For us, art is not an end in itself … but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.
– Hugo Ball
If we were to remix Ball’s quote above, we would write:
For us, art is not the end of theory … but it is an opportunity for the reinvention of theory so that it may better reflect the remixological potential of the times we live in.
– The Artist 2.0
The Course section of remixthebook.com contains links to various subjects that can be taught in conjunction with Mark Amerika’s remixthebook and is modeled after Amerika’s own Remix Culture seminars and international workshops.
As with any course related material, the site is always changing as new developments take place in the field. Having said that, many of the subject overviews, exercises, discussion questions, and links to external sites featured here, are designed to open up a dialog about the history, theory, and practice of remix and all of its others (including appropriation, cut-ups, collage, combines, détournement, hactivism, live A/V and DJ/VJ performance, pla[y]giarism, postproduction art, potentialism, readymades, etc.).
What follows below are some introductory thoughts composed by the artist and media theorist Mark Amerika:
The remixological potential of what, in remixthebook, is referred to as Source Material Everywhere, is located on the Net. It’s where the artist, as postproduction medium, intuits their next live, remix performance and the conscious application of what feels like a contemporary gesture executed to test an experimental hypothesis in realtime.
Digital culture opens up a Total Field of Action for contemporary theorists and remix artists to operate in. A question that all artists, especially those who self-consciously use remix methods to create their art and theory, must ask themselves, is “What is the source of my creative impulse?” And as a follow-up question to ponder as part of this investigation of what it means to be a contemporary artist operating in the digitally networked space of flows, “How does my own pseudo-autobiographical narrative, the one I am continuously reconfiguring and visualizing as part of my personal mythology, inform my ongoing aesthetic composition?”
For example, a remix artist from the early 20th century might have asked themselves, “If I add this found physical object to my canvas painting, what will it do to the compositional foundation of the piece?” An artist who was ready to challenge the history of artistic dependence on the retinal might have asked themselves, “If I select this banal tool from a hardware store and recontextualize it as an art object that comes complete with a punceptual (pun+conceptual) title and the artist’s or alter-ego of the artist’s signature, what does that say about the state of art today?” Still another artist, this one who does not even think of themselves as an artist per se but, rather, thinks of themselves as a hands-on theorist no longer bound by academic book culture and who likes to “be creative” in online social networking culture, might wonder aloud, “If I sample a clip of video from this famous movie and loop it in an installation environment that forces the viewer to rethink their own subject positioning in relation to the character in the film, how does this change my relationship to both installation art and cinema?”
The history of remix culture is long. Chaucer was a “compiler.” The prototypical surrealist writer of the 19th century, Lautréamont, was a self-confessed “plagiarist” who did not steal things but sampled from and remixed contemporary texts published in his own time, reconfiguring them into dark, humorous incantations about the human condition. For our purposes, Pablo Picasso and George Braque, a duo of visual artists experimenting in the early 20th century, also found it useful to play with found source material for their own painterly compositions. According to Gertrude Stein, Picasso once said: “I do not care who it is that has or does influence me as long as it is not myself.”
Picasso and Braque developed an aesthetic style known as Cubism. Cubism was one of the first art movements that helped catalyze the avant-garde use of preexisting materials into a mixed media composition. For the Cubists, the materials they sourced into their “paintings” could be as simple as chair-caning, sheet music, and cut-up newspapers. It could be said that Picasso and Braque were self-consciously approaching their collage work as a formal investigation of the picture plane where the artist deliberately mixes the materials of their everyday life with the canvas they were painting on. These self-conscious gestures employed by Cubist artists help us identify them as early innovators of what we might refer to as meta-remixing.
What is meta-remixing? Meta-remixing is when an artist knowingly integrates the aesthetic methods of their own practice or remnants of their material presence into the construction of a work of art. For Picasso, it was as easy as putting an oil cloth into his painted composition. For Jackson Pollack, the artist’s presence could be sensed in both his active drip style as well as in the cigarettes and ashes he dropped into the composition. For a novelist like Ron Sukenick, the writer Ron Sukenick becomes the central character in his narrative. Sukenick was famous in postmodern literary circles for randomly sampling source material from his own life as the author of the text and then compositing a new, fictionalized — or what he once referred to as pseudo-autobiographical — persona into the mix. For a graffiti artist like Keith Haring, this meta-remix method could be seen in the way he tagged the environment with his signature-style effects (public painting as meta-tagging?). For a performance persona like DJ Spooky, this might be as simple as scratching his name into the live sound mix or remixing the work of avant-garde composer Erik Satie into a contemporary “illbient” soundtrack that cleverly situates Paul M. Miller (Spooky’s real name) into the historical trajectory of avant-garde music.
Another meta-remixer whose work coincided with Cubism but who invented a new form of art he termed readymades, was Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp is generally considered the progenitor of Conceptual Art and his approach to readymades was considered radical in its time. In describing his readymade work Fountain, a porcelain men’s urinal sent to the Armory Show in 1913 by one Richard Mutt, Duchamp (or someone “playing” Duchamp) wrote:
Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under a new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.
Perhaps the last great work of ceramic art?
How does meta-remixing, i.e. the act of taking something out of its original context and recontextualizing it for a specific cultural milieu — in this case, reconsidering a porcelain man’s urinal as a work of “fine art” — create a new thought? This one new thought, inextricably linked to an interventionist art hack of epic proportions, changed the course of art history.
Duchamp’s Fountain reveals an artistic use of humor as does his L.H.O.O.Q. L.H.O.O.Q. depicts a copy of the Mona Lisa with a mustache drawn on her face. The title is a word play that, when spoken in French, translates into “She’s got a hot ass.” Duchamp’s subversive artworks created a major uproar within the artistic community and placed the language of object-meaning juxtaposition into the subversive artist’s remix toolbox.
