In the beginning, there was post modernism – a fascinating cultural offshoot of modernism that was excessively aware of its medium and devoid of sources, serving as a focus of resistance and of gentle but cynical negation of the modernistic principles that continued to reign supreme.
In the beginning, there was post modernism, with a space between post and modernism, but you’ll find virtually no mention of it in literature. On the internet, for example, the decisively dominant term is postmodernism, with no space or hyphen. Nevertheless, I am confident that at some time, in some place, there was some philosopher, artist, curator or visitor or other who spelled post modernism with a space.
Why is orthography of any significance in this case? Post modernism, with the space intact, implies a possible choice between modernism and the negation thereof inherent in post, in the cultural phenomenon that emerged after and during modernism. The space is a small but gaping abyss between post and modernism, a place to stop and think about the meaning of post – a place to ponder the implications of a source-free ethos, the possibility of “both” and not only “either or.” It is a place to stop and think about the ethical orientation of post at the moment the truth is no longer a criterion for morality but more of a faint echo, a trace buried deep in the countless interpretations heaped upon it.
Post modernism, with a space, is the name I give to a period typified by cautious and deconstructive – not destructive, philosophical, artistic and critical readings that would not tear modernism principles mostly from cold, alienated, cynical nihilism.
One may read post modernism as the moment that follows, accompanies and opposes modernism, asking questions that shake modernism’s rigid structures to their very foundations while rejoicing in its own calculated cynicism.
A retrospective view of the past 30 years leaves no doubt regarding the intensity to which post phenomena negated modernism. Within the depths of contemporary culture, we find no resistance or challenge to questions concerning modernism, but rather nihilistic processes negating the ethical codes that emerged as a result of destructive globalization, accelerated development of smart technologies that were not subjected to intense sociocultural review and radical capitalism that eroded post-World War II conceptions of social welfare.
These factors were responsible for the inception of “postmodernism” – a powerful and sweeping negation of the modernistic environment. Bearing the yoke of economic, cultural and technological revolutions, the critical space between post and modernism narrowed steadily until it disappeared entirely, leaving our culture with postmodernism, a powerful and all-inclusive negation of the principles of modernism, especially its anthropocentric ethical outlook and its belief in extracting whatever truth there may be, even if lost in the depths of interpretations.
Postmodernism charged along the shores of modernism, devouring, eroding and churning everything in its path, shattering humanistic truths, narratives and ethics that perceive the human being as an individual with value.
Postmodernism has apparently defeated modernism and its key principles. Its maelstrom of cynical hedonism begets a new phenomenon as it faces a new post–post post modernism. This is not the post post modernism that is also called post truth. The latter phenomenon does not constitute the continuation of anything, but is rather an extreme and radical aspect of postmodernism.
The new development, that criticizes, opposes, investigates and examines postmodernism modestly, with a silent outcry and steadily increasing social ethic strength, is something that I call Hypo Modernism.
Hypo- is a prefix meaning “under” in the sense of less intense (e.g., underpowered) and also in the physical sense of “beneath.” Its origins are from ancient Greek.
The most salient difference between post post modernism and postmodernism is the former’s connection to the ground and growth therefrom. Post post modernism does not manifest the metal and glass-laden skyscrapers of modernism, nor anything like the postmodern Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, with its numerous entrances and broken angles. Post post modernism, that I now call hypo modernism, features ecological gardens flourishing beneath the enterprises of major conglomerates producing engineered agriculture and food. Its tents sprout up in silent protest against the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv, Manhattan and London. Its urban social communities assimilate into the population out of a deep sense of mission, with modest aspirations, seeking only to rescue those crushed by the kind of “free enterprise” that people of means practice.
