April 27th, 2008

operesque

Plato's TV studio, supermarket, concert hall

Halfway through Call and Response, the artists' thinktank I'm attending at MUDAM Luxembourg, I'm not sure what I feel about the whole issue of artists' appropriation of popular culture. Candice Breitz gave an interesting talk at the beginning in which she said that all artists draw on the work of other artists, but that this use of existing work is authorized in some cases (usually when the artist involved can pay for legal clearance), unauthorized in others. The poor artists who can't pay for their quotes, samples and steals, said Candice, become "unauthors".


Candice then threw the stage of the MUDAM auditorium over to a succession of "unauthors", who mostly took the opportunity to talk us through their work via PowerPoint and YouTube presentations. First there was Matthieu Laurette, who showed amusing clips of his appearances on French game shows -- TV appearances as media art. Then Guillaume Paris gave a rather desultory glimpse of what looked like very interesting work: he's made a sort of museum of products, and made them speak to each other (in a decayed state which Paris sees as a sort of redeeming de-reification) using the voices of the models who posed for their packaging.

After that, Cory Arcangel played us some very loud Bruce Springsteen live videos off YouTube, playing live glockenspiel along with the tracks. He's recorded a glockenspiel-heavy version of the Born to Run album and put it up on p2p networks all over the world without any warning that it might be anything other than The Boss' original album.

After a while the Plato's Caveness of the presentations got to me, and I skipped the last couple of Saturday sessions, going instead on a glorious walk through some of Luxembourg's dramatic urban ravines, filled with weirs, waterside walks, high bridges and crumbling castles (it reminded me of Edinburgh's Dean Village area).

I suppose my take on the appropriation theme is that I agree wholeheartedly that art should be able to cannibalize other art to its heart's content -- a key point in my Folktronia / Folktronic project was the idea that there's a parallel between the pre- and post-copyright eras, between oral folk culture and the neo-folk art of digital appropriation. And I loved the Steve Harvey deconstruction of Bowie's reading of "My Death" which launched the conference. Yet I find myself unsatisfied by art which comes from the margins yet fetishizes the commercial mainstream. I find myself, right now, looking to art to come up with mysterious, austere, disorienting new forms of beauty (it's the theme of my new piece on the New York Times site) and I feel like commercial TV and pop music and supermarket shelves are not the place to find this new beauty. Artists who squander their valuable marginality on tapping into the undoubted power of the mainstream are shirking the search: unauthors of a different kind.