How appropriation and juxtaposition, when used responsibly and with clear intent, are powerful tools to employ in an effective critique of popular culture / society?
Barbara Kruger and L.A. Teenagers Team Up to Ask, “Whose Values?”
Every day as a postmodern citizen in New York City, I have the impression I am packed and labeled at almost every place I go. Jumping into crowded trains, waiting on long lines, getting shop’s tickets, cards, receipts, free newspapers, being exposed to dazzling billboards and more. Even If I am walking across Central Park’s Strawberry fields, I have the feeling that in this global city, there’s too many people and brands trying to stand our from the crowd. It seems to me they are shouting its identity so I can spend money on them. But, as a graduate student I am spending my money on my master’s degree which keeps me safe from one of the most common verbs from the american-english language: shopping. Since I arrived here, I feel I am in a sort of sandwich culture but not sure of who’s gonna eat me, or who are the bread slices that are oppressing me in these social structure of the sandwich I am in. On the other hand, I love New York City because this amazing city is the home of many diverse cultures living all together. You can spend hours seated on a bench dissecting layers of information. So, as an artist and educator, this reality we are immersed in it is not just one single story, but a cumulative set of experiences we translate into our artworks when applying the postmodern principles of image appropriation and juxtaposition.
Sex Pistols. Jim Draper.
When used purposefully, a clear intent of image appropriation and juxtaposition can create a sense of awareness about a social issue because a new space is framed and the significance of investigating and representing experience, creates a reflective practice through which people articulate new meanings (Gude). During the 70s, Jim Draper’s posters for Sex Pistols and Andy Warhol’s designs for The Velvet Underground as well as for The Rolling Stones album covers represent the postmodern principles of design author Olivia Gude talks about. Through these aesthetic choices, the unresolved world is being communicated. For example, music like art with its vibrant colors and collage, enhanced the message these artists were communicating to popular culture. They shaped a new identity as a response to the arising control and social decay they were experiencing.
Nowadays, in contemporary art, artists who use the aesthetic principles of juxtaposition and appropriation, enhance their message because the image is not just taken from popular culture but it’s reshaped generating a deeper inner engagement with feelings, stories, ideas, forms (Gude) that resonate in us because it represents an aspect of our lives and society. Following Sex Pistol’s aesthetic choices, conceptual artist Barbara Kruger produces powerful artworks addressing social problems such as gender inequality and economy unfair distribution, when she employs founded black and white photography from media and bold typefaces for her declarative captions. Another important example are the works of Robert Rauschenberg whose works represent popular culture and therefore his statements include critiques about power and politics.
In the case of art videos, I am still questioning about how effective a message is because often times I have seen many videos shown in Art Biennials such as Bruce Nauman’s, kept away from popular culture access. I believe that Galleries and Biennials are still minimalistic white cubes isolated from mass access. On the other hand, the works of Francis Alÿs are deeply rooted in a popular context where the appropriation and juxtaposition are used responsibly and with clear intent to communicate the idea of displacement. Examples of his works can be found in diverse media such as video, painting, photography and performances. Alÿs works have been shown in musmus such as MoMA, yet they have been made with real people in real contexts creating a bound which result is a strong critical message of popular culture and can be read by a wider audience. Examples of his works are “When Faith Moves Mountains” ( 2002. Color photograph. The Museum of Modern Art, New York) and “The Modern Procession” (Two-channel video color, sound. 12 min.).
Finally, I believe that appropriation and juxtaposition are powerful tools to employ in art as an effective critique of popular culture and society, because we live in a visual culture which creates a layered sense of reality.
Lowenfeld, Viktor. 1952. Creative and Mental Growth, 2nd edition. New York: Macmillan.
Rogers, Carl R. 1961. Toward a Theory of Creativity in On Becoming a Person. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Postmodern Principles: In Search of a 21st Century Art Education Author(s): Olivia Gude Source: Art Education, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Jan., 2004), pp. 6-14 Published by: National Art Education Association