The presence of hypo modernism evokes a mood aspiring toward compassion, toward long-term, concrete, everyday activity, and toward dreams of a better world. The world these dreams depict contrasts with the post-truth vision of the so-called “good life,” epitomized by an endless desire for visibility, spectacle and narcissistic ego gratification in a quest for self-fulfillment, for unattainable perfection. This “good life” – the narcissistic quest for self-fulfillment – ultimately necessitates dependence on all kinds of self-styled experts and guides with exotic and at times somewhat mysterious scientific, religious or spiritual reputations.
Hypo modern people confront and oppose the narcissistic postmodern quest for self-fulfillment. These are people who think independently. They do not develop new forms of dependence on religion or commercial spiritualism. Their self-realization is not a means of gratifying the narcissistic impulses that focus their entire being on themselves. On the contrary, the hypo modernist spearheads a self-fulfillment culture diametrically opposed to that of the postmodernist.
Instead of perpetuating the seemingly endless postmodern selfie argot, hypo modernism aspires to return to the space between post and modernism. This demands an ironic outlook that addresses the past lessons learned from modernism and its darker aspects: Great truths, nationalistic conservatism, separatist nationalism and tribal peoplehood. Hypo modernists will not fall prey to nostalgia for the lucid days of modernism, nor will they be tempted to reject post values entirely.
Hypo modernists do not resort to cynicism as an interpretive tool when there is no chance of finding the truth, but rather apply an irony that is free of bitterness when there is no clear truth to guide them. This irony, situated in the space between post and modern, scorns sanctity and finds purpose in the concrete here and now. There is no sanctity in truth, nor its negation, that gives rise to posthumanism and restores the divine to its place as an alternative. Rather, there is life here and now, and this is its purpose. A human being is both a complete and partial individual.
To escape the tangle of metaphysical words used to describe hypo modernists, I proceed to outline the phenomenon by providing concrete examples of people and movements representing the hypo modern idea.
The Israeli movements
“The Tarbut [“Culture” in Hebrew] Movement was established in 2004 by six young graduates of various art programs in Israel who performed a year of artistic and educational community service. Since 2006, the movement has been organizing groups of artist-educators to make their homes in Israel’s geosocial periphery, committing their lives to artistic creativity, education and art per se as the focus of their mission and activity. ... Groups are dispersed in localities and neighborhoods all over the country, where they conduct an ongoing, intense series of activities for thousands of local children, youth and adults” (from the movement’s website).
What makes Tarbut a hypo modern movement? What characterizes it as such? Apparently, several of the movement’s features and the statements on its website recall the modernistic manifestos of idealistic groups whose time seems to have passed. Movements that sought to change the world through art have always failed to do so. Nevertheless, the Tarbut Movement also reveals certain characteristics attesting to a dramatic difference between it and world-changing movements of the modernistic variety.
In its quest to shape the image of society in Israel, the movement may be revealing some residual modernistic traces, but its rhizome-like networked activity addresses the small community. The Tarbut Movement is not interested in a revolution or upheaval of world order. Its proponents believe in systematic, small-scale, focused activity that is not driven by pathos and manifestos, but is simultaneously anonymous and intimate, limited to the community in which they reside and spend their time.
The Tarbut Movement’s art is an ethical-practical means of changing the world, effected through small-scale, strenuous and repetitive everyday activities. Modernistic manifesto movements such as Dadaism, Fluxus, Futurism, Expressionism and others ultimately sought to win over the masses, especially those who would view their artistic works. By contrast, the Tarbut Movement is concerned with the local community, not with a mass audience. Its works are not for display. Rather, they seek “to bid farewell to the public and join the community” (from the movement’s charter). Tarbut Movement adherents are not motivated by the classic narcissistic ethics typical of artists, who aspire to lead the camp as omniscient geniuses. Instead, they are guided by the ethics of education through art.
Another hypo modern aspect of the Tarbut Movement is its rhizome-like networking. Its sociocultural agenda is disseminated much as a rhizome spreads out over the soil, staying close to the surface. The term “rhizome” originates in botany, describing a type of vegetation whose tangled offshoots branch out and cross one another, with no beginning and no end. Rhizomes are known for their perseverance.
