Saturday, September 18, 2010

appropriate and remix

Elaine Sturtevant, an American artist born in 1930 in Lakewood, OH, has achieved recognition for works that consist entirely of copies of other artists’ works. Warhol, Stella, Gonzalez-Torres, etc. In each case, her decision to start copying an artist happened well before the artist achieved wide recognition. Nearly all of the artists she has chosen to copy are now considered major artists.

A literary equivalent would be along the lines of "creative translation" such as Ezra Pound’s Homage to Sextus Propertius, in which Pound picked through the elegies of Propertius, translated them, cut them up, and reassembled them in a fashion he deemed entertaining and relevant. Examples from other forms: Thelonius Monk Plays Duke Ellington, in which Monk takes great liberties with Ellington’s songbook. Lichtenstein’s appropriation of comic book art. Picasso’s use of newsprint, among other media, in, say, Composition with Fruit, Guitar, and Glass. Paul’s Boutique: The Beastie Boys, Dust Brothers, and Mario Caldato, Jr., sample from more than 100 sources, including Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, James Brown, and Sly & the Family Stone. Steve Reich’s "Different Trains," which incorporates audio recordings about train travel by Holocaust survivors and a Pullmanporter. Musique concrete instance, John Cage’s “Imaginary Landscape No. 4," written for 12 radios, each played by 2 people (one to tune the channel and one to control volume and timbre). A conductor controls the tempo; the audience hears whatever is on the radio in that city on that day. Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina’s “Offertium,” which mutates themes from Bach’s “Musical Offering” until they’re beyond recognition. In “Three Variations on the Canon in D Major” by Johann Pachelbel, Brian Eno bends and twists Pachelbel.

In hip-hop, the mimetic function has been eclipsed to a large extent by manipulation of the original (the “real thing”): theft without apology self-conscious, conspicuous appropriation.

Graffiti artists use the stuff of everyday life as their canvas walls, dumpsters, buses. A stylized representation is placed on an everyday object. In visual art, as in other media, artists take unfiltered pieces of their surroundings and use them for their own means.

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