Adhoc Editorials

Heraclitus’ Doctrine of Flux and the Metamodern Discourse

Throughout art history we have witnessed different movements, each categorized by their own individual and expressive nature. Most recently we have been witness to the postmodern era, where we see a distinct rise in consumer culture and an ever-increasing interest in popular culture. Postmodernism has also been characterized by distrust of a central and authoritarian narrative; because of this, many artists sought to break the socially constructed boundaries delineating high art from low art, and the separation of popular culture from art in general. Postmodernism was born from a shift in society, changes within politics and the economy, combined with the general climate of the time.

Barbara Kruger Untitled (I shop therefore I am)

Today, we are once again faced with a dramatic shift in the geopolitical climate, a drastic economic downturn, social unrest, and a restructuring of feelings within the art world. These changes and issues, distinctly unique to their time, no longer fit within the boundaries and definitions that the postmodern provides. At the start of the postmodern era, it was believed that humanity had reached the end of history, that the world had fallen into equilibrium. But despite this idealistic outlook, the world has fallen back into a state of flux, and the end of history is not yet upon us. There continues to be development and transformation occurring globally, especially within the art world. These issues have presented the art world with a challenging problem: what comes after postmodernism?

What comes after postmodernism?

There have been many suggestions, most notably from Nicolas Bourriaud, director of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, who suggests the idea of Altermodernism, which is described as a “synthesis between post modern and post-colonialism.” Altermodernism is greatly associated with the concept of a globalized society and the artist as homo viator. But, more and more frequently the answer to this question is Metamodernism. As stated by Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker, Metamodernism can be described as a paradigm shift, not only within art but in politics and economics as well. Metamodernism is defined as a continuous oscillation between two opposite poles (which are often regarded as modernism and postmodernism). As von Poecke stated, metamodernism is more of a restructuring than a complete change in the way of artistic thought.

metamodernism can be described as a paradigm shift, not only within art but in politics and economics as well

Sarah Lucas, NOB, Installation View, Secession, Vienna, 2014
Sarah Lucas, NOB Installation View, Secession, Vienna, 2014

Metamodernism is a unique movement; it has seen the prosperity of the postmodern era as well as the disparity of the recent years, the Metamodern generation has seen abundance and is now being tasked with instituting limitations to prevent further decline ecologically, economically, and socially. The oscillation between these varying climates (prosperity and limitation) gave rise to the metamodern era. An interesting connection can be drawn between this new age idea of metamodernism and the philosophy of the ancient pre-Socratic Heraclitus. Heraclitus’ philosophy is exemplified in the idea of constant change and oscillation, which is demonstrated through his doctrine of flux. By examining Heraclitus’ doctrine of flux, we are able to develop a better under standing of opposites existing cohesively, as C.T. Emlyn-Jones stated, “everything is both itself and its opposite because all things are in constant flux.”

Everything is both itself and its opposite because all things are in constant flux.

Heraclitus of Ephesus

Heraclitus believed in the existence of paradox within reality, these paradoxes existed in a constant state of change guided by what he calls Logos. This concept is important to the writings of Heraclitus; He was able to adeptly use paradox as a dialectical weapon, which allowed him to be one of the first people to use discourse to open up a critical dialogue with his contemporaries. In the metamodern period, we see artists such as Yael Bartana, an artist who focuses her work on the “imagery of identity and politics of memory,” attempting to reconnect the people of her native identity — Israel with their identity as a nation state. Bartana’s art is used to create a discourse commenting on present social and political events, much as Heraclitus sought to do through the use of paradox. The ideas brought fourth by Heraclitus’ discourse have transcended time, and allowed the idea of flux/oscillation to again be relevant within the metamodernist movement and its dialectic with the issues present in our modern society. Another artist making his way into the metamodern scene is the French artist Loris Grèaud. His recent exhibition The Unplayed Notes Museum at the Dallas Contemporary was an intense exhibition most noted for Grèaud’s destruction of the pieces. The pieces were arranged with much intention, focusing on ideas such as anatomy, physicality, and ideology which greatly contrasted with the intentional destruction of the very precise and specific layout of the exhibition. Grèaud pairs this almost scientific imagery concerning evolution with the random and senseless acts of destruction. We see the oscillation between intentional formation (evolution) with the mindless destruction of this creation. Grèaud opens up a discourse between his art and the viewer, making the elusive nature of his work more tangible while still aloof. The ability to use art and writing to create a dialogue with the current state of world affairs, tactfully employed by both Bartana and Grèaud, has always been an essential element within an array of different cultures. This concept is especially important to the metamodern movement where individuals have been tasked with the duty of allowing overconsumption to coexist with limitations.

Annabel Daou Discussing Metamodernism, 2012, Galerie Tanja Wagner, Berlin
Luke Turner / Nastja Rönkkö Discussing Metamodernism, 2012, Galerie Tanja Wagner, Berlin

Galerie Tanja Wagner has been an important gallery for metamodernists; Wagner’s gallery has featured many prominent artists within the movement, such as Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö. Through their metamodernist exhibition Galererie Tanja Wagner, as described by Vermeulen and van den Akker, sought to highlight the importance of metamodernism’s movement forward despite its inevitable end as it searches for an unreachable truth. Andy Holden, an artist featured in Galererie Tanja Wagner, is most famous for his work in “MI!MS” which stands for “Maximum Irony! Maximum Sincerity!” “MI!MS” captures the essential element of flux in the metamodernist movement. The piece is both sincere in its message and ironic in its delivery, in an attempt to highlight the transition from postmodern definitions into an era of metamodern discourse. Holden closes the piece stating “through acknowledging the infinite potential we have for failure, MI!MS creates a final product that succeeds in spite of, and because of, our ridiculous dreams.”

through acknowledging the infinite potential we have for failure, MI!MS creates a final product that succeeds in spite of, and because of, our ridiculous dreams.


Presently the world has been asked to complete a seemingly impossible task, allow creation and destruction to exist in equilibrium, allow excess to be in harmony with limitation, the sincere to fall in line with the ironic, allow all polar opposites to exist cohesively. Metamodernism is providing a restructuring of ideas, new definitions, and setting new priorities in order to complete its mission of reconciling ideas of constant flux, as presented by Heraclitus, the insatiable appetite of today’s cult of consumerism, and allowing a discourse to form between art and the problems present in today’s society.


Click Here to see Philosophers Robin van den Akker and Timotheus Vermeulen talk about their concept of metamodernism.

Last modified: May 9, 2015