Neomedievalism

Q: What do the Mighty Boosh, 70s games programmers and the zombie apocalypse have in common?
A: Neomedievalism

In fact, neomedievalism doesn’t actually exist as a discrete academic discipline, as much as a collection of relevant discourses relating to the pre-modern era. This current para-discipline embodies a fascination with the medieval as a lens by which to justify the present and predict the future.

This concept was first brought to my attention through attending a lecture by Dr Neil Mulholland, Head of Postgraduate Programmes and Visual Culture at Edinburgh College of Art. His interest in this topic spans through his teaching and curatorial practice, into his work with the Confraternity of Neoflagellants. It also highlights some of the themes running through my own work at present. The lecture was split into three sections:

Geopolitical neomedievalism
The concept of neomedievalism was first coined by Hedley Bull in The Arnarchical Society, which described ‘a post Stalinist settlement; a system of overlapping authority and multiple loyalty’. Bull’s prophecy detailed the prominence of the localised city-state, and likens it to the shift from hierarchal to democratic systems. This is epitomised by the rise of the internet and social media, by allowing greater opportunities for sharing and networking.

Economic neomedievalism
The neomedieval ecomomy references changes in the means of production made necessary due to large scale pandemic. In the aftermath of the Black Death, the population of Europe having been severely diminished, improved production methods were required to make up for the decrease in skilled labour. In his new book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Chris Anderson suggests a marked return to this kind of ‘prosumer’ society, where DIY culture, coupled with increased access to new technology, leads to more opportunities for democratising production processes in a similar way to the post-plague era.

Aesthetic neomedievalism 
There is a strong performative element to this new aesthetic movement, with artists such as Marcus Coates andPlastique Fantastique recontextualising shamanistic and folk rituals for contemporary audiences. Storytelling is also a particular feature, recreating the medieval oral tradition. Even one of this years Turner Prize nominees, Spartacus Chetwynd, specialises in the retelling of cultural phenomena throughout history, using heavily ritualised and improvised performance.

My own interests lie in how ritual is reproduced in art without repeating cultural stereotypes, and I’m keen to address this in a global context. This is supported by revisionist attitudes within Medieval Studies and independent publishing houses such as the Babel Working Group. I have also noticed a recent increase in Middle Eastern responses to Victorian Curiosity Cabinets which sheds new light on the subject from a different perspective.

Further information:
Speculative Medievalisms 
Postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies
The Dark Monarch: Magic and Modernity in British Art
Altermodern
Best Flame War Ever
The Digital Potlatch

Image: Marcus Coates, Journey to the Lower World, Performance Still, 2004
Photo by Nick David. Courtesy of www.artvehicle.com

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