Saturday, June 23, 2012

cannibalism as the mirror image of our consumption


the distinction between original and copy is not new to art. copies are instantiation possibilities (of originals) waiting to happen. fair enough. but there's something about originals that tell them apart from existential cacophony: they come first. problem is, does it matter?

with appropriation in art, "firstness," as category, lost its aura. so, we're faced with a riddle: above is the photo of allie mae burroughs, a walker evans original (1930's).

this one is a sherrie levin appropriation of evans (2001):

this one, a michael mandiberg's appropriation of evans (2010). 

it doesn't have to stop here.

according to walter benjamin "aura" only gets weaker with any subsequent repetition.  without firstness the very idea of appropriation becomes meaningless. of course, that would not deter artists from making a living (which makes this whole discussion, how to put it?) ancillary.

the issue of firstness brings us to this show, organized by Lauren van Haaften-Schick and reviewed by zachary sachs for art forum.
Richard Prince v. Patrick Cariou, a fair-use case currently in appeals, threatens to set a dangerous precedent for the legality of appropriation. The initial ruling against Prince in 2011 included—in a surprisingly draconian injunction—an order that the works be destroyed or never displayed publicly. Cases like this can make an artwork seem considerably less interesting than the machinery of art and institutions that revolve around it.
sachs conflates "legality" with "draconian," as if the system followed a consistent policy regarding intellectual property. with every new form of market culture deriving from the technologies of replication "legality" keeps mutating in order to keep up with market's stability. the institutions and discourses that collectively construct the art-object are in fact allied with the marketplace. does sachs really believe that when it comes to appropriation people really care for normative values? could a big mac be "considerably less" than anything?

lost amidst the fog of late-modernity art-appropriation was supposed to be a subversive act to bring forth the rapacious quality of our culture. prince's best work attests to that:

richard prince, figure 3, untitled cowboy, 1989

not anymore. prince's appropriation of cariou's "rasta" is lame not because it is (in any way) different than figure 3. it's us that have changed, prince and all of us in the same predicament. we just want more (and are just clueless as to why).

at a symbolic level, consumption under capitalism's present paradigm has become as crucial (and potentially self-destructive) as human flesh was at the apex of the aztec empire.*

let's seriously consider the possibility of cannibalism as the mirror image of our consumption.
* see deborah root's cannibal culture: art appropiation and the commodification of difference (wetview press, 1996).


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