Thursday, October 30, 2014

recreativity / curativity / curationism / appropriationism / anechronosis

Momus does a pop-up video  version of a new song "Bathyscape" with "attributions" overlaid. His rationale:

"This is something I’ve planned to do for a while: take a videosong of mine and try to attribute the source of every element, visual and musical, as it comes up....  This is a dangerous thing to do, because we still live in a world in which copyright is ostensibly enforced, and clearly I’m in breach of lots of copyright protection (unless this is all considered “fair use”)...."

One of the attributions flickering across the screen is to Nicholas Bourriaud and his bible-of-recreativity Postproduction:

"Curators like Nicolas Bourriaud advocate a much more lax and supple approach to intellectual property, proposing...  artists as basically curators themselves, pulling together their exhibitions from multiple existing sources.... Once it was mainly provocateurs like Richard Prince who did this, but now, Bourriaud argues, every artist is basically a dung beetle, using whatever’s lying about.

"What interests me is that although I work alone, I am actually making a collaboration with dozens, even hundreds, of people when I make one of my videosongs. Rather than the Romantic image of an artist on a mountaintop waiting for inspiration, I’m a node on a human (and electronic) network, picking and choosing, framing and reframing, bending the data as it rushes through my wires and screens and sending it on (via social networks) through other people’s. ..."

"... I’m no longer a songwriter: thanks to free programs like iMovie, and the enormous archives on YouTube, I can become a powerful wrangler of all sorts of data. Since, for me, writing songs was always about capturing and repackaging sensibilities, and laying claim to areas of culture that I’d got interested in and researched, things like YouTube and iMovie vastly extend my semantic reach. It’s become so much more than songwriting. It gets closer, for me, to the whole process of being passionately interested in culture, and reaching out towards it, and making it one’s own, while trying to influence others to appreciate the same things.

"With the archives so available and manipulable, sensibility is more important than ever. My experience is that most cultural content bores or even repels me, but that I find things all the time that I admire and covet and want to flag and share with others. Whereas in the last decade I would have done that with blogging, I now tend to do it with the most powerful thing I know: videosongs. This is like moving from being a songwriter to being a journalist to being a film director.

It sounds -- from the sound of the music but also some of the Momus-discourse around the music - a bit like Momus-does-hauntology:

"The meaning-patina and retro texture encrusted in the original (and by “the original” I mean, usually, a glitchy and lo-fi YouTube copy) is so much more interesting and evocative. I even like the shitty digital glitches and soft resolutions of things you find in the public domain and sample. If you love culture, you often love the telltale technical limitations of each era: the grain and colour of 1950s film combined with the sampling and bandwidth limitations of today’s digital approximations of it. Far from searching for the original experience, I’m excited by the weird sedimental layers of cultural history, the borrowings of borrowings and samplings of samplings. I keep all those in my videosongs." 

But if  - as the recreativity / uncreativity ideologues argue, endlessly, and to my mind anachronistically (backwards-projecting today's exhausted, overloaded sensibility onto the past) - if  all cultural creation both now and in the past is and has always been just a tissue of preexisting elements, then what, pray, is the added value of the overt citation and attribution?  You're being honest, upfront, about what every one else veils?  It demystifies the aura and mystique of the Creator? 

Personally, speaking as a punter, it spoils my potential enjoyment of the piece, and I'm glad that, say, Ghost Box have never thought to do this, although of course if you ask them, or Moon Wiring Club, they'll happily and freely divulge inspirations, reference points, recent listening / reading / watching that's informed the latest output. As Momus himself says at the end:

"We should either thank everyone, or thank no-one and just get on with making the stuff and putting it out there. Bending the semantic rays as they pass endlessly though our machines."

