Facts About the Past at Extra Extra:
It takes two to make a thing go right
Posted: 10/09/11

Chapter 1: The History of Things
This month's exhibition at Extra Extra consisted of a screening of three back to back videos, each addressing the act of re-appropriation across time and culture.  Though the entirety of each combined screening lasted no more than thirty minutes, the work was assaultively packed with compelling information, images and history.

The statement accompanying the show reads:

“We are approaching a global culture, where localized histories are replaced by decentralized ideologies, both re-interpreted and re-contextualized. As we move away from traditional notions of history, the meanings attributed to once steadfast cultural icons are dissolved and   replaced by hyper-realized symbols, where the primary source is enveloped and re-distributed by a connected global consciousness.”

The many facets of appropriation are a crucial thing to address, particularly for those artists coming of age now.  Considering the relationship to my own practice, I invariably think about my time in art school and how my peers and I navigated our aesthetic choices – specifically by learning and borrowing from other artists.  We're taught to do this and, in fact, teaching faculty often quite frankly promote the idea that to make someone else's art is necessary before you can figure out how to make your own.  This type of art education seems to propose that young artists should borrow, mimic, and replicate the styles, methods and intellectual content of art history until a specific, unique “personal” style and way of working somehow emerges from somewhere within.

But the waves of these supposed emerged personal styles of making now seem ever-present and easily pinpointed in an era of immediate accessibility, thanks in very large part to the open-source archive of the internet.  Just one year ago, for example, a “hip” art could be described as material-based studies using a laundry list of tools and substances, not limited to glitter, faux wood-grain or New Age crystals.  All of which were visible in class, on the internet, and especially at the New Museum.  Thus, the material impulses those in school had absorbed from the swirling vortex of images found on websites like Vvork and blogs like Tumblr were often the focus of discussions in class critiques.  Questions evoked sought to address the ramifications of the internet's direct and immediate influence.  Inevitably we questioned how connected these artists are to what they're making.  We wondered when copying obtains an outside meaning, or when it's just copying.

GIF: Kevin Bewersdorf, a.k.a. “Maximum Sorrow”: http://rhizome.org/editorial/2008/sep/3/interview-with-kevin-bewersdorf/
The answer seemed always to lie in distance.  It was acceptable to revisit Yoko Ono or John Baldessari, but not quite as palatable to have work seeming to mimic Ryan Trecartin or Rachel Harrison.  Distance across time and space, or gender, class, race, and culture, could mark work as exploratory rather than just lacking in any original thoughts or motivations.  But inevitably, the age-old adage that “nothing is original” anyway became increasingly confusing the more my peers were borrowing and improving on an idea made and posted by someone on the internet ten minutes ago.  Leading to further questioning as to whether the borrowed idea was even being improved upon at all, or just simply changing.  If these ideas are merely mimetic, where can they go?

These issues growing out of rapid appropriation and remixing – like the “who did it first versus who did it best” conundrum, or how contemporary art grows forward in a time when it has amazingly seemed to stagnate – are issues that artists, theorists, and curators in wide-ranging communities now face.

Jerry Saltz echoed this stagnation sentiment on the New York Magazine website after returning home from the Venice Biennale in June, stating about what he labels “Generation Blank,”

“Our culture now wonderfully, alchemically transforms images and history into artistic material. The possibilities seem endless and wide open. Yet these artists draw their histories and images only from a super-attenuated gene pool. It’s all-parsing, all the time. Their art turns in on itself, becoming nothing more than coded language. It empties their work of content, becoming a way to avoid interior chaos. It’s also a kind of addiction and, by now, a new orthodoxy, one supported by institutions and loved by curators who also can’t let go of the same glory days.”

(A rebuttal is posted here at Hyperallergic.)

That much of this prevailing methodology in art-making is addressed subtlety in these videos at Extra Extra, a methodology seemingly fueled by internet staples like Rhizome, I heart photograph, and Vvork, it was no surprise to me and actually rather fitting when I learned that Laric and Dominovic jointly run vvork.com and that the Lenox-Lenox duo study New Media at SAIC, a program presently noted for its production of rising internet artists like Brad Troemel and AIDS 3D.

Chapter 2: The Classing of Things
Oliver Laric's “Versions” begins to dissect a brief history of image and object re-appropriation, as well as the narrator's personal fervor for it.  We're shown remixed computer animations depicting the results of Protestant iconoclasm, stock Disney footage used in both the Jungle Book and Winnie the Poo playing side by side, multiple Hollywood movies filmed in the same window-heavy living room overlooking LA, the side by side examination of similar Greek and Roman sculptures, and at least thirty variations on the same animated GIFs of Zidane headbutting Materazzi during the 2006 FIFA World Cup.  The investigation into each instance is light, and the scope of history is very wide, quickly and sparsely covered – many, if not all of the images flashing across the screen are not even directly addressed by the narration; the narration itself used as much like any other image on the screen: beautiful, slick, mesmerizing.  And almost all borrowed without acknowledgement from philosophers and theorists ranging from René Descartes and Michel Foucault to Susan Sontag and Nick Currie.

