When I walked through the darkened entry door of Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum last week, there were a few things I expected to find, and even to feel, when visiting the first major survey of the movement. A Michael Graves tea kettle, for example. Maybe an occasional twinge of repulsion as well. Postmodernism was, in a way, very reactive; surely not all of its expressions could hold up decades later. Add to the mix that no one seems to know how many more “post” prefixes to add on to accurately describe where we’ve philosophically been at in the last 10-20 years, and what I really expected was an almost indescribable suffocating nausea. I also expected that to fuel a good few conversations about why we, in a collective sense, seem to be struggling to throw over the weight of post-modernism (or post-post-modernism, or so on…) the way they had done with modernism, and just get on with it.
The last thing I expected was to be slapped in the face, almost immediately, with an overwhelming and incongruous sense of nostalgia. How on earth did that happen? Jenny Holzer’s Protect Me From What I Want never seemed so relevant…
In one way, I was relieved. That kind of reaction must really mean that post-modernism really is dead. The discussion is over. We are free. So why did I still feel such a sense of loss?
For one, the curation and exhibition design were excellent, and they knew what they were doing: throwing a funeral service. The low lighting, ostensibly to protect the objects exhibited, worked with the dark industrial display units to create an extremely somber atmosphere that at times created the perfect backdrop, by means of contrast, to postmodernism’s most colorful and playful moments. Pieces by early postmodernist Italian design group Memphis were among the works that looked more joyous for this context; the expected Michael Graves tea kettle, however, could have been an Egyptian relic in its low-lit vitrine.
Postmodernism covered a lot of ground, and the stand-out achievement of the exhibition was the successful transition between art, architecture, product design, film, fashion and, perhaps most importantly, music. Pop songs become siren songs, irresistibly pulling you around dark corners to discover the next chapter in Postmodernism’s story, and then decline. Indeed, the room on pop music seems to serve as the exhibition’s control room. Here costumes from Grace Jones, David Byrne, and Klaus Nomi are displayed at unnatural heights, elevating the characters they represent to a God-like status. If any doubt remains as to music’s importance in the exhibition’s narrative, that becomes as dead as the movement itself at the exhibition’s end. Staring at Andreas Gursky’s Tokyo Stock Exchange (1990), you’re pulled around one last corner, past a Robert Longo drawing, by the sound of New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle. In this last dark room is the video Longo directed for the song, and it’s almost impossible not to see it as an epitaph for a movement that, at that time, was just beginning to crash under its own weight:
I feel fine and I feel good
I’m feeling like I never should
Whenever I get this way
I just don’t know what to say
Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday
For a different London experience, base yourself at White Line Hotels London edit The Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington.
Contributing writer: Melissa Frost
Photos: Victoria & Albert Museum
You’ve heard of music and arts festivals before, I’m sure. Throw in some political discourse on top and you have the unique blend of a very individual festival, indeed: the Elevate Festival. Starting today in Graz, Elevate achieves it’s special mix by combining discussions, workshops, lectures, and film screenings with a program of contemporary music performers and DJs. If you’re not sold on it yet, how often do you get to go to something inside Graz’s historic Schlossberg? After taking an elevator literally down inside the hill, you’ll spend your festival time in a series of caves and tunnels inside the rock.
This year’s line-up of performing artists is so extensive, you need to read it for yourself, but expect an eclectic program that ranges from evenings of house, to avant pop, to psychedelic noise rock. The diversity offered at Elevate is made possible by extending the usual 3-day festival program to 6 days, and utilizing several venues means that on some days, you’ll have 4 simultaneous concerts to pick from. Just remember when you’re dancing to the last DJ’s set at 6am, the program of talks and films probably kicks off at 10am…to party through, or to power-nap, that is the question…
You’ve probably got everything planned already if you’re traveling to Graz for Elevate Festival this year, but how do you immerse yourself in the arts in Graz during the rest of the year? Easy – at White Line Hotels edit Schlossberghotel the art is so close, you’re sleeping in the same room with it.
Making a nod or gesture in the direction of a hero/idol/influence/whatever you prefer to call it is so common in the arts, it’s almost a right of passage, a means of elevating one’s profile a little nearer to that of who you were nodding at. If you stand near enough to a star, a little bit of stardust will land on you, right? Were the mechanics of celebrity and fame so transparent, though, we wouldn’t be interested. There just isn’t much fascination to be found in things we already understand. The ephemerality, the fragility, the altogether arbitrariness; it all mixed together in the forming of the cult of the celebrity, and its alt-culture “kill yr idols” counterpart.
Before anyone ever said “kill yr idols”, Robert Rauschenberg tried to erase them. Rauschenberg’s 1963 Erased de Kooning Drawing – in which he had literally erased a de Kooning drawing – ironically or intentionally enough, helped make him a star in his own right. Fast-forward half a century, and artist Carter has made his nod at Rauschenberg’s “nod” to de Kooning, but Erased James Franco is hard to position in terms of its namesake. Erased James Franco shows the actor himself reenacting several scenes from his past film roles with the intention of fracturing narrative and identity in order to then reconstitute it. Denied the interplay with other actors and also featuring some interesting choices in reenacted film roles not originally played by Franco (Julianne Moore’s role in Todd Haynes’s Safe and Rock Hudson’s in John Frankenheimer’s Seconds), Erased James Franco succeeds in drawing question to the concept of filmic identity, but the main issue raised is a far more difficult one.
When Rauschenberg erased that de Kooning, he obliterated the celebrity and made a work of his own, although of course what that piece of paper had been remained central to understanding the piece. In Carter’s film, even taken out of its original context, James Franco’s face remains James Franco’s face. Here the context is what has been obliterated, but is the celebrity/identity of Franco so dependent on that context as to be considered erased in its absence?
Go take a look and decide for yourself at Georg Kargl Box where it’s on until August 13th. Wind up the debate somewhere too good to even think about erasing: Vienna’s Hollmann Beletage, as chosen by White Line Hotels.
Photos courtesy www.georgkargl.com
Long before the genre of fictional documentary was established enough to receive the honor of an abbreviated name (why not save a few syllables and use docufiction?), and certainly before the mockumentary, there was Robert J. Flaherty. The Nanook of the North and Moana creator turned his pioneering docufictional-eye on the Aran Islands in 1934, resulting in a visually stunning – if completely romanticized – balance of fiction and reality he called Man of Aran.
3/4 of a century later and you can see that Flaherty’s film, and the Aran Islands, continue to inspire; just check out this clip from Rough Trade Records featuring the new soundtrack for the film created by UK band British Sea Power. Better yet, check in for a few days at White Line Hotels edit Inis Meain and get inspired yourself.