FALL 2012: V.08 N.02: FOUND – SAMPLED – STOLEN – STRATEGIES OF APPROPRIATION IN NEW MEDIA
Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Colorado Boulder, United States.
Principal Reseach Fellow in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.
… an assemblage of remixologists-in-training, para-professional adjuncts, #NewAesthetic pataphysicians, digital bricoleurs, Net art nomads, DIY zinesters, and psychogeographers are congregating at the local café where the barista on-duty is known for her raucous late night behavior that she is totally entitled to get away with because according to those in the know i.e. the 2012 International Barista Competition judges who presided over the event in Portland, Oregon, what she does with a cup of freshly roasted Montes de Oro Costa Rican bean roasted by the pros over at Coava Coffee Roasters is the total shit –
–Are you taking his remix course too?
–Yeah, we all are. We have to.
–Have to? You mean it’s re –
–required, yeah, or not really required.
–She’s right. It’s not required, it’s just that we have to have one theory course as part of our curriculum before they’ll give us the MFA and it’s between his remix course and one of those other ones that focus on –
–Heidegger, Schmeidegger. What I like about his remix course is how he gets us to a) read all of that art theory written by the artists themselves and then, b) he also makes us read this intense experimental literature written by people like Kathy Acker and Tan Lin and who else?
–Well, there’s that Jonathan Lethem essay, The Ecstasy –
–The Ecstasy of Influence.
–Yeah, exactly. I think it’s a play on old school English lit studies, something about the Anxiety of Influence.
–Yeah, well, my only anxiety is how I’m going to pay the rent after I graduate. Besides that, I’m happy to be influenced by just about anyone as long as it’s not myself.
–I can relate to that. “The Ecstasy of Influence” is also the title of Lethem’s new book so he must be fond of it. He probably got more mileage out of that one Harper’s essay than he did all of his novels put together which is kinda sad because his novels are so fucking great.
–You mean you read them?
–I know, imagine that. A digital art Grad student who moonlights as a VJ and also reads cutting edge contemporary literature.
–Litterture. That’s what I call it.
–Yeah, but the litterture, as you call it, that’s code for Source Material Everywhere. It’s in his book.
–No, Walt, our professor.
–So you all have to read his book too and I guess write about –
–Yeah, we have to write weekly blog assignments that respond to the readings but that also remixologically inhabit the styles, the voices, the structural rhythms, and the syntactical media agenda of the artists we bring into the mix. Basically, we’re being graded on how well we perform our roles as parasites.
–And that’s not all. We also have to make a ton of creative work too.
–Well, he has us remixing Oulipo writing, like Raymond Queneau’s “Exercises in Style” where we have to write the 100th entry to that story that Queneau keeps retelling in the book, you know, the one where the guy gets on an S bus early in the morning, it’s in Paris, and he witnesses this weird, this really weird rude dude who comes on the bus and steals someone’s seat, is that what happens?
–Kinda, but then what happens is that about two hours later, the same rude guy is at a train station and someone is pointing at a button on his overcoat like there’s something wrong with it and the narrator who’s telling the story makes it clear that it’s the same exact guy who was on the bus.
–So a kind of banal story. A story about the simple coincidences we all experience on a regular daily basis but that are momentarily memorable.
–Right, and that’s what Walt is always talking about – memory as source material that we manipulate into fictions that present themselves as some form of truth. Like, how does remix practice relate to the truth of the matter.
–Memory and matter. That’s Bergson. He gets mentioned a lot as well.
–What you end up with is a mashup of the anecdotal with the remixological.
–Now you sound like you’re just parroting Walt.
–Correct. But that’s what I’m being taught to do. I’m getting a terminal degree with an emphasis in parasitical patapractice.
–So you really get into this literary remix stuff?
–Yeah, like with the Queneau book, it’s a story of everyday life and we have to imagine how we would tell that story in our own time, using our own imaginations.
–Exactly. The first day of class Walt walks in and says, “Listen, if there’s one thing I want you to get out of this course, it’s this: use your imagination – or else someone else will use it for you.”
–Yeah, so with the Queneau book, and this story about the guy on the bus, our opening remix can be read as a kind of autobiographical or pseudo-autobiographical revelation.
–What do you mean, Herr Parasite?