Quoted from Descartes' Regulae:

“It is a frequent habit, when I discover several resemblances between two things, to attribute to both equally, even on points in which they are in reality different, that which I have recognized to be true of only one of them.“

And then immediately from Henry James' The Real Thing:

“Combined with this is another perversity, an innate preference for the represented subject over the original one. The defect of the real one is so apt to be a lack of representation. I like things that appear.”

Each comparison, and the entire video, can only be described at the conclusion as on point.  It is incredibly profound, in a nervousness-producing way.

Found here.

Chapter 3: The Propagation of Things
“Turbo Sculpture” by Alexandra Dominovic is much more linearly focused and acts in this exhibition as the present example of cultural re-appropriation.  The video originally appeared as an essay at Art Fag City in 2009 and investigates the phenomenon of small, impoverished Serbian cities erecting sculptures in town squares in the likeness of Western celebrities such as Rambo, Tupac, and Johnny Depp.

PHOTO: Courtesey of the Internet
The concept of cultural history in a global age is a confusing maze of reason and ethics to navigate.  Dominovic's video does an incredibly skilled job at addressing the difficulty of digesting such a bizarre spectacle for an American audience – which at various points of the screening caused Extra Extra's viewership to laugh out loud – with amazing seriousness and compassion.  She takes good care to quote several Serbian figures in the essay who assert that this spectacle is the result of the corruption and violence that has marked the majority of the lives of the youth in Serbia – that they seek heroes and monuments completely disconnected from their own cultural heritage for a very grave reason.  At a lecture moderated by UPenn's Elisabeth Camp that followed one of the screenings, an audience member still proclaimed that this was just yet another example of the United States' rampant imperialism.  However, another attendee suggested that the youth in these videos were absorbing these images of Western capitalism with their own agency and wide, open arms.

Found here.

Chapter 4: Some Kinds of Duration
The final video, titled “Tmrrw,” by Lenox-Lenox, is presented less as a documentary and more as an ambiguous depiction of an imagined future.  Through a decentralized view of a room, we move through a digitally rendered space that mirrors something resembling an art gallery with an Unmonumental-esque installation in it.  With the examination of random, misplaced monochrome objects piled on top of one another, a female computer voiceover states:

“We no longer know how we can possibly use up all these accumulated things, we no longer even know what they are for.  All we know any more is their awkward or brutal decompensation.”

The video also periodically inserts a quote from Brave New World, stating, “What I am about to tell you may sound incredible. But then, when you are not accustomed to history, most facts about the past do sound incredible.”

The voice, because it is a robot, presents authority on a future through which we have no other method of accessing.  This future, though eery and dystopian, feels serene through the reflection on all of the glittering 3D-rendered objects and our floating non-physical body.

A similar version found here.

Conclusion/Finite Invention
The arrival at the end of contemplating such topics is usually marked for me by an utter powerlessness and confusion at the absolute clusterfuck our culture has become.  But the videos, though earnest and heavy, feel equally light-hearted.  Not just willingly accepting what has become of this fashion of art-making, but by frantically ripping off clothes to dance in the sewage of cultural entropy and embracing it wholly.  That we're all potentially being reduced to vapid consumption and regurgitation art machines feels almost fun, and moreover: inevitable.

If Oliver Laric's video teaches us anything, it's that this repurposing of images is in no way new.  What's presented, however, by the final Lenox-Lenox video, is the reminder of the speed with which these images travel to and from us today.

So, let us consider, for just a moment, that the theoretical projection across the three video essays is accurate, and that “Tmrrw's Last Gallery” is exactly our future. That this speed will only grow, and that we are approaching an absolutely unanimous art-making in which the distinction between where one artist ends and the other begins is indecipherable.  One in which every object and image is completely divisible by itself, another, and the collective whole, a symbol stripped of all coherent meaning and significant only in the fact that it is self-referential and shiny.  We are now building the work together, no ego left, just one “reblog” in front of the other.  And that the body of our work would be a floating immaterial one, existing solely in the interconnected space between our laptops.

Or maybe not.  Maybe the reality of these videos, and this trend, is only to show that the genius artist never was, and moreover, never will be.  That there was a past in which we could, through ignorance, not be held accountable for what the corporations who sold us our commodities did overseas, we are all now too aware, thanks to the images and information of the global age, of the direct results on the lives of the people who make them.  Just as we are all now, too, painfully aware of how somewhere, and everywhere, people are making art just like us every day.  Maybe the internet is teaching us that our idea of originality was always just a farce.  And that none of us ever were special unique individuals, but have always been participating in a collaborative process we might not have even been aware of.

Facts About the Past
Extra Extra Gallery
1524 Frankford Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19125
September 10-28, 2011


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