreover, can the semiperipheral also complicate canonical accounts of European and North-American art and prompt us to reframe our understanding of hitherto familiar works? Do the internal contradictions of the semiperipheral condition also encompass other kinds of peripherality (urban, environmental, linguistic, etc.)?
Sekretariat Prof. Dr. Eric de Bruyn
Freie Universität Berlin
FB Geschichts- und Kulturwissenschaften
Kunsthistorisches Institut (KHI)