–Well, the story is a given. What matters is how you tell it, because in the book, in Exercises in Style, each short retelling, each section, has its own title that acts like a filter, you know, the section title remixologically filters the way he tells this story all over again, so maybe it’s the exclamation filter and so the title of that section is Exclamation and so every sentence in that version ends with an exclamation point!
–So how did you guys tell it?
–Well, I just titled mine Blank Canvas and turned in a blank white page –
–Really? What did he say about that?
–Well, at first I thought he was pissed, but then I knew he was into Conceptual art and the whole Nam June Paik Zen for Film thing and so he started talking about these other experiments, experimental writers, like Beckett and Mallarmé and how they both wrote about staring at the blank white page wondering what it would take to reinvent the world from scratch –and when he says scratch he moves his arm and hand like he’s DJ-scratching a record, right?– and then out of nowhere he asks us all, “How does this relate to the way we approach all of the source material we have access to on the Internet?”
–Before you know it another twenty minutes has passed and Pink has ten more pages of her notebook totally filled with chickenscratch [and the Parasite moves his arm and hand like he’s DJ-scratching a record while Pink gives him this condescending look].
–So he was cool with it? With you turning in a blank, white page?
–I think so, I mean most of the text remixes were put on the class blog but I literally brought in a blank piece of paper, so I think that –
–Oh hey, here he is, he just walked in, let’s get his attention!
–Professor! Walt! We’re over here! Over here!
–Hey, what have we got here? The remix coffee klatch?
–That’s us. We be them.
–Cool. Does anybody need anything?
–No, I’m Ok.
–OK, I’ll be back.
–Actually, we all have to leave for Professor Rodriguez-Jefferson’s seminar on Hactivist Political Art, so you’ll have to excuse us if we skip out –
–But we’ll wait and save the table for you!
–OK, don’t go anywhere.
–Watch, he’ll get one of those 24-hour cold-pressed iced coffees, I’m sure of it.
–Like the one he always brings to class. It’s the only thing that gets him going.
–Remix the now defunct brain.
–Exactly what I was thinking.
–You should ask him.
–You know, about the performance.
–Oh right. We all should ask him. Stop putting the pressure on me to do it all the time.
A quick and collective check of email and Twitter and text messaging on iPhones and Androids amidst the clatter of cups and saucers and espresso machines perfectly attuned to extract the ideal dark honey elixir guaranteeing high performance seminar dialogue in classrooms all across the campus.
–So are you guys talking about the performance?
–Oh yeah, Professor, your timing is impeccable –
iPhones disappearing into pockets –
–So we were, uh, you know, we were wondering if, since this is a collaboration and we’re all essentially going to be stealing all of this source material from each other, I mean just sharing the different videos and texts and sounds that we’ll have been generating over the course of the semester, if maybe we should like, how should we list ourselves?
–What do you mean list yourselves?
–I mean on the poster. Who are we?
–Well you are who you say you are.
–You mean come up with our own name?
–You mean our own band name or a pseudonym?
–Band name is good. Or maybe you could present the different acts as if they were being performed by a slate of pseudonymous digital art collectives. The thing is, as I was saying in class when you remixed Borges and his “Borges and I” story, is that you are really required to remix your identity this semester, to intuitively remix your biographical or autobiographical pretensions and see if you can reveal to yourself other aspects or other facets of your creative self, although as I have been saying, self is a dangerous term since we may, out of necessity, be moving beyond this idea of the self these days.
–You mean persona?
–Yeah, exactly, like in the DJ Spooky book you read a couple of weeks ago, where he says we need to spin different narratives and approach our remixological practice of everyday life as a kind of literary presence, you know, as a kind of Writer DJ or DJ Writer.
–As a kind of persona, right? Persona as shareware.
–And this relates to the Benjamin essay too.
–So Walt, at first I wasn’t sure what you were getting at but it kinda makes sense if you think about it, I mean Benjamin was slightly freaking out about the whole aura thing, you know, the unique art work in its specific place and time and how that brings the old-school object d’art a unique aura.
–I mean, Walt, I guess Benjamin was kind of being challenged by the new media of his day, film and photography, and felt the need to set off all the alarms so that the intelligentsia of his day would wake up and smell the coffee.
