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Letter from the Editor, Willa Köerner

Illustration courtesy of the author.

Illustration courtesy of the author.

There is something beautifully optimistic about the idea of renewal. It implies reaction, repair, rejuvenation, and maybe even a dash of revolution. Renewal feels like a deep breath of fresh morning air, gratefully inhaled as the previous night’s storm dissolves under a gently rising sun. Renewal is an affirmation, a yearning to be better, a quiet step forward. Renewal is something you sink into. It is softly weathered, scrubbed clean, and hopeful.

While the brazen champions of technological innovation-by-disruption may invoke you to move quickly, to trash outdated norms, and to never weep with nostalgia, renewing our culture feels like a calmer, more thoughtful call to action. As we navigate paths into the future, it’s important to consider the nuances of our past and present: What have we done well so far, and what can be done better? As Sol LeWitt once said, “Every generation renews itself in its own way; there’s always a reaction against whatever is standard.” Renewal reminds us that our culture moves forward only through conscious refinement: we’ll never be satisfied by the status quo, and we demand that all standards be reevaluated so that we may grow.

While the brazen champions of technological innovation-by-disruption may invoke you to move quickly, to trash outdated norms, and to never weep with nostalgia, renewing our culture feels like a calmer, more thoughtful call to action.

In guest-editing this issue, I felt compelled to consider the theme of renewal as a balanced point between two non-ideal states: cultural staleness and manic disruption. Technology has sped up the processes by which we navigate time, and today the ongoing churn of the new whips up more challenges than ever before. Thankfully, many artists are working to affect our processes of renewal by taking a critical look at the outcomes of our culture’s round-the-clock progression—questioning, prodding, and exfoliating what is Now in order to seek better routes forward into that deep, dark horizon of whatever comes next.

What must we be mindful of as we push into the future? With every action—small or large, digital or physical, politically charged or indifferent—we are subtly renewing ourselves and our world. With this in mind, I have asked writers, researchers, and artists to consider critical ideas, practices, and movements that question contemporary behaviors, urging them to look into the role that renewal plays in defining the cultural present.

This issue features an alluring lineup of contributors: Tim Svenonius will take us behind the scenes of the imminent reopening of the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Ben Valentine will take us through his personal journey into a renewed understanding of what art can accomplish, and Corinna Kirsch will explore how artists are evolving their online identities—or “dying and coming back to life”—on Twitter. Furthering the investigation of evolutions in online identity, Alexis Anais Avedisian will dive into the work of artist/activist E-Jane, who manipulates Facebook Ads to probe at issues of identity. And in my interview with the artists behind the Additivist project—a radical, forward-looking investigation of the implications of 3D printing in the context of humankind’s evolution and our entrance into the Anthropocene—we’ll contemplate how our identity as a species can possibly evolve into something “more than human.”

Also in the works: an investigation of Coven Berlin, a feminist cyber-collective; an exploration of Black Futurism through the lens of the Black Kirby project; a piece about the artist Caitlin Berrigan’s project to document the restructuring of two cities; and an essay considering the poet John Giorno’s work as both a muse and a source for creative renewal. To round out the issue, we’ll hear from Catherine Wagley, who has been exploring a 110-year-old exhibition on the outskirts of Paris as a source for mining colonial narratives, and ART21’s Writer-in-Residence will investigate the work of the filmmaker Tiona McClodden, who recently worked on a project honoring Essex Hemphill’s artistic legacy, twenty years after his death from AIDS.

Finally, to further explore the theme from a visual perspective, we’ve joined forces with the multimedia publishing platform NewHive to launch an open call for submissions of original digital artworks. What can renewal mean in the contexts of net art, big data, self-exploration, and at the intersection where technology and nature meet? Is there room for change that doesn’t discard previous tropes, trends and ways of being, but alchemizes them into something that feels utterly new? We invite your visual meditations.

To renew is to rethink and return, to decide specifically how a situation may be improved, and to do the work required to make something good as new. As you read through this issue, remember: Nothing new stays that way for long. Each of us plays a role in tending to our hopes and dreams to ensure they stay shiny, scrubbed clean, and brimming with potential.

Willa Köerner


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