The rhizome concept was applied to philosophy and cultural studies by two post modern French scholars: philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychiatrist- political activist Félix Guattari. They claim that the rhizome contrasts with the kind of methodical, well-organized and systematic structural hierarchy that is typical of a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. The rhizome has no starting point or fundamental guiding principle, but consists entirely of links – divergences, labyrinths and unanticipated encounters. The Tarbut Movement’s rhizomatic outlook is reflected in its dispersal over 15 geosocially peripheral localities, comprising about 1,500 trainees with no formal leadership hierarchy.
The Dror Israel Movement is another organization that I characterize as hypo modern. Like Tarbut and other movements that cannot be described here because of space limitations, Dror Israel’s ideological roots appear to manifest a certain connection to modernism. Its logo depicts the modernistic pathos of vast social change and its belief in the value of the individual. But Dror Israel’s organizational structure is rhizomatic, comprising dispersed centers that are simultaneously autonomous and interlinked. The movement’s activity structure is hypo modernistic as well, since it undermines both the ceremonial and nostalgic pathos and rigidity of modernism and the nihilistic cynicism of postmodernism.
The movement’s website offers numerous examples of such activity, among which the ‘Revolution of Hope’ Project – conducted during Holocaust Memorial Week in 2016 – is particularly captivating. This project did not construct grandiose monuments, nor did it use fear and trembling to evoke a Holocaust effect among participants. Rather, it promoted flat, nonhierarchic discourse with no levels, podiums or lecterns, aimed entirely at achieving community dialogue that instills hope.
Another hypo modern characteristic of the Tarbut and Dror Israel movements is rooted in what I call the persistence of action. Long-term maintenance of beneficial ideological activity is not typical of modernism and most emphatically not of postmodernism, which perceives all permanence, whether ideological or practical, as the object of deconstruction from which all aspirations toward power should be wrested.
A film about Dror Israel, produced by Nitzan Horowitz, opens with the following remarks: “Much of the effort expended to achieve social change in Israel actually takes place elsewhere, in long-term work conducted very far from cameras and microphones. It may be found among people who effect change in the field, from the roots up.” I cannot find more precise words than these to describe the hypo modern character of the Dror Israel and Tarbut movements.
Artist – Art – Hypo Modernism
Social and hypo modern artists need not be considered identical. Many people practice social art, especially – but not exclusively – in the conceptual arts, such as Ai Weiwei, Michael Druks, Hans Haacke and many more. But Haacke and other artists who evoke critical discourse regarding power plays in the Western world often feel they are lone artists, bearing the torch to illuminate the path toward a better society, standing in an autonomous position outside the camp and declaring that the emperor is naked. As indicated, protests of this type have been carried out in modern Western culture since the Dadaist era – or perhaps even before that time. I have searched extensively for hypo modern artists and discovered that they are legion, but here I would like to focus on only two such personalities: Israeli artist Nir Nader and the late American artist Mark Lombardi.
Nader is an independent artist who produces works of art in a collective and on its behalf. Nader enters and leaves the art world at will, using it as a means for promoting the ethics of “public good” through the Bread and Roses project. Since the 1990s, he and Erez Harodi have been practicing social protest art, as did Haacke. In time, however, Nader realized that he wielded only limited influence as a lone artist and could contribute little to the prevailing critical-political discourse. Moreover, he was deeply disappointed by the Israeli art community’s shift toward capital, as he describes it, leading him to forgo his role as the all-knowing, torch-bearing artist in favor of the places and activities connected with the collective.
Nader’s work within the collective engenders rhizomatic activity whose ramifications are charted at the Workers’ Advice Center website (www.wac-maan.org.il). His most salient hypo modern characteristic, however, may be his ironic view of reality and the activities that comprise it.