–To coffee … and Walt raised his cup too as did the others, even those who had already finished.
–I mean imagine how he would have written that essay with the Internet!
–But also how in our culture, our digital culture, that whole uniqueness thing just kind of seems out of touch with reality, I mean, we live in a copy culture and it’s really more about how many people get turned on to your work and then want to go out of their way to share it.
–Share it and remix it. It’s like Walt was saying in class, the way I see it now is that we wear our source material on our sleeves, it’s all open source and it’s up to us to find creative ways to attract other collaborators into our network, so that they can take what we have made and increase its value by sharing and doing cool things with it.
–That sounds good. Sure beats the fucking gallery scene here.
–I just got my 1000th view on YouTube.
–That’s awesome dude. You mean that fictional theory video where you remix –
–Gertrude Stein, yeah.
–I’m almost embarrassed to admit I had never read Gertrude Stein until this class, and now all I want to do is play with her Tender Buttons.
–I know, and I’m not even gay.
–Maybe I could remix myself into a –?
–Let’s get back on track here.
–Yeah, Walt is right, let’s get back on track here, you were saying about persona?
–Persona as shareware. That’s it. Listen, someone else is waiting to meet me right now so I’ll catch you guys in class in less than two hours …
The remix coffee klatch departs in unison to take in the next phase of radical political hacktivism being programmed over in Multi-Ethnic Art Studies, and before Walt even has a chance to taste the sweet flow of the cold pressed Montes de Oro Costa Rican iced coffee with its addictive caramel and dark chocolate tones, his old friend and collaborator Saul, who is actually (semi-)surviving as a New York gallery artist without succumbing to the golden handcuffs of a tenure-track position in the looming Creative Industries Training Center, takes a seat at his table.
–How’s that top-level A-list collector scene workin’ out for you?
–Not that you ever really want that to happen in any way shape or form with your work.
– Actually, quite the opposite. Here’s the thing: as you can imagine, I have been devising this scheme behind the scenes for over twenty years, little by little building my theorems and doing everything in my power to sustain my completely outré patapractice.
–Do go on, Professor.
–Of course, the theorems themselves are not attempts to prove how my program delivers on its promises, nor are they generated simply to justify whatever it is that I happen to be making at any given point in time. I mean, what would be the point of that? Obviously these theorems come after the fact. After the fact of my having delivered in some form or another new iterations of what I’m now calling nanoscripture in whatever medium or medi-a I find useful for my program. This is where creative writing or cinécriture or live codework like my literary VJ sets starts operating in a mode not very different from interdisciplinary postproduction art, a kind of riff on Bourriaud, and becomes something more akin to what I would call live programming.
–Yeah, programming. It’s like copoietic aesthetics masquerading as coded bits of data visualized as nomadically rendered morphological wanderlust.
–Nomadically rendered because I can only render while I am moving and moving for me is remixing, do you see what I mean? I call it moving-remixing. And this part of my trance ritual practice, this daily practice that’s almost spiritual in its pure intuition, to borrow a phrase from Duchamp, is a kind of revolutionary practice of everyday life, yet not so revolutionary that only an intellectual elite can access its deeper levels of unconscious creative potential. My sense is that anyone or better yet everyone actually performs this moving-remixing function as just a survival mechanism, or at least they intuitively know they should be performing this function and so would be inclined to get back in touch with –
–Yes! Their bodies as a kind of rich, intuitive, neurological network of image information circulating in the far reaches of the alter time –
–And this is what it means to be a contemporary artist?
–Yes, an artist-medium. Duchamp was all over this. Although he too, like so many of us now, no longer felt attached to property as something to be owned or that required a unique object to indicate its differential value. The value was in the way you branded the context. Isn’t that amazing? Branding the context. How’s thatfor relational aesthetics?
–Duchamp is the original remixer.
–Not really. I mean Chaucer identified himself as The Compiler. I mean the history of literature is the history of –
–Sure, but in a visual art or conceptual art context, I mean, Duchamp –
–Right, and so my remix of Duchamp, of his artist as medium, suggests that the more successfully this figure I’m referring to as the contemporary remixologist becomes adept at conceptually sculpting their aesthetic presence into the networked space of flows –
–The more likely they will find their persona circulating in the field of distribution –
–Right? That’s what Broodthaers called it. My whole shtick right now is that the level at which contemporary remixologists brand the context of their aesthetic presence in the networked field of distribution will not only increase their market value over time but will also build their art historical muscle – their legacy in the aesthetic currency markets. This is what I’m going to try and teach them today.
