Svetlana Boym and the Off Modern

Svetlana Boym is definitely one of my favourite contemporary theorists. Her book The Future of Nostalgia really got me. She is also an artist so she steers her theories and histories in that direction and I'm alright on her art, but it's not always my cup of tea. She started the off modern movement, a non -ism that acts as "a prism of vision and a mode of acting and creating in the world that tries to remap the contemporary landscape filled with the ruins of spectacular real estate development and the construction sites of the newly rediscovered national is a performance-in-progress, a rehearsal of possible forms and common places...It explores interstices, disjunctures, and gaps in the present in order to co-create the future."

From The Off-Modern Mirror:

"Instead of fast-changing prefixes—“post,” “anti,” “neo,” “trans,” and “sub”—that suggest an implacable movement forward, against or beyond, and try desperately to be “in,” I propose to go off: “off” as in “off kilter,” “off Broadway,” “off the map,” or “way off,” “off-brand,” “off the wall,” and occasionally “off-color.” “Off modern” is a detour into the unexplored potentials of the modern project. It recovers unforeseen pasts and ventures into the side alleys of modern history at the margins of error of major philosophical, economic, and technological narratives of modernization and progress. Critic and writer Viktor Shklovsky proposes the figure of the knight’s move in chess that follows “the tortured road of the brave,” preferring it to the master-slave dialectics of “dutiful pawns and kings.”


The term “off modern” came to me by accident, as I was dueling with my computer printer, turning it on and off, violating its instructions in the hopes of performing an unpredictable knight’s move in a battle with so-called artificial intelligence. I didn’t have a new black-ink cartridge and wanted to see how my cheap printer would cope with the situation of technical scarcity. It continued working, letting its psychedelic unconscious spill out and yielding a few photographic prints that were unrepeatable and unpredictable. Images without black (without melancholia?) led to a project about nostalgic technologies that involved even more battles with the printer. In a series of “ruined prints” showing our decaying modern landscapes, I pulled the photographs prematurely from the printer, leaving the lines of passages. This error made each print unrepeatable and uniquely imperfect. The process is not Luddite but ludic, not destructive but experimental. An error has an aura."


Leaving New York (Ruined Prints) 2002-2004

Leaving Sarajevo (Ruined Prints) 2002-2004

Svetlana Boym - The Off-Modern Mirror, here