Angelbert Metoyer and Charlie Koolhaas’ collaboration is meant to direct attention to particular ways in which the world’s beloved specificities are being diluted and diverted by the currents of global commerce. You can’t count on not finding the most culturally improbable imports even in spots that seem unlikely to have the wherewithal to pay for them. Toss in the imponderables of global migration, and you have the recipe for the cultural collisions and negotiations that are C. Koolhaas’s photographic bread and butter.
Ms Koolhaas (who almost certainly doesn't require these attached honorifics or first-name cites to avoid confusion with her architect father) documents the indistinguishable components of the world’s conurbations, set cheek by jowl with the cultural inflections that remind outsiders of where they are. And the juxtaposed results are precisely part of what the writers in the Huyssen anthology would call an urban imaginary: the shifting imaginative nodes whereby residents not only navigate in an urban space but re-interpret its shifting physical modes and moods. It is possible, these days, to feel lost in one’s own home territory, and that particular condition has led and will lead to moments of spectacular violence.
But for every displaced migrant community or discomfited longtime local population at one another’s throats, there are dozens that seem to have settled into a functional style of co-existence that is not quite tolerance and certainly not cosmopolitanism. But it is a style based on the realization that in the absence of intolerable immediate conditions (and what constitutes “tolerable” shifts according to moods and modes of the moment), everyone is better served by going along to get along.
There is a great deal of impassioned theory-laden rhetoric about the lives of urban populations that we will not revisit here. What is at stake is how the imaginative lives of those populations shape the urban imaginaries of cities that have been tossed into the global discourse in ways that are distinctly their own, using the same components that the forces of multinational capitalism and state socialism have distributed unevenly across the planet.
Pico Iyer has written some of our best subjective impressions of the condition of the global soul, that particular socioeconomic class that is formed by not just the ability bujt the necessity to travel from one globalized cultural bubble to the next, on business or on the business of making and exhibiting art. (Nicolas Bourriaud is the most recent curator to write about artists as global nomads, a topic on which I noted a dozen years ago that not only are most artists the opposite of nomadic, but that most of the people who are actual global nomads are individuals who in other circumstances might not have chosen to wander the globe in search of better-paying work.)
So there really is what Iyer poetically (if with some degree of alarm) calls a global soul, a globalized social type. But ironically, globalized consciousness and what used to be called cosmopolitanism do not go hand in hand; some of our better-compensated global nomads are as provincially encapsulated in their own quite limited social worlds as was any young Englishman off on the Victorian version of the Grand Tour.
Metoyer and Koolhaas are not in that category, and the fruits of their world wanderings are meant to be explorations of the personal and social underpinnings of identity and difference. Metoyer’s mystical cross-blendings of cultural symbolizations overlay prettily on Koolhaas’ documentation of the parts of cities that could be anywhere, and the parts that are distinctly of their own time and place, and the parts in which whole genres of time and place collide and intermingle or sit uncomfortably adjacent.
Whether all their ventures communicate adequately, or whether all are successful as aesthetic objects: that, formalist critics can address. The mirrored hypercubes in the Sandler Hudson exhibition seem like windows into another world, but a world that is the one we live in. The single film out of the fifty-two currently in Metoyer’s oeuvre seems another such window into the not-yet of the time that is coming and in some ways is already here, and in many ways right outside the window in Midtown West. As William Gibson famously wrote, the future is already here, but is unevenly distributed. As is obvious once you think about it and bother to look around with eyes that are more than half-open and a mind more than half-awake.
I believe that Metoyer wrote in an earlier exhibition that we are enlightened but we are not yet awakened. But now it is high time to wake out of sleep.