Peter Osborne: What makes Contemporary Art Contemporary? Or, Other People's Lives

From Problematizing the Contemporary

In this lecture, Peter Osborne revisits some of the arguments in his book Anywhere or Not At All: The Philosophy of Contemporary Art (2013). Mainly, he focuses on contemporary art’s relationship to narrative, in particular in video and film work, by looking at two works by Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari. Osborne argues that a possible answer to what makes contemporary art contemporary is the artistic presentation of other people’s lives and how it presents a semantic shift in the concept of the contemporary from lives being in time, to the idea of bringing different lives and hence the time of those lives together. He notes how the image in video and film is the vehicle that brings together what Walter Benjamin observed as the loss of storytelling and the cultural forms of information. Osborne formulates this as “the anachronistic re-introduction of the story as both the carrier of larger historical narratives as well as means for the construction of contemporaneity in contemporary art.” Not as in depth as the book, yet the lecture does offer Osborne’s account of the contemporary as a “critical category,” and a replacement of the discredited notion of postmodern in the 1990s. He discusses the return to the image via narrative in post-conceptual art and the relationship between memory and history, with the contemporary naming a kind of ongoing temporization of history and the mode of temporality that best describes the historical present.

Peter Osborne is Professor of Modern European Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University, London. He is also an editor of the British journal Radical Philosophy.

December 10, 2014

Nottingham Contemporary

Curated by

Sohrab Mohebbi

About the curator

Sohrab Mohebbi is a writer/curator living in Los Angeles. He blogs at