Friday, January 16, 2009

Art interventions

A number of feminist and socially conscious blogs have reported that some delightful wag of an artist/vandal/interventionist in Berlin slapped stickers onto ads in Berlin's subway to make the images of smooth skinned celebrities (Britney Spears, Leona Lewis, Christina Aguilera) resemble an open Photoshop window.

It is an act of poetic compression which squeezes issues of desire, its manipulation, oppressive standards of feminine attractiveness, consumerism, alienation from the public sphere, mass media and conformity into a simple trope. That makes it very good art, I'd say -- not because of its estimable content, but because of the way the content is delivered.

Things like this have been done before, of course. As long ago as the 1950s, artists in Europe associated with the Lettrist International and its offspring, the Situationist International, defaced posters in public places. Their process was called "decollage" since it involved not adding an image to a given image (collage), but removing parts of an image to discover what lay beneath.

The image above is an example of decollage by Mimmo Rotella. The quasi-Ab Ex composition is no doubt attributable to the international spread of that style in the post-war period. Artists like Rotella can be seen as practicing a kind of archaeology of public spaces, digging up hidden images beneath the surface and allowing a Surrealist swarm of associations to result.

The Photoshop-like alterations in Berlin, on the other hand, are both additive (literally sticking stuff on posters) and subtractive (uncovering hints of the images' history).

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