Remix, Redux, Rewind

Since the early Renaissance, intellectual property and patent law have built legal fences around ideas and designs, yet the core of human culture is based in sharing ideas. We have been engaged in Remix Culture since the advent of primate language and bang-a-rock music. Storytelling is essentially Remix writ large, and the mirror neuron wiring of our brains guarantees imitation and evolutionary improvements on the narrative and the song.

The term “Remix,” comes from the music world, essentially revising a song to create a new version, or using drum hooks or bass beats from a retro track to produce a wholly new sound. (See previous post on “The Amen Break“.) The term has morphed into Remix Culture, which essentially is a cultural dialogue with our environment, as articulated by proponents of Creative Commons, such as Yochai Benkler and Lawrence Lessig (see his freely downloadable book, Remix).

Picasso and Braque collaged newsprint text and imagery onto Cubist canvasses beginning in the early 1900s. During the First World War in Europe, socio-political dialogue with pop culture made use of photomontage in the Dadaist work of Hannah Hoch and Man Ray, with the conceptual art of Marchel Duchamp upending art world boundaries and definitions of framing by reframing.

Marcel Duchamp, “Fountain” (1917)

Hannah Hoch, “The Art Critic,” (1919/20)

In the 60s Andy Warhol‘s Campbell’s Soup and Brillo series brought pop cultural quotation to a new level of artistic practice. Hans Haacke‘s work took on institutions and corporations in the 1970s. 1980s Post-Modernism surged with Remix, engaging dialogues about corporate consumerism, race, identity and gender, using photography, collage, signage and postering. Artists included Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Bettye Saar, Hans Haacke, Cindy Sherman, Guerrilla Girls, and many others.


Barbara Kruger‘s style, which draws from black and white 1950s and 60s coupled with snarky commentary in bold, red Futura or Helvetica typeface, (often used in advertising) has since, ironically, been endlessly remixed for magazine covers and print ads. (Her famous piece, “I Shop Therefore I Am” has been used by museum gift shops as magnets and tote bags, continuing the irony dialogues.)

Bettye Saar‘s altar-like installations comment on racial stereotypes by repurposing American brands like Aunt Jemima:

In this NPR interview, “Life is a Collage” Saar discusses her techniques in ways the weave back to Remix.

Some of the best Remix activity has found its way into video art. Here is a take from YouTube of Ian Hunter’s “Back to Memphis”, collaged with a virtual history of rock and roll:

In 1984, Steve Jobs launched a prophetic breakthrough advertisement that echoed George Orwell’s dystopic novel with a solution: Apple computers.

A remixed version of this ad found its way into the 2008 presidential campaign with Hillary Clinton as an evil stand-in.
“Vote Different”

Here’s Stephen Colbert remixed in dialogue with Mr. Remix Lawrence Lessig:

Remix continues to Rewind, bringing new life to images, icons and the definitions of cultural power. An added bonus: it’s fun to cut up stuff and spin a new spin; part of the amazing power of rewind/repeats to the beat.




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