Having said that, what was once considered a totally out of bounds attack on artistic sensibilities has by now become an integral part of our mainstream culture and, consequently, the ironic gesture of many artists looking to place themselves in a commercial art world context. If you think about it, how many sculptural or installation artists suggestively reconfigure everyday objects for aesthetic effect? Whereas Duchamp was creating work that found beauty in the gesture, many contemporary artworks have remixed his gesture as a vehicle toward the creation of something beautiful. Aesthetically pleasing readymades? These are not your great-grandfather’s readymade art objects. Let’s face it: readymade remixing is now at the core of contemporary art practice today and art schools would cease to exist without it having infiltrated every disciplinary silo located in most conventional university departments of art and art history. One question to ask ourselves is, “Has the willful aestheticization of readymade remixing been reduced to a gestural intention made for the elitist, upmarket commodity culture?” Even if it has, there is no reason why the contemporary readymade remix cannot also challenge us to rethink the relationship between everyday objects, artistic context, and the meaning making process.
As independently minded as he was, Duchamp’s work was peripherally attuned to the developments of Dadaism. Dada was a movement created by a group of young artists that used the language of absurdity and self-destruction to counteract the social upheaval and mass disillusionment in early 20th century Europe. One method they employed was photomontage. Dadaist photomontage used the techniques of collage and recombination but remixed the look and feel of photographic images to hack the prevailing media discourse and its tendency to promote the political propaganda that came with World War I. The Berlin Dadaists referred to themselves as monteurs (mechanics) instead of artists. What alternative labels would be useful for the politically inclined, techno-absurdist remixers of today?
I wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn’t a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. So the object itself was changed by its context and therefore it became a new thing. — Robert Rauschenberg
The Pop artist Robert Rauschenberg created much of his work around his concept of combines. Coming on the heels of Abstract Expressionism and somewhat connected to the readymades of Duchamp, Rauschenberg’s early combines are hybrids of painting, sculpture, performance, and even what we would now term interactive media art. A reinvention of collage per se, a combine is really a recombine i.e. a work that plays with the material recombination of artistic forms by integrating various found objects into the compositional space (socks, comics, taxidermy, wallpaper, doors, a painted bed with pillows mounted on the wall, etc.). Similar to the way a DJ or VJ remixes sound samples into their live audio/visual composition, Rauschenberg’s use of the combine allowed each element in the mix to stand on its own, an autonomous object or artistic gesture, one that could maintain its own value without compromising the potential impact of the work as a whole.
Live audio/visual performance and the playful use of technology were also part of Rauschenberg’s interdisciplinary practice. In addition to his active role as a leading artistic figure in E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology), he played with the idea of painting as performance. Rauschenberg’s First Time Painting (and the ones that came after like Second Time Painting, etc.) were live painting performances that the audience could see him making in realtime, although they were not allowed to see the actual painting itself since the canvas was facing away from them. He had embedded an alarm clock in the canvas and once the alarm went off, he picked up the canvas and walked off the stage without showing the work.
Another example of Rauschenberg’s playful remixing of performance, painting, and time-based media can be seen in his two works, Factum 1 and Factum 2. These works were responses to the glorified idea of spontaneity generally attributed to the work of the Abstract Expressionists. The two works are nearly identical pieces created during two different time durations and, when placed together, seem to suggest that even the artistic impulse toward improvisation comes with an intuition of how certain gestural movements, conscious and unconscious actions, and conceptual directions exist in the artist’s brain (their so-called”readiness potential”) well before the performance takes place. The relationship between remix, improvisation, performance and play, is featured throughout remixthebook as both a recurring theme and a process method that actually informs the writing of the book.
Which brings up an important question for all wannabe meta-remixers: “Is it possible to be improvisational within a preconceived conceptual framework?”
In dance, they would call this kind of performance “structured improvisation.”
Rauschenberg’s theoretical response to these postmodern conditions was to keep screwing things up.
“Screwing things up is a virtue,” Robert Rauschenberg said when he was 74. “Being correct is never the point. I have an almost fanatically correct assistant, and by the time she re-spells my words and corrects my punctuation, I can’t read what I wrote. Being right can stop all the momentum of a very interesting idea.”
Rauschenberg teaches us that one sure way to supersede a predictable outcome is to unconsciously improvise your work’s trajectory without looking back. This is not to say that the contemporary remixologist never develops a strategic approach to developing their art projects over the course of a so-called “career,” but there are alternatives. By embracing what in remixthebook Amerika refers to as the “metamediumystic potential” of an improvised cut-and-paste as-you-go open source lifestyle practice, the contemporary artist, whether they are focused on iPhone painting or netbook video remixing, may clear the way for unexpected forms of art to emerge while immersed in the creative act.
A Quick Exercise in Remixing Artist-Generated Theory:
Here’s an example of remixing theory that appears in the opening of remixthebook:
If we give the attributes of a medium to the artist, we must then deny him the state of consciousness on the esthetic plane about what he is doing or why he is doing it. All his decisions in the artistic execution of the work rest with pure intuition and cannot be translated into a self-analysis, spoken or written, or even thought out. — Marcel Duchamp, “The Creative Act”
If we are all artist-mediums, we must then accept the fact that we are all in perpetual postproduction and that our aesthetic fitness relies on our ability to trigger novelty out of our unconscious creative potential. All of the decisions we make while performing our ongoing work of postproduction art rest with pure intuition and are envisioned as part of the creative act. — “Professor VJ’s Big Blog Mash-up”
How would you remix the two quotes above into your own artist theory? A question to ask yourself when composing your simple remix of the above quotes, would be “What does it means to be a meta-remixer in our digital pop art culture?”