Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Images and 'pastness'

Last month I read an interesting article in the London Review of Books which put forward the idea that Pop Art is now over. Finished. Historical.

"Pop’s irrevocable pastness ... lies in the fact that something decisive has changed since its salad days in the 1950s and 1960s, something ‘concerning the look and feel of screened and scanned images, the capacity of consumerist and technological worlds to be represented’. "

In other words, we now look at and respond to images, to icons, differently. The 'decisive' part is probably something to do with the internet making them endlessly searchable, displayed on backlit screens rather than as prints you can touch. Light is more ethereal than paper.

We aren't encountering one single, defining image, like Marilyn or Elvis anymore. Things have got more complicated and the reference points are blurred. I can kind of see this happening in Pop Art if you go from Warhol to Richter. The image (arguably) gets more and more ambiguous and sinister. The glamour changes.

Warhol Marilyns; Gerhard Richter, Confrontation 2, 1988

I wonder whether pop culture as a whole is fading in the same way. It would make sense to me if it was. Was it all about singularity, objects (mass produced but available in singular, tactile form)? and now there are no longer any objects there is no longer a viable pop culture? Or is that an insane idea?

(It's probably just my age, but I responded more to vinyl in my hands, or an article on a magazine page (I mean, when records and magazines were plugged into a meaningful larger culture) - than I do to the equivalent digital stuff. To my mind the way that really made sense to encounter The Clientele was two songs at a time, on a 7" single. The artwork, the combination of tracks, the analogue sound. Something mysterious, and yes, glamorous, which you could also file away as part of a collection.)

As pop culture loses its grip on the iconic and the tactile it also seems to lose its worth (I mean literally, monetarily, through filesharing), but also that it becomes ultra-disposable in itself, more disposable than the most disposable thing ever was. You can lose an mp3 and then find another one, what does it matter?

There are good sides to this for sure. But right now I can't be bothered to talk about them. And anyway, maybe it's all nonsense. The London Review of Books is continually proclaiming that artists can no longer do this or that or the other. It gets on your nerves after a while... There is a much more interesting article about traditions of looking in the latest issue. (NB sorry both these links need you to be a subscriber to the magazine).

1 comment:

dennis said...

Alasdair- Ive had the same drifting feeling about how to perceive my own hard-copy collections of art/music. The rapid shift to exclusively digitized or cloud versions, bereft of any tangible essence, shake familiar feelings of procurement, ownership, & history that become integral to collected works and provide satisfaction to any collector steeped in the old ways. For music, access to physical recordings was surely a miracle. But this may have just been a blip in time, lasting from Thomas Edison to present now that they are no longer needed?