“Keywords: A Remix of Culture and Society” is an online project which takes all of the terms that Raymond Williams published in his book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (Oxford, 1976), and provides the top search results on Google. The principle behind this project is to evaluate how the terms Williams considered important in order to understand culture and society in the middle of the twentieth century currently flow on the Web.
In late 2014/early 2015, I co-edited, along with xtine Burrough and Owen Gallagher, The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies. My chapter contribution to the anthology is “Culture and Remix: A Theory on Cultural Sublation.” Part of the introduction follows below. If interested, the chapter can be perused on Google books. Use Firefox for best results.
CULTURE AND REMIX
A Theory on Cultural Sublation
Remix culture is a term increasingly used to explain basic principles of creativity and individual expression since the mid- to late 1990s. Given its common usage, the nature of the compound-term’s dependence on a complex history may not seem obvious. When evaluating the relation of remix to culture at times one may ask, “What kind of culture are we becoming when we consider remixing an important element in creative production?” And, “What exactly is culture?” In this line of questioning, it becomes evident that in order to understand in depth what role remix plays in culture it is necessary to define with precision the term “culture.” This should make possible a discussion about the possibilities and limitations of remix, not only in terms of remix culture, which is a concept in large part informed and shaped by Creative Commons, but also culture in the larger context of history. The following, then, is a brief analysis in which I first define culture to then evaluate its relation to remix. The concept of the avant-garde is presented as a cultural example in which remixing is at play explicitly on two layers that I define as the framework of culture. I also analyze how social media relies on the framework of culture to develop a new type of economy. This analysis will expose the reasons why, historically, creative production appears to resist established patterns of production, but eventually is sublated by cultural economies and becomes vital to capital as a whole.
All cultural critics (as their title implies) have to assume a concise idea of culture. Two cultural critics who have taken the time to define culture at length are Raymond Williams, who published his theories around the 1950s, and Terry Eagleton, who became an authority as a surveyor of culture, due to his focus on the subject particularly in the 1980s. Eagleton defines culture by referencing the definitions of Williams, as well as T. S. Eliot. In Eagleton’s definition, one comes away with a sense of culture defined, unapologetically, by the West. He argues that as Western thought has spread throughout the world, it has been able to make claims to a certain way of thinking that affects other cultures that did not hold Western values. Eagleton also points out that culture originates in nature and is defined by labor. Culture is nature modified according to the interests of individuals who perform a specific form of manual work: “We derive our word for the finest of human activities from labour and agriculture, crops and cultivation.” Eagleton discusses at some length how culture developed a sense of resistance, especially in the nineteenth century; for him, such resistance has links to the rise of the avant-garde during the same time period.
According to Raymond Williams, the fact that art became a value in and of itself at times separated from everyday life was the result of a preoccupation with cultural changes that started around 1790, and climaxed around 1945. Part of the cultural struggle since the end of World War II, Williams argues, had been to find ways to reintegrate the value of art back into the everyday. Williams divides the separation of art and everyday life into three stages: the first from 1790 to 1870, when industrialism rapidly developed; the second from 1870 to 1914, when specializations started to become the norm; and finally, 1914 to 1945, a time when the specializations of the second period kept developing, but became complicated by the rise of mass media and large corporations.\
Peruse the chapter on Google books. Use Firefox for best results.
Diran Lyons has been producing political remixes for some time. I recently received a tweet of his latest mashup “Political Remix Video: An Interview with Dr. Colin Gardner” which combines selected clips from Lyons’s own previous mashups with an interview with Dr. Gardner, who is professor and chair in the department of art at UC Santa Barbara. Following his previous approach, Lyons’s video mashup questions the way we perceive the moving image, which in this case is redefined as the time image by Dr. Gardner, according to philosophical writings on film by the late French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. The time image questions our expectations of cause and effect; it is an image that reminds us to look beyond the surface of movement. Based on this premise, Lyons goes on to show clips from several films, mass media, and speeches by politicians on the left and the right of American politics. The result is a mashup that takes no sides but questions all things persons could possibly assume about power and absolute positions on right and wrong.
During Fall of 2015, I taught two classes in The School of Visual Arts at Penn State, in which students explored creative practice in time based media. Art 316 focused on video art, and Art 415 focused on integrating media to develop experimental works that explored principles of remix, beginning with sound, moving on to the time-based media. The final project for both classes was to evaluate and re-edit selected work produced throughout the term, and organize it into a cohesive body of work. This means that the projects did not need to be organized chronologically.
I share compilations by some of my students below. First are selections from Art 316 followed by selections from Art 415. I believe all of the students in class grew quite a bit in the process of exploring the aesthetics of contemporary time-based media in image, sound, and text.