In a 2012 interview with Galia Yahav in Haaretz Hebrew, one may discern Nader’s ironic approach to the powers he faces:
Yahav: You have now become a salesperson. Are you forgoing creativity in favor of works produced by Arab women laborers? Is this some kind of tactical measure?
Nader: This is an exhibit of items that are sold so that we can carry out the ‘Women at Work’ Project. Sales neither destroy nor improve the concept of art. In relations between capital and labor, capital has the upper hand. Privatization has penetrated everywhere, so that’s what we have to work with.
Yahav: Do you miss art?
Nader: All the time. It’s not a nostalgic yearning, but a seething creativity. I do not yearn to create objects. Art surrounds one in a more refined manner. In practice, very few artists manage to continue producing captivating and innovative creations for years and years. The individual also sanctifies specific artists by according them esteem. I preferred to work in a collective.
All the above emphases are mine, reflecting Nader’s ironic but not acrimonious presentation of his philosophy as an artist, as a hypo modernist within a violent, roiling postmodern world. On the one hand, he reconciles himself to the mighty crush of “free market powers.” But the activism that such reconciliation breeds is neither bitter nor vengeful. It strikes at roots in the ground and continues to spread over time (the Sindyanna of Galilee project, for example).
Another artist I perceive as a hypo modernist is Lombardi, whose natural inclinations led him toward research and obsessive collection of material concerning worldwide scandals and criminal activity, especially white collar crime. In 1994, he began to create a series of drawings, mostly graphite or ink on paper, which he called “Narrative Structures.” These diagrams/drawings/sketches are visually interesting, as they incorporate all his interests, linking them into one comprehensive item: Sketching, social/commercial interactions, the hierarchies of these interactions and how they are linked with both local American and world politics.
As part of the research for his drawings, Lombardi assembled some 14,000 index cards, now part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, each referencing a person or other entity. In his computational pieces, it appears as if we’re looking at all 14,000 index cards at once. Too often, we try to make the machines synthesize for us, but in fact, synthesis – from the Greek and then Latin meaning ‘to place together’ – is a fundamentally human task. It’s what separates us from Google.
Although Lombardi did not belong to any social movement or collective, I perceive three significant hypo modernistic elements in his human-artistic ethos: Humanism, the public good and rhizomatic structure.
Lombardi’s humanism is reflected in his uncompromising stance against masses of information that would ordinarily subdue any human being. Facing great and powerful quantities of knowledge, Lombardi quietly poses an often repressed revolutionary question concerning the human need for technological tools. He opposed the tendency to computerize all activities and depend on machines to accomplish the most difficult human task of all: synthesis of information and its transformation into a narrative. He notes that when we tell a story, we have to preserve a human point of view and an angle of vision based on our own cognitive discretion. Lombardi shouts in silence, epitomizing the human situation in the postmodern era.
The rhizomatic and ethical aspects of Lombardi’s philosophy appear interwoven in the activity his works engender. They may be perceived as a vast, active archive whose reading/viewing – and any such activity conducted subsequently – gives rise to participation in the revelation and public denunciation of the scandals it describes. Lombardi unfolds a rhizomatic structure of deception, crime and power, demanding that viewers forgo their naveté and take an ethical and moral stand against the events so revealed, much like a giant, constantly spreading rhizome that cannot be exterminated.
Principal characteristics of hypo modernism:
1. Disseminating a social-cultural agenda as a spreading rhizomatic network that remains close to the surface within the community.
2. Promoting the ethics of contributing to the public good.
3. Strenuous, community-oriented, persistent, long-term activity, with no audience and no intention to produce a spectacle.
4. The hypo modernist activity is not based on possession of knowledge and culture, but rather favors constant creation of information through open community participation.
5. Dreaming of a “better world,” rather than the “good life” as propounded by postmodernists.
6. Approaching the world from an ironic point of view that holds nothing sacred and thereby derives its resistance power.
7. Belief in the individual and perception of the high value of human beings.
Eli Bruderman is head of the Ruth Youth Wing for Art Education at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.