Popshop Popshop Popshop Popshop


Remixing icons of massculture

From the dark depths in the texts of Morrissey, which according to the Norwegian artist Lars Laumann (1977) seem to predict the death of Princess Diana, to a literally glaringly pink collection of fanfantasies about Kylie Minogue by Australian artist Kathy Temin (1968). And from the re-enactment of a make-up session of glam rockers Kiss by Iain Forsyth (1972) and Jane Pollard (1973), stylised after the model of Bruce Naumans ‘Art Make-up’, to a subversive black-and-white portrait of Michael Jackson by Scanner (1964). Popshop, remixing icons of mass culture is a group exhibition staged by MU, in which artists are rehauling pop stars, fans, and world hits. This time, it’s not about artists switching over to making clips, or to designing an LP sleeve, but clips being sucked back into the realm of contemporary art.

In Popshop, seven international artists present pieces in which the mechanisms of commercial pop culture are successfully dissected to the bone and reshaped. Sometimes, no more than 16 seconds of a clip suffice to create a nerve-racking image. Cory Arcangel’s (1973) two-channel video Sweet 16 is such an image. By putting the two intros of the ten-year-old Guns ’n Roses clip classic Sweet Child O’Mine together, Arcangel creates a piece vaguely reminiscent of Warhol’s Chelsea Girls. But while Slash starts in perfect sync, Arcangel, inspired by minimal composer Steve Reich’s concept of ‘phasing’, takes out one note in the right loop, causing one clip to slowly move ahead of the other until it becomes out of and after seventeen minutes back in phase with the other and start again.

Filmmaker Ho Tzu Nyen (1976) appropriated Queens Bohemian Rhapsody in a quite different way. Set in the post-colonial Supreme Court of Singapore, the clip is a real courtroom drama full of references to the grim reality – the harsh justice system in Singapore regularly sentences people to death – but also to art. The accused, for instance, is wearing an Guantamo-orange overall, and while pronouncing sentence, the judge turns into a cardinal out of Velazquez’ pope portraits or even into a Bacon. The filmmaker calls his approach ‘mental karaoke’, because the spectators experience their own associations with the lyrics and music along with the filmmaker’s version. A process befitting world hits.

While Arcangel focuses on image and sound, and Ho Tzu Nyen on a particularly strong visual presentation, Australian artist Philip Brophy (1959) leaves the image for what it is. He simply uses complete eighties video clips by Elton John, Phil Collins, Billy Joel, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and Gloria Estefan, leaves the image intact, but completely erases and refashions the audio track of music. Brophy calls this Evaporated Music, i.e. an approach in which the sound that we so easily tend to link to moving images seems to evaporate. What remains is, says Brophy, ‘a glittering and growling in the arena of the sexes that pop music is’.