Art 316 assignments begin with stop motion with no sound. The reason for this is so that students can focus on the image editing process. Eventually, students move on to explore video and sound in relation to text. Some students used music which they composed themselves, others chose pre-existing tracks. What was crucial when using pre-existing sound was that it did not overpower the video footage, but that it developed a balance that allowed for autonomy of the videos as works of their own.
John Guilyard, Video Project, Fall 2015
In Art 316 students explored concepts of sequential media, meaning the concept of movement with different forms of digital visual presentation, such as still graphics, animation, typography and video. The influence of film language across various media disciplines was discussed at length and explored with a hands-on-approach to produce video projects.
Eden Yung, Video Projects, Fall 2015
Students explored concepts of motion in art, film and video. Issues of design practice in time based media in general were covered. Students gained a theoretical and practical understanding of sequential movement.
Brendan Rogers, Video Projects, Fall 2015
Art 415 consisted of an interdisciplinary approach to the production of art and media design. Its conceptual platform is the act of remixing as initially understood in music, which is increasingly influential across media in terms of remix culture. Students were introduced to the basic principles of remix with a hands-on approach in order to develop independently driven projects.
The starting point of class, in terms of hands-on production, consisted of mixing and remixing music with different software. Students then applied their initial knowledge and methodology to image/time-based media and text.
The class consisted of three major projects, each building on the skills, history and theory students learned throughout the term. The class was designed to enable students to acquire a methodology that will eventually help them develop an ambitious vision of their own practice, and complement the eventual production of a thesis and/or portfolio in their respective discipline.
The following text was published in August of 2015 in the publication Seismographic Sounds: Visions of a New World, which accompanies a traveling exhibition with the same title. More information can be found at http://norient.com/en/events/seismographic-sounds/
I would like to thank Theresa Beyer and Thomas Burkhalter for the opportunity to share an update on my definitions of Remix. This text is a short version of a much longer essay to be released in the future.
Remix/ Archive Im/material Regeneration
Remix is at play in all areas of contemporary culture. Text, image and sound become easily accessible data that can be re-combined at will. Remix in music consisted of the reinterpretation of pre-existing songs by way of sampling. Today the copying/sampling of not just sound but all material from infinite sources challenges the «spectacular aura» of the pre-recorded original in order to claim autonomy.
By Eduardo Navas
Cultural production has entered a stage in which archived digital material can potentially be used at will; just like people combine words to create sentences, in contemporary times, people with the use of digital tools are able to create unique works made with splices of other pre-recorded materials. Due to the ubiquitous action of cut/copy & paste, output is at an ever-increasing speed. This process is possible because what is digitally produced in art and music, for instance, becomes part of an archive, particularly a database. The archived material begins to function like building blocks, optimized to be infinitely combined. This state of affairs is actually at play in all areas of culture, and consequently is redefining the way we perceive the world and how we function as part of it. The implications of this in terms of how we think of creativity and its relation to the industry built around authorship are important to consider for a concrete understanding of the type of global culture we are becoming. (more…)
Video: This video segment is from the early part of DJ Raph’s set at the Iwalewahaus’s opening event for the art exhibition Mashup The Archive.
I was invited to participate in a panel discussion for the Exhibition Mashup the Archive at the Iwalewahaus, Bayreuth. The opening reception took place on May 30, 2015. It was an amazing night. There were three DJs who performed: DJ Raph from Nairobi, who is also an artist and remixed songs from the Iwalewahaus’s sound and music archive, DJ Zhao from Berlin, and musician Spoek Mathambo from South Africa. Their sets were amazing and the sound was so loud that the microphone of the iPhone I used to record excerpts of the performances does no justice to the energy of the party. People danced into the early morning.In this post I share videos of their respective sets, which took place in the order the DJs are listed.
I want to thank Sam Hopkins, Nadine Siegert, and Ulf Vierke for inviting me to participate in the events. I was fortunate to participate in a panel with Beatrice Ferrara, Nina Huber, and Mark Nash. It was a real pleasure to engage in a debate with them on what it means to mashup an archive of African Art. I will be sharing images of the exhibit along with a brief critical reflection in a separate post.
Video: DJ Zhao working the crowd at the Iwalewahaus’s opening for the exhibitionMashup the Archive.
Image: Nike Swoosh installation in front of the Palmer Museum at Penn State.
