The Medium Needs a Massage
Appropriation, Mediation, Platforming and Tactical Media
Is this comedy or what? Now that you know it’s not—it’s pissing on velvet,
that’s what I’m doing… Is this painting?
— Lenny Bruce
I’ve often wondered if anyone ever tried to flush Marcel Duchamp’s urinal. If so, they would certainly have found its mechanical infrastructure to be more than a bit lacking. The work is not equipped with a literal plumbing. As a metaphorical gesture, however, the piece is the undeniable fount from which art history’s most destabilizing crisis of containment first arose—or, at the very least, was first acknowledged.
Nothing is art. Everything is art. Hence the theme of this issue: The Medium Needs a Massage. The work presented and discussed in the following pages does not attempt to expand or refute Marshall McLuhan’s dictum the medium is the message (or massage if you prefer) but, rather, address procedural and contrapuntal modes of artistic practice that McLuhan could have never proselytized, even if we were to retroactively substitute “digital” every time the word “electronic” appears in his eloquent prose.
Artists who find solace in the ambiguities of creative production now span multiple generations, suggesting that tangible boundaries—the notion of categorizing art strictly in terms of medium—is, and has long been, obsolete.
Appropriation, mediation, new media, platforming, tactical, time-based media…are these simply twenty-first-century etymological catchalls required to uphold a semblance of structure in critical discourse? Or are these terms actually fluid enough to address the hybridity of contemporary practice? How does new media practice affect the concept and perception of authorship and objecthood? In terms of platforming, should we look to the ringleader or the dancing bear for answers? And what of tactical media? Of all the topics addressed herein, it is by far the most problematic. While its very constitution seems to echo what Edward Said called an “articulated program of interference,” how do we address the work of artists who harness specific technological innovations with a premeditation to subvert their potency as tools of so-called progress?
Obviously, this issue of Art Lies intentionally seeks to raise more questions than provide answers. This issue also represents a first for Art Lies. While we have showcased “exhibitions in print” and individual artists’ projects for years, The Medium Needs a Massage includes At Your Service: Escaping the Progress Trap, an exhibition-as-DVD curated by Andrea Grover, founding director of Aurora Picture Show in Houston. Aurora is one of but a handful of year-round venues (as opposed to the typical short-run festival format) that provide a stable home for film, video and new media, not just regionally but world over.
In At Your Service, Grover’s curatorial prowess adeptly illustrates the contradictory proclivities of new media practice, furthering the ambiguity of categorical distinctions by suggesting contradiction itself as a means of artistic expression, which, ultimately, brings us back to Duchamp. After nearly a century of speculation, navel-gazing and debate, we find ourselves still standing in front of a glorified porcelain honeypot—still assuming the position, so to speak. So, should we hit it with a hammer or give it a proper scrubbing? I vote for the latter. Take aim! It is, after all, the throne we’ve inherited.
Anjali Gupta, Editor