On temporal singularities and the end of contemporaneity

“Performance today is fighting against a chain of ghostly apprehensions that often transform the performance as a material practice into the continuous abstraction of procedures, dividing it from its spatial, situational, and micropolitical dynamic, and abstracting it from its contradictory and always partial embodiment.”[1]


Drawing from Žižek's concept of 'dis-eventualization,' in the article "The Troubles with Temporality," Bojana Kunst frames performance by showing how its materiality is constitutive of the temporality of its own event. The misleading factor, as she argues, is when performance is narrowed to its macropolitical context, as universalized emancipatory histories, rather than empowered by its micropolitical aspects (as many sensory, spatial, and temporal forces). Kunst perceives a temporal dilemma in performance when using the notions of present as its political force while being haunted by its past through its own process. For her, the temporality of performance should not be universalized but addressed in its ‘temporal singularity.’[2]

To delve deeper into this dilemma, we must not only untangle our understanding of temporality but also undo contemporaneity itself. As an attempt to bring into the present the responsibility of revisiting the past and assuming the indeterminacy of its ongoing narratives, Karen Barad claims  the 'noncontemporaneity of the present,' as she explains:

“The past is never closed, never finished once and for all, but there is no taking back, setting time aright, putting the world back on its axis. There is no erasure [of past violence] finally. The traces of all reconfigurings are written into the [iterative] enfolded materializations of what was/is/to-come. Time can`t be fixed. To address the past (and the future), to speak with ghosts is not to entertain or reconstruct some narrative of the way it was, but to respond, to be responsible, to take responsibility for that which we inherit (from the past and the future), for the entangled relationalities of inheritance that ‘we’ are, to acknowledge and be responsive to the noncontemporaneity of the present, to put oneself at risk, to risk oneself (which is never one or self), to open oneself up to indeterminacy in moving towards what is to come … Only in this ongoing responsibility to the entangled other…is there the possibility of justice-to-come.”[3]  (emphasis by the author)

The way we generally understand ‘contemporary’ perpetuates modernity’s politics of time. It reproduces the colonial difference by exercising power over the definition and regulation of the ‘now,’ as an aesthetic standard, creating a separation between those who belong to the now of contemporaneity and those that are relegated to its pastness. From a decolonial perspective, Rolando Vázquez reminds us that not all aesthetics are considered to be contemporary. So, whoever narrates contemporaneity holds power to colonize the conditions for belonging to the ‘now’ and which aesthetics are taken as ‘others.’ Contemporary, as Vázquez suggests, perform two movements of erasure, one of classification and the other of exclusion. In other words, contemporary can only exist through the simultaneous production of its alterity.[4] As a response to the wester-centric contemporaneity, Vázquez brings to light a non westernized movement that works on a denial of contemporaneity, not wanting to be included or recognized as such, seeking emancipation and autonomy from the aesthetic standards and regulation of time, space, and body, which is, in his words, ‘the end of the contemporary.’

[1] (Kunst 2015, p. 6)


[2] (Ibid., p. 9)

[3] (Barad 2020, p. 105) and (Barad 2010, pp. 264-265)

[4] (Vázquez 2020 pp. 57-62)