When defining “contemporary” the definition accounts for and conflicts between the current actions of society, how it is perceived, and how it is questioned. Furthermore, the current work of artists is also questioned since art traditionally defines and historicizes a specific time periods of art. By defining contemporary, the production of contemporary art might be better understood but also imposes doubts such as; if current work is self-referential and questioning its own definition, then is art fulfilling its purpose?
Contemporary: “Belonging to the same time, age, or period; living, existing, or occurring together in time.” This is the definition of the word “contemporary” according to the Oxford English dictionary. It is an adjective that describes something of the same time relative to what it describes. What is problematic about this definition is that there is no mention of the contemporary as a noun that is the present time. This contributes to the difficulty of defining a specific time, such as now, as contemporary; since the definition is about one thing being in relation to another rather than self-standing. Artists like Raymond Boisjoly explore this notion in his work, Makeshift Makeshift from 2010 -2012 (Fig 1). The work is a 9 feet by 5 feet composition of inkjet color paper and painter’s tape on the wall. Printed on the arrangement of sheets, the phrase reads: “To discover what this isn’t yet might have been and what, at a decisive moment, it failed to become without ceasing to exist altogether”
The idea of attaining the contemporary is set up in the words and work of art. First, the paper and tape are identifiable ready-made objects that most present-day people will be able to identify. In essence, the material is contemporary, they belong to our time. Boisjoly mentions that the material is part of the natural order of our present time. When he was looking for the paper, the store presented a preconceived notion of aesthetically pleasing color-paper. The material is already present and will continue to be present. Questioning, when will the paper cease to exist and what or whom decides the color of the paper. The quote also embodies this in two ideas, one, as the discovery of something that presently exists as a contemporary but also as the future. Two, the moment in time in which that something does not move towards the future because it continues to define the contemporary. There is a standstill, the idea which pulls forward but returns to its starting point. This is the recurring definition of the contemporary that also manifests in the article “Comrades of Time”. While attempting to define contemporary art, Boris Groys sums up this idea: “The present has ceased to be a point of transition from the past to the future, becoming instead a site of the permanent rewriting of both past and future – of constant proliferation of historical narratives beyond any individual grasp or control.”
These definitions of the contemporary are similar in both theory and practice but Groys goes further and clearly states that the present is becoming a site where creation is in a permanent state of rewriting the past and future. In other words we are not only immobile in the contemporary but we are also in an infinite loop of repetition. The contemporary is overwhelmed by the past and cannot move forward. The pessimism of this statement produces further questions such as, why is the contemporary in an infinite loop? And how will it detach and truly move towards the future?