Pau Figueres,Visiting Scholar in the School of Visual Arts (SoVA) at Penn State, installed a Nike swoosh composed of rocks in front of the Palmer Museum. It was a pleasure to host him and work with him in his research on remix and anti-consumerism during his Spring 2015 residency. A brief article of his installation and research was featured on the SoVA website. I quote part of it below:
During spring 2015, SoVA hosted Pau Figueres, a visiting scholar/artist from Bilbao, Spain. Pau was working on a project, Remix and Sampling of Mass Media and Advertising in Visual Art: Aesthetics and the Problematics of Anti-Consumerism Critique, with New Media faculty member Eduardo Navas. While here, as part of his research, Pau staged a temporary ‘intervention’ of an ephemeral art piece in the form of the iconic Nike ‘swoosh’ that was placed in the Palmer Museum of Art plaza. His temporary installation brought to mind the malleability of the power of the commercial icon—an inference about how pebbles are eroded from river flow, yet the stones also shape the course of the river.
During the 2015 Spring academic term, I am hosting in the School of Visual Arts at Penn State, Visiting Scholar Pau Figueres, who is an artist and Ph.D. candidate from Bilbao, Spain. His research focuses on anti-consumerism and concepts of recyclability.
Upon arriving at Penn State Figueres began to produce a diverse set of works on branding that he should be making public in the future. As part of his activities he also developed an online resource, “The Revolution will be Sponsored,” on which he shares the work of artists who focus on, and/or use or critique corporate brands. The online entries in effect have turned out to be an artistic curation, meaning its more of an art project, itself.
Figueres’s methodology includes implementing principles of remix in his analysis, which is the reason why he is doing research under my guidance. I look forward to the results of his ongoing investigation. In the mean time, one can reflect on his current online project, which in effect exposes how art and commerce are much closer than ever.
Minima Moralia Redux, a selective remix of Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia, enters a second phase in 2015. This was not foreseen when I began the project back in 2011, because the work is not only a work of art, but also research on data analytics, as well as a critical reflection on networked culture.
The first part of Minima Moralia Redux (entries one to fifty), consisted of updating Theodor Adorno’s aphorisms–that is to remix them as contemporary reflections of the way global society and culture is engaging with emerging technology. When I finished the first section, I realized that the project’s aesthetics were changing. This was for a few reasons. In terms of research, the first section provided more than enough data for me to data-mine Adorno’s approach to writing; therefore, I came to see no need in following this methodology. I plan to make my findings about this aspect public in a formal paper in the future.
Figure 1: “Do You Want Fries with that?” by Ian Stevenson
The following is an interview conducted for the exhibition Pictoplasma: White Noise, curated by Lars Denicke and Peter Thaler, which took place at La Casa Encendida, Madrid Spain from May 23, to September 8, 2013. I was asked questions on how remix functions in art practice, if there is a difference between remix and sampling, among other issues that the concept of remixing raises with digital and non-digital forms of production. This interview was released as part of a print publication that complemented the exhibit, but it was not made available online. I am now making it public because my answers raise issues that I have not discussed in other texts or interviews. I thank Lars and Peter for their interest in my views on the subject of remix.
Pictoplasma – Remix is what we all do now: cut/copy and paste. You have defined remix culture as the creative exchange of information made possible by digital technologies. Can one only speak of remix in cultural production if it is digital? Or if digital is not a prerequisite, how are analogue remixes embedded into digital culture? What is the difference between remixing and quoting or referencing?
E. Navas – First it should be noted that the concept of remixing is specific to contemporary times. Not everything is a remix – this is hard for me to say given that I was a DJ for almost 15 years (and would love to make such an overreaching claim), but it is precisely because I DJed for so long that I know that remixing is a very specific act. Having said that, the principles of remixing, or remix as discourse, have become important across culture, and this is why remix culture is so popular today, especially when discussing creativity as endorsed by Creative Commons.
When looking back in history you will notice that as a concept for daily creativity, remix was not that popular until remixing became a driving force in music, particularly in disco and hip hop. This means that the concept of remix is popular today not because anyone in particular decided to talk about it to promote some sort of organized movement, but rather because culture as a whole began to use the term to describe the type of creative production that is possible with contemporary technology. The reality is that remix is synonymous with the digital because it was the digital that made the concrete act of taking actual samples from recordings to then manipulate them into something new, while leaving the sampled source intact. This was not the case with collages, which were created by cutting out from images or photographs to create new compositions. In collages the”‘sampled” material was destroyed because it was cut out, but with digital technology, the sampled source is left intact, this was done before in photography, of course, starting in the 19th century. When you take a photograph you are sampling from real life, but the subject of your photograph remains untouched. People at this time, however, did not think about this as an act of sampling, but of recording. But in fact early photography was sampling from real life.