Nikos Papastergiadis

“The Cosmopolitan Scene in Contemporary Art” [ENG]


Abstract: The complexities of cultural hybridity and mobilities of artists in contemporary society have been the subject of much celebration and derision. I will argue that this scene furnishes some glimpses of a cosmopolitan imaginary. However, to grasp the outlines of this imaginary, we must also clear up some confusion about the difference between a globalizing world, and the worldliness of cosmopolitanism.

Globalization refers to a program of integration and unification. In a globalizing world, everything ultimately becomes the same. This is a regime that assembles the diverse and disparate parts, measures their discrete value according to a standard code, and coordinates their relationship within an inter-locking network. Standardization brings efficiency and greater connectivity, not just in commercial transactions, but also in the delineation of cultural values and political rights. The globe is flat and even, because all the relations between the past and future, near and far, foreign and familiar have to submit to the regime of integration.

The worldliness of cosmopolitanism starts elsewhere and moves in different ways. As Axelos and others have argued since the 1950s, the world begins in the imaginative and creative encounters with others, and leads not to smoother levels of integration, but inspires novel forms of interaction and interpretation. Art is a primal example of world-making activity. It keeps understanding and creativity alive through the productive encounters of difference.

In this lecture, I will explore the role of large-scale exhibition as a world-making activity.


Bio: Nikos Papastergiadis is Director, Research Unit in Public Cultures and Professor, School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. He studied at the University of Melbourne and University of Cambridge. Prior to returning to The University of Melbourne, he was a lecturer and the Simon Fellow at the University of Manchester. He have provided strategic consultancies for government agencies on issues relating to cultural identity and worked on collaborative projects with artists and theorists of international repute, such as John Berger, Jimmie Durham and Sonya Boyce. His current research focuses on the investigation of the historical transformation of contemporary art and cultural institutions by digital technology. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, Fellow of Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, Member of Clare College Cambridge, Visiting Fellow at the University of Tasmania School of Art, Advisory Board Member to the University of South Australia School of Art and Architecture, and co-chair of the Greek Centre for Contemporary Culture.