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Contemporary Art as a Space of Transformation

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

What is the role of contemporary art in current society?

My graduation text from Leiden University proposes a perspective on contemporary visual arts through the viewpoint of Plato’s notion of χώρα (chôra) – a concept, which in Plato’s philosophy is defined as a third kind of being and is designated as a space between the World of Being and the World of Becoming, necessary for the world to originate and become manifested. The text engages with the idea of χώρα in Plato’s dialogue Timaeus, the understanding of the concept in contemporary thought in the work of the philosophers Jacques Derrida and Julia Kristeva, and investigates two distinct yet interconnected artworks – HAEM Blood Bound (2016) by Cecilia Jonsson and Cracks in Time (2009) by Michal Rovner, through the viewpoint of χώρα. In the text, art is considered equal to χώρα, as, it is argued, approaching the main features of Plato’s receptacle – the crucial aspects of ontology, motility and ‘in-betweenness’ as art characteristics could enable a rediscovery of the significance of the messages it implies for contemporary society. In this manner the research offers a different approach towards art, a prospect for widening its understanding, which, in turn, would allow examining its role and disclosing what it can contribute to the societal issues of the present-day world.


In Plato’s account, χώρα is the key for any revelation of ideal form, i.e., the trigger for everything to occur in the world. The potentiality of the ideal form to inscribe into visibility, provided by this space, makes it possible for the world to ‘become’, issues to be addressed, a reflection to have its impact, a change to be realised. Plato’s concept of χώρα implies a space that transcends dialectical modalities of structuration and fixed configurations, necessary for the disclosure of a different entry point to hegemonic postulations and dual operations. In this manner, χώρα keeps the Platonic dialectic open, as its functioning negates fixity, and encompasses receptivity and openness, Plato’s idea, understood in contemporary thought as heterogeneous and therefore subversive to the homogenised and authoritative order, refers to a possible interpretation of contemporary art in relation to the recognition of these features as art’s own ‘power’ and potential. Being within and beyond oppositional relations, χώρα/art enables the possibility of reworking the dominant order on a different level since, as a third kind of being, it engenders a different response, a process of thinking differently, in which another modality of existence is at stake. Additionally, being visible only when in motion, it presupposes the presence of a process – a process of unfolding, reworking, transformation.


The concept of χώρα in critical theory refers to a process of deconstruction of hegemonic discourses in which χώρα reveals a different logic of existence that allows a view beyond, and at the same time within, their dialectical form, i.e., a reconfiguration of static fixities towards a motility that uncovers a processual attitude towards art, which in turn enables another kind of activity and response. The ideas of Julia Kristeva regarding the concept of ‘semiotic’ chôra, as exposed in her seminal work, Revolution in Poetic Language, relate to her closer engagement with the role of arts and its process of the ‘undoing’ of static foundations. The notion of khôra in the view of Derrida is examined in relation to his project of différance and deconstruction, emphasising the centrality of Plato’s idea for his concept, as khôra embodies the Derridean notions that encompasses the differential relationships in language, exceeding the boundaries of sociopolitical organisation by ‘disrupting’ hegemonic discourse.

Deploying the concept of χώρα in contemporary philosophy does not designate an answer to a cosmological enquiry but rather a manner in which the present-day structures of the world’s order come to be ‘decoded’ – a process of disfiguration of fashioned authorities and hegemonic discourses, in which the peculiar choral space becomes the ‘third kind’, a possible way of ‘exiting’ from the dialectical form of current political and social fabric. By focusing on χώρα, contemporary philosophers aim to touch upon the issue: how to understand the world outside of its structures, or to apprehend the processual aspects of its configurations from a position of a third kind, of χώρα, of art, which stands beside and within the dialectics of discursive hegemony and its opposition.

HAEM BLOOD BOUND by Cecilia Jonsson

CRACKS IN TIME by Michal Rovner

The bio-art project, HAEM Blood Bound, consists of a needle constructed of iron extracted from human placentas – the first interdependent contact between mother and child where the process of articulation of subjectivity originates. The placenta contains iron, investigated in this project as a carrier of identity, aiming at the exploration of the process of transformation of maternal resources into valuable personal processes. In this way, the artwork engages with issues such as individual orientation, articulation of subjectivity, and raises an awareness of human nature and the culture of interconnectedness, as individuals emerge in their relationships, constantly reconfiguring themselves and life through their interactions. The second work, Cracks in Time, is a video projection in which innumerable human figures are moving in opposite directions, constructing an endless chain of motion. Performing a repetitive passage, in which they create a mythological expression of the work of forces and counter-powers – a collision between desires, religions or ideologies and their oppositions – creates cracks in time. History seems to be represented as a break that disturbs temporal linearity and suggests that an end would encourage a new beginning – creation, deconstruction and reconstruction. Both works engage from different perspectives with origination and interconnectedness, which, in relation to the concept of χώρα, opens up a space for questioning and reflection.

The text proposes a perspective of perceiving contemporary visual art in which questions such as dynamics and ontological ‘initiation’ become visible. Looking at art as χώρα allows a possible conception of art as a dynamic force that is able to reconfigure the very structures of the initial conditions of order and, in this manner, to resist hegemonic narratives. Seeing art as a space of dynamic ontology presupposes its engagement with the question of processes and transformation; consequently, it could reveal itself as a different functioning, a different modality of existence, a different ontos that enables the positing of the issue of transition and opening up of the space for reflection and movement towards change.

The view of χώρα brought up in contemporaneity allows reconfiguration of our understanding of the current socio-political order, and perceiving it as art would provide a possible intelligibility of the role of arts and its ‘doing/redoing’ of static foundations or hegemonies, and furthermore of the origination of subjectivity that plays a crucial role in socio-political reality.

You can find the entire text here: ‘The Space of Chora. A perspective on Contemporary Art’ .

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