we be (culture) jammin

Confession: It took me longer than usual to read/view the required material for this week because I fell into a deep, lol induced trance.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this week’s material as it’s given me a “backstage pass” to the world of the Internets and the artists/jammers who wield its power to spark cultural change.

I especially enjoyed the Hacking Art and Culture with F.A.T. Lab video as it mingled the worlds of art and digital culture while encouraging consumers to participate by becoming creators.  Using cultural jamming to communicate independent ideas is not only a creative solution to mass media, it’s super effective.

I think of memes as a sleeker, more targeted version of the sit com or popular television personality.  Now, in addition to being able to connect with other fans of Friends, Seinfeld, SNL, or The Daily Show, we may seek out validation for and humor in highly specific interests and daily life events.  I believe this, along with the availability of social media and its power of instant gratification, has led to us recognizing, documenting, and sharing what we previously considered mundane tid bits of our lives.  Burning your tongue on hot coffee is now worth talking about, especially if you can do so in an image-rich, entertaining way.

I think the trick to creating a great meme is to appeal to the consumer’s want for something highly personal and relatable without narrowing your target audience too much.  For example, a meme about advanced mathematics can only go so far because of the limited number of people who are familiar with its visual language while lolcats can explode because, well, everybody knows about cats.

That said, memes are an excellent way of enticing people to educate themselves about culture.  If a friend sends me a meme employing visual rhetoric that I’ve never seen before, I am highly motivated to research the meme so that I can “get it” and enjoy the humor that it promises.  For example, if you are skipping down the yellow brick road of the Internet and you encounter this:

You might just be interested enough to ask a few questions…
What does this image come from?
What is insanity wolf?
Why would the pony in this picture befriend insanity wolf?
Should you search for insanity wolf, you would meet this charming fellow:

A little more research would reveal that the pony in the first image is Fluttershy, a My Little Pony character with a great talent for befriending and caring for animals.  Since you’ve educated yourself, the next time you encounter Fluttershy on the Internet, you will understand exactly what she’s up to.

Culture jamming is a great tool for both artists and educators, for it employs our skills as visual linguists and excites the part of our nature that wants to ask and answer questions.


In Defense of Performance Art

Just finished reading In Defense of Performance Art by Guillermo Gomez-Pena.  It’s a very thorough, thoughtful reply to those who ask “what exactly is performance art”.  It’s a wee bit lofty and may be difficult for the layman to pick apart, but it is an excellent read for artists working in any medium.  I especially connected to the section explaining about the body’s relationship to performance art:

“Traditionally, the human body, our body, not the stage, is our true site for creation and materia prima. It’s our empty canvas, musical instrument, and open book; our navigation chart and biographical map; the vessel for our ever-changing identities; the centerpiece of the altar so to speak. Even when we depend too much on objects, locations, and situations, our body remains the matrix of the piece.”

Hope you enjoy!

belles 4

Photo Source: http://membership.contemporaryartsociety.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/MelBrimfieldThisIsPerformanceArt_22184.jpg



Seeing and being seen, speaking and being spoken to, these are important elements of a relationship.  It is interesting to me that my relationship with media is very similar to my relationships with other humans, but instead of  connecting with other flesh and blood humans, I am connecting with ideas.  This immortalizes yet dehumanizes the very real people I learn about on the news or read about in the paper.  It is also interesting to me how we behave differently when we have the media’s attention.  It makes one question the authenticity of all the media we consume.

-to address the viewer with the eyes of the camera and the human making them aware of their participation in this relationship
-to compose around the symmetry of the two faces, then add interest with the protrusion of the microphone and the negative space of the mouth
-to stop a moment in time with the open eye and mouth
-to contrast the fleshy human with an impersonal, mechanical representation of the media

My complex relationship with the Internets

ImageThis image illustrates the complexity of my relationship with media as something that interminably creates and destroys ideas.  I spend a considerable amount of time on the computer, and am exposed to countless internet ads, news articles, Facebook updates, junk emails, and Youtube videos.  This exposure renders me vulnerable to the message of the media.  I have chosen to illustrate this vulnerability by replacing the doll’s head with a bubble wand.  The media I consume via computer allows thoughts to take shape in my mind the way a stream of air gives form to bubbles.  However, there is a transient quality to these thoughts and experiences.  Just as soon as they are created they may be destroyed as I choose to ignore ads, close browser windows, delete Farmville requests, and erase their existence.  This creates a very closed environment where only the computer and little bits of my brain harbor faint traces of these happenings.

Photomontage and Our Visual Vocabulary

The photomontage has developed a unique language that engages viewers much in the same way paintings employ allusion and references to the work of others.  For example, Titian’s Venus of Urbino is not merely borrowed from, but is directly referenced and parodied by Manet’s Olympia.

The faithful bride

The scandalous courtesan (her face was recognizable to the Parisian viewers)

Photomontage is much less subtle with its allusions, which makes it more accessible for the contemporary viewer living in an image saturated world.  It was once enough to hint at the composition, subject, or lighting of an earlier artists’ work for a thoughtful comparison to be made.  But now, with photomontage, the statement is a powerful, no-doubt-about-it comparison for the contemporary viewer.  Here’s my quick photomontage version of Titian’s Venus of Urbino entitled Jenna:

There is great power in the photomontage, and it often goes hand in hand with social and political agendas as it may harness the power of mass media and recognizable images that may be forced to comment on themselves.

Regarding fair use laws, the line between copying and profiting from another person’s work and using their work in a photomontage to create a new meaning is a very intuitive one.  The legal system is going to have a very difficult time nailing down what belongs to whom, what we are going to do about it, and why.  We live in an age where we are communicating with images more than ever.  Art is no longer something meant only for museums and wealthy patrons, but it is infiltrating our language style.  Gifs, memes, and images flood the television, magazines, and the Internet, and we decide what meanings to attribute to these images.  We allow them to speak with each other.  We determine what will remain in our visual vocabulary.