"Marcelo G. Lima: Postcards from the Aesthetic Diaspora" by J.R. Osborn

'This is a historical lab, Dubai. The city of the permanent diaspora.’
- M.G. Lima

For over five years, Marcelo Guimarães Lima has been living and teaching in Dubai, a perplexingly global city populated by an expatriate majority. In 2007, he began sharing his aesthetic and critical observations online via the ‘Panoptikon’ (www.panoptikon.net). As Dubai’s glittering skyscrapers stretched towards the sky, he kept his feet firmly planted on the ground: drawing lines and sketching figures that connect the frenzied project of globalized development with the contemporary experience of artistic production.

Dr. Lima’s observations remind us that questions of Dubai’s modernity are also aesthetic questions. Between the rise and fall of economic and political fortunes—the meteoric rise of Dubai as a bourgeois playground, the global economic crash, a wave of social network revolutions—art persists on its own pace. The autonomy of art modulates a timeframe in which the artifact and observer circle one another with shared subjectivity. As a city of monuments that briefly sat atop the world’s imagination, Dubai locates the riddle. But its reflections are global.


The following collection travels smoothly from Latin America to Europe through Australia and beyond. These are not centralized dictates from the panopticon but scattered glimpses of the panopticon core. These multiple reflections on artistic communication point us toward a shared experience of imagination, possibility, and aesthetic sensibility. Through a continual process of looking inward, the diasporic position connects the dots and new figures emerge. Although the ball may move across the center of the field, the sidelines offer the best vantage point from which to observe the beautiful game.


Near the center of this collection, Dr. Lima introduces imagination as the common faculty of art and science. Both processes shape our sensory inputs into a string of signification. Signification here is both informative and constructive; it is transformative as well as enlightening. Dr. Lima is particularly interested in artistic signification as ‘the creation of the experience of possibility.’ His essays demonstrate that the viewing of art can be an experience of the possible.

“From now on all art will be Mimetic again, or will not be!”

— Pierre Menard

It is here that we may glimpse a ‘theory of art’ that resonates across the text (presuming, that is, that such grand claims can still be made, much less voiced from the outskirts). As touristic flâneurs, Dr. Lima guides us from the Italian Renaissance through the graffiti- pocked streets of São Paulo; from the gold mines of 1920s Peru into the gold-plated fixtures and crystal chandeliers of Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace; from visualizations of twenty-first century data to political challenges contra 1980s conservatism. We leave the baroque halls of the Louvre and step into the bustling noise of a modern day traffic circle. Circling the intersection of advertising and public art, signs point toward the shifting gaze of Emirati painting, the vistas of photographic surrealism, the liberatory vision of a cyborg transhumanism, and the silent echoes of Japanese calligraphy. Choosing an exit at random, we return to a darkened chamber, decorated with the aesthetic SCRAPS of industrial Dubai.


This book freezes a shifting environment; it materially remediates the online Panoptikon series. These writings appeared in digital form during the period of 2008-2011. The blog posts were linked to other sites, re-linked from other sites, and embellished by commentsand user input. As digital entities, they continue to shift and evolve in a networked ecology. Yet, it is fitting that they also gain new life, and a new temporal presence, in book form. The book is a curious artifact: historically significant, temporally experienced, radically memorable, prematurely pronounced dead, refreshed, reissued, and persistently stubborn in its resurrection. Like works of art, books communicate autonomously from the external passage of time. The book provides a material portal into moving currents of signification which are paradoxically bounded from the world in which the artifact dwells and circulates. As a curatorial collection, this book isolates its contents from the flows of networked information and organizes them in a visual array. As a gallery of informational art, it allows us to view the displayed works side by side. The juxtaposition introduces us to the themes and palette with which Dr. Lima works.


As we flip these pages, we enter his experience of possibility. We are displaced through new sensibilities of artistic communication and hetero-synchronous time. Dr. Lima has sent us an invitation to join him in the permanent diaspora. These works are the Derridean postcards of an aesthetic dérive. They imitate and remediate artistic discovery. In doing so, they also record a global journey upon which we have recently (or long ago) embarked and which the possible destinations are yet to be imagined.



J.R. Osborn is an experimentalist and scholar of communication. His research focuses on design aesthetics, media technologies, and the visual culture of the Middle East and Africa. Dr. Osborn holds a Ph.D. in Communication from the University of California, San Diego and is currently a professor in the Communication, Culture & Technology program at Georgetown University.

The above text is the introduction to the volume Heterochronia and Vanishing Viewpoints: Art Chronicles and Essays by Marcelo Guimarães Lima published by Metasenta Publications, Melbourne, 2012.


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