Also, I have to disagree with Momus's argument that "I am actually making a collaboration with dozens, even hundreds, of people when I make one of my videosongs" - that's not been thought-through... A collaboration involves mutuality - a back-and-forth between two or more people, ideally in real-time and real-space, but increasingly these days virtually, through remote networks. Nonetheless, even when not face-to-face, there is a reciprocity.  What is happening when someone samples or copies/recreates/parodies an idea in someone else's work without their knowledge or consent is a one-way process -- an act of taking or duplication. Oh, you might like to imagine you're in a dialogue with the people you're appropriating, but that's not actually what's going on. Be real. 


This reminded me of a recent post at Momus  
(confusingly, now also the name of a new arts criticism webzine -- both the musician and the journal take their name from the Greek god of criticism) concerning the book  Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else - by David Balzer. The writer Saelan Twerdy notes that: 

"since the mid-1990s, we’ve been living in the curationist moment. As power-curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev told [Balzer] in 2012, “The curator is the most emblematic worker of the cognitive age.” 

But Balzer also apparently warns that  “excessive fretting over attribution and precedent is paralyzing to dynamic intellectual thought"

And apparently Balzer "ends his text on a note of confidence that curationism’s moment may be about to pass," citing various indications that "the mass obsession regarding anxiously displaying the signs of one’s own distinction" is waning.

Well, that would be a relief. That this is the age of the Curator is hardly big news or even news - people have been moaning about it for a while (including myself in Retromania) and as far as I can tell the very first person to spot this development, and frame it in positive terms, was Brian Eno, in a review of a book about hypertext for Artforum. In 1991.

There are times when it feels like we're going round in circles - a  hyperstasis of thought and critique as much as of cultural production. 
Momus (the singer not the art-crit-site) making reference to "provocateurs like Richard Prince" also reminded me of Our God Is Speed's recent flagging up of responses to Prince's latest / lamest provocation, "Instagrams".

 Peter Schjeldahl notes the "fated"-ness (or less kindly, dire predictability) of his exhibiting " thirty-eight Instagrams harvested from the Internet and inkjet-printed on canvas", for "had Prince uncharacteristically dozed, some other artist was going to notice that Instagram recasts Andy’s proverbial fifteen minutes by urging everybody to be famous fifteen times a day".  The rhetorical question "Is it art?" is followed by "Of course it’s art, though by a well-worn Warholian formula", The real question is: it good or new or interesting or powerful art?  What does it make you feel? Schjeldahl does in fact go on to answers those questions by saying that his reaction to Prince's Instagrams was "something like a wish to be dead—which, say what you want about it, is the surest defense against assaults of postmodernist attitude. Come to think of it, death provides an apt metaphor for the pictures: memento mori of perishing vanity. Another is celestial: a meteor shower of privacies being burnt to cinders in the atmosphere of publicity. They fall into contemporary fame—a sea that is a millimetre deep and horizon-wide."

Schjedahl's twist on Warhol's "famous for fifteen minutes" as "famous fifteen times a day" recalls nothing so much as Momus's "in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen people" maxim of over two decades ago.  That's the nature of microfame today -- shrunk both in scale and duration, approaching the degree zero of parochial and ephemeral. 

"Wish to be dead" also, if you'll  pardon me, reminded me of anechronosis: my term (anachronism + necrosis) for the "curious 'undead' quality exuded" by retro culture artifacts.  Explaining it an interview, I said: "It's a really unpleasant sensation. Things under the sway of anechronosis are just nothing. You might as well be dead." 

Paddy Johnson is more blunt:  "Richard Prince Sucks"

"The most remarkable feature of the show is that the printouts are reflected perfectly in Gagosian's shiny floor. Thin offerings for anyone who is in possession of a brain....

"We can trace appropriation precedents back to Warhol, and Prince as an early adopter, but who cares? Copy-paste culture is so ubiquitous now that appropriation remains relevant only to those who have piles of money invested in appropriation artists....
"There's no reason for the reproductions to exist, except to make Prince a little cash—the prints are apparently going forup to $100,000 a pop. This makes the show exceptionally vapid. Don't go see it. Don't ever buy the work."

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