–It’s very hypermasculinist!
–Well now that you mention it – this could easily be the place you end up.
–Anything’s possible. The thing you have to think about is how long do you want to go without trying to seriously sell something?
Leaving that question hanging in the air, Walt gets up to leave the coffeehouse, bids adieu to Saul, and powerwalks back to his campus studio where he locks himself in and begins experimenting with a new patch of code that he’s added into the live remix program he’s been stitching together.
–Now if only I could autogenerate a fictional narrative that’s also an experimental conceptual language art work that like a cloud changes as it goes and that alchemically transforms the spoken word into an ambient soundtrack where all I have to do is plug in some prose-poetry –
–Mind if I come in?
–Not at all I didn’t mean to lock you out I was just –
–No I’m sorry it was just that I saw you come into the building so I thought I would just knock and figured if you answered then –
–Not a problem, not a problem. It’s good to see you. Where have you been?
–Well, I was away for a week. I had a gig in London.
–Check out this new patch I’ve just developed.
–You mean for the Playgiarizer?
–So you’re really going to do this? Go back on the road this summer and perform as the writerly VJ?
–Yep, my nom de plume will be The Playgiarist.
–The Playgiarist who plays the Playgiarizer.
–Something like that.
–So tell me how it works.
–Actually, I can just show you. Here I’ll speak into the mic and you watch what happens to the words on the screen as I speak, OK?
–OK watch the screen.
–Everything that is artificial is related to everything else in the room including the synthetic philosophy that granulates meaning.
–This includes poems to be looked at vs. poems to be read vs. paintings to be sequenced vs. paintings to be sampled vs. code to be hacked vs. codework.
–Wow, that looks great. Radical typographiphobia.
–Yeah, now watch this: Programs that look at you vs. programs that read you vs. programs that write you vs. programs that seduce you into touching them back.
–Programs that turn walls into generative paintings vs. programs that execute themselves as elitist upmarket commodities vs. fingerpaint.
–Programs that are living vs. programs that are dead vs. crunching numbers vs. drowning in a vat of involuntary secretions.
–Did you see that glitch?
–Programs that watch television while surfing the Web vs. programs that punctually produce sexual climax vs. the programmatological practice of everyday life.
–That was weird.
–The disappearing unified subject vs. personae as shareware vs. a textually inhabited series of social media art performances under duress.
–Did you see that?!
–Biting the hand that feeds you vs. eating the entire arm attached to the hand that feeds you vs. opening your mouth so wide you eat yourself.
–Can I try it?
–Programs that read your mind vs. programs that undress you vs. programs that undress yourself vs. programs that just rip their codes off.
–Programs that produce ersatz forms of human authenticity vs. programs that leak aesthetic information vs. programs that have no taste.
–Programs that run in auto-affect mode vs. programs that contemplate wishful thinking vs. programs that trigger novelty.
The clock was ticking, one quick administrative detail needed signing, and then he went down into the basement where his seminar room was squeezed with Grad students awaiting him.
–OK, I want to start the session by throwing out some quotes and random phrasings as more open source just to see what we can do with them today. Take your thinking caps off and rev up your remixological engines. Let’s just go straight to the unconscious readiness potential that keeps the creative spirit alive and role-play our intersubjective agency as ancient remixologists dressed in the latest technological fashion. This is what it means to be present, right? Or maybe you feel like a ghost today? Do you guys know who once wrote that “a guest + a host = a ghost?”
–Yeah, great, exactly, how did you know?
–You told us last week.
–Oh, did I? Maybe I’m my own ghost remixologically inhabiting the spirit of my presence from last week?
–A new refutation of time.
Mark Amerika is the author of remixthebook (University of Minnesota Press and remixthebook.com). He is Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Principal Reseach Fellow in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science at La Trobe University, Melbourne. His new artwork, Museum of Glitch Aesthetics, was commissioned by Abandon Normal Devices in conjunction with the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and can be found at www.glitchmuseum.com. His Twitter feed is @markamerika