In Postproduction, Nicolas Bourriaud discusses the process of appropriation in contemporary art. He describes postproduction as an engagement with the stages of consumption and production. Through postproduction, artists demonstrate that consumption does not mean the end of production and that these states are intertwined. For Bourriaud, the artist suggests alternative modes of living that subvert the dominant narrative of “active producer” and “passive consumer”. For the purpose of this post I would like to briefly explore how the landscape of production/consumption has changed since Postproduction was written in 2002 through the work of two contemporary artists: Oliver Laric and Michael Robinson.
With the popularization of sites such as Youtube and Flicker the idea of consumption as the end point of production has been significantly, if not fatally, wounded. Whether remixed, mashed up, or simply reposted consumers no longer keep the products of their consumption to themselves. The download culture of the Napster era is now complemented by the upload culture of the Youtube era. Through the redistribution of the means of distribution, cultural products long assumed dead-and-gone are given a second life and are projected into what often seems like an endless echo chamber of comments, remixes, reposts, and remakes. Michael Robinson and Oliver Laric explore the new forms of consumption and production that arise in this environment.
For the sake of simplicity I would like to assign Michael Robinson’s work to the realm of Youtube consumption and Oliver Laric’s work to Youtube production, although these designations certainly bleed into each other. In an interview with Incite! Robinson describes his work as engaging and subverting ideas of nostalgia and beauty by embodying them. In works such as Hold Me Now (2008) and Light is Waiting (2007), Robinson evokes the nostalgia of instant, unimpeded access to childhood cultural products by appropriating and manipulating videos and songs from the 80s and 90s. If Jeff Koons’ work evokes the creation of desire by 80s’ advertising in order to examine it, as Bourriaud claims, then Robinson’s work evokes the creation of nostalgia (a desire for past beauty) that is created by Youtube’s endless recycling of past cultures. Robinson simultaneously evokes and alienates us from the nostalgia through which we consume Youtube videos. His mixing of the comforting and the kitschy with the strange and the mysterious creates a tension and confusion between the apprehension of the surface and a feeling of depth. (Michael Robinson’s videos can all be found online here: http://www.poisonberries.net/films.html)
If Youtube has broken down the hierarchical modes of consumption and production, Oliver Laric’s 50 50 (2007) takes a stab at redefining what has replaced them. 50 50 accumulates a range of fan-made renditions of 50 Cent’s songs that have been uploaded to Youtube. In this piece the hierarchy of past distributions of culture is brought into conflict with the shape of contemporary forms. Each contributor is given equal say, broadcasting their personal consumption of 50 Cent for all to see. What 50 50 makes abundantly clear is that consumption is no longer private, it no longer stays in the living room while watching TV, or in the gallery while viewing a painting, or in your bedroom while blasting your music. Instead, it is rebroadcast, redistributed, and reconsumed. By bringing these broadcasts together, Laric shows us the face of a new consumer, who is equally aware of their production as their consumption.
What this video also makes abundantly clear is the resilience of top down model of production and consumption. If Laric shows us the power of new technologies for rebroadcasting, 50 50 also displays the homogenization of what we choose to broadcast. The piece points to the revolutionary potential of the medium to change where and what we consume, but also the possible downfall for this potential, in which we simply rebroadcast what we receive from the top. As the name might suggest, 50 50 is equally optimistic and pessimistic about the changes in production consumption which Youtube and other new forms of online sharing can bring.