Posted by G.H. Hovagimyan on November 10, 1997 at 11:22:10:
Barbie vs. Piss Christ: Battle of the Icons
Since Mr. Henry Boo- boo has unwittingly (or half - wittingly) pointed out a connection between Andre Serrano's Piss Christ and my BKPC (Barbie & Ken Politically Correct) I feel a deeper analysis is in order.
Piss Christ is a photo work. If one were to see the piece in a gallery, one sees an image of a Crucifix submerged in a yellowish liquid. Without the title, the piece is mildly interesting. The title is inflammatory by nature and is tailor made to fit into existing, abbreviated mass media short span newspeak. Mr. Serrano has publicly stated that he is a devout Christian and was simply trying to illustrate the suffering and degradation of the passion of Christ. In my opinion Mr. Serrano's work and demeanor is totally conservative. Yet his position within a hip avante garde discourse is ironic. This allows the mostly conservative world of galleries, curators and art dealers to have it both ways. They can embrace worn out symbols that are inherently conservative while catering to the avante garde's disdain for the masses. The icing on the cake is the media circus surrounding the work.
The Catholic church tried through court appeals to have an exhibition of Serrano's work stopped from opening in Australia. They lost and the show opened. Piss Christ was immediately attacked by people with hammers and ripped from the wall etc.. Several issues are at hand here. The Church for instance doesn't have a copyright on it's most central image, the crucifixion, therefore within capitalist mass production laws, it has no right to demand censorship. Indeed the Church and it's symbols are from a previous epoch that has lost both it's power and it's relevance. This then is the real message of Serrrano's work which I believe the public has read correctly regardless of Serrano's statements to the contrary, that Christianity and it's symbols are degraded.
Serrano's work uses time worn techniques and outmoded icons in an illusory gesture within a print media/ broadcast media information sphere. Outrage, fear and pandering to the masses is the core sales method within that media-sphere. His work does not open any new vistas of perception but simply plays within this arena.
As to my use of the Barbie doll in BKPC (Barbie & Ken Politically Correct). The work is multi-media/ cross media. It makes people uncomfortable (especially those who consider themselves in-the-know) It argues/ presents mass media icons as well as racial typology as content. When I first did the work people said I was making a mistake because other artists had been photographing dolls for years. They could only look at the work from a commodity angle within the art market. When Mattel sent the legal letter to The Thing ISP the importance of the work was immediately magnified. My intention for my work on and off the internet is to *culture jam* on global icons. the larger issue is one of participation and redress within a mediasphere/ society. Mattel Inc. is using provincial copyright laws formed with the advent of printing and mass production. It assumes this covers symbolic language and interaction as property. Mattel is dead wrong. What occurs with BKPC is the beginning of a discourse on the *information society* of the next century not the worn out retreading of previous icons and epochs. Indeed the issues raised by BKPC have little to do with *appropriation* , commodification and marketing. This all done within an economy of means delivered via the world wide web. Not even Wired magazine's Joey Anuff could see the broader implications of this work, choosing to diss Wolfgang Staehle (Thing Communications) and me as trying to provoke Mattels ire. This is the typical *old media* tactic of creating outrage to sell product. My position has and will always be about opening new ways of seeing while arguing for the power and relevance of art and artists.
Post a Followup