“A lot of times, when people say Hip-Hop, they don’t know what they’re talking about. They just think of the rappers. When you talk about hip-hop, you’re talking about the whole culture and movement. You have to take the whole culture for what it is.” Afrika Bambaataa
Jimmy Savile launched the worlds first DJ dance party by playing dance records in a function room about the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds in England, this was in 1943. In 1947 he said he become the first DJ to use twin turntables for continuous play.
Nicolas Bourriaud’s essay Postproduction, Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World outlines the various intersections between artistic production, consumer culture, and what can loosely be described as “remix culture”. Bourriaud’s essay follows and directly responds to his milestone work Relational Aesthetics, discussing many artists mentioned in his infamous work, including Rirkrit Tiravanija, Phillip Parreno, Pierre Huyghe, and Carsten Holler, but centers more directly around the contemporary phenomenon of sampling from mass culture to repackage or repurpose cultural information into new objects and experiences via artistic production. In short, just as a dj acts simultaneously as consumer and producer, Bourriaud argues, contemporary artists today borrow both from cultural information, mass produced objects, and the lexicon of consumer culture, weaving disparate elements into a new, autonomous whole.
A work by Haim Steinbach.
Bourriaud sees the roots of this phenomenon in the use of appropriation by artists such as Haim Steinbach, Jeff Koons, and Sherrie Levine starting in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, as well as in the work of Marcel Duchamp. By utilizing mass produced, easily obtained store bought objects and combining them with a method of display inspired by the aesthetics of retail, Steinbach creates sculptural objects that turn consumption into a literal means of production. Just as Marcel Duchamp deliberately undermined notions of artistic craft by placing shovels, urinals, and bicycle wheels into a gallery context, Steinbach took advantage of the aesthetics of the department store, collapsing the “retail experience” and the “art experience” in a manner that highlights the transaction inherent in both. Similarly, by creating highly polished reproductions of kitsch mass produced goods, or encasing consumer goods in plexiglass display cases, Jeff Koons fetishizes the desire to buy. As Bourriaud says of all three: “Koons, Levine and Steinbach present themselves as veritable intermediaries, brokers of desire whose works represent simple simulacra, images born of a market study more than of some sort of ‘inner need’, a value considered outmoded.” Trading in pre-existing objects and images, artists such as Koons, Levine and Steinbach simulate the world we already know, re-presenting both our own consumer culture as fetishized art objects, and their own consumption as artistic production in and of itself.
Bourriaud argues that these appropriationist methods fetishize the art object in ways which, on some level, negate an artist's’ ability to critique. Relational art, according to Bourriard, beginning with it’s emergence in the 1990’s, focused on creating experiential interactions beyond the materials which made up their physical pieces. Rirkrit Tiravanija, for example, turned the office of 303 Gallery in New York into a makeshift kitchen in which he cooked thai soup and served it, free of charge, to whomever came to the gallery. Using everyday building materials, kitchen supplies, and store bought food, Tiravanija created an environment in which the skeletal structure of the piece was it’s only visible component. Much like the materials of appropriationist’s like Steinbach or Koons, the wooden structure that housed his kitchen, dining area and his patrons were made of store bought untreated plywood and 2x4’s. Pots, pans, a refrigerator, as well as the meal’s ingredients and packaging were left out in the open, Tiravanija taking from them as needed. Rather than functioning simply as a static, saleable object like Jeff Koons’ infamous floating basketball, Tiravanija’s piece highlighted the act of consumption while simultaneously existing outside of that consumption. Free was not simply the structure Tiravanija created, but the interactions which went on inside of it as well. By utilizing the structure of a restaurant or storefront, Tiravanija’s piece functioned between the binaries of artistic production - at once mass produced (the unconcealed use of store bought materials) and and ephemeral (the interactions and connections between Tiravanija and his patrons; his patrons and each other), a fetishized art object (a sculptural piece in a gallery, now displayed at MoMA) and free from the constraint of commodity (the fleeting gesture of giving, the idea of art as something to be experienced and not purchased.) By using, to some extent, the materials and methods of a more blatantly consumer establishment, Tiravanija and other artists like him both highlighted and subverted the inherent capitalist nature of the gallery system within which they were participating.
Liam Gillick, Inside now, we walked into a room with Coca-Cola painted walls. 1998
Bourriaud goes on to discuss artists who “sample” the methods of consumer culture, the works of other artists, and the methodology of the factory as a means of production. Bourriard cites artists such as Liam Gillick, Maurizio Cattelan, and Pierre Huyghe as examples. Particularly interesting was Liam Gillick, whose work often outsources the mode of production to assistants or art handlers, mimicking the methods of production used by large corporations. For his piece Inside now, we walked into a room with Coca-Cola painted walls, 1998, Gillick set strict guidelines by which assistants were to paint a wall inside a gallery, brushstroke by brushstroke, trying to match the color of Coca-Cola. As Bourriaud says of the work: “the soda’s mode of production follows exactly the same process, since it is produced by local factories based on the formula provided by the Coca-Cola company.” Through the use of strictly defined parameters and a removal of the artist’s hand from the production of works such as this, Gillick undermines notions of artistic craft while also directly embracing elements of futility and chance. It is unimportant that Gillick’s assistants ever duplicate the color of Coca-Cola, though the piece is directly defined it’s redish-brown hue. Likewise, by strictly defining the process by which the work is made, Gillick undermines the importance of the very piece he is setting out to create, instead favoring the process itself. Another interesting contradiction within the work seems to be the idea that by borrowing on some level the method of production of Coca-Cola, he is negating the very color the brand rests so much of it’s product on, turning it on it’s head and mocking the very consumer desire he is invoking. This reminded me of a quote Bourriaud attributed to Guy Debord’s idea of Detourment - “(it is) not a negation of style, but the style of negation.” The same could be said of Gillick’s piece, both invoking the power Coca-Cola wields in cultural capital through his title and parameters, yet undermining that capital with the same brush.
Cory Archangel, Colors PE (Installation shot at MoMA), 2005.
All of this had me thinking about a Cory Archangel piece I remember seeing, and being transfixed by, at the Color show at MoMA a few years ago. The piece, Colors PE, consists of software designed by Archangel to play quicktime movies one horizontal line of pixels at a time, creating an undulating field of colorful strips across a flat screen monitor, accompanied by the sounds of the movie it plays. Installed at MoMA, Archangel used it to play the movie Colors, a 1988 film directed by Dennis Hopper, starring Sean Penn and Robert Duvall. Though the film gives Archangel’s work it’s name, it is completely obscured and abstracted by the program he has created to play it. The work both situates itself within art history by making reference to the Hopper film, which “relaunched his career as a director 18 years after Easy Rider,” and literally refuses art history by abstracting the film to the point of unrecognizability. In a sense, it is similar to the methodology of both Gillick and Tiravanija, creating a work that at once responds to the world it inhabits and undermines it. Watching the piece at MoMA, I couldn’t help but feel confused by Archangel’s intentions - was I being made fun of for trying to connect the title and the abstracted image in front of me, or was I somehow being let in on the joke? Unable to pull myself away, I realized that my role as viewer was something of a combination of both.