MONSTER MASH


Mash Up: The Birth of Modern Culture,
 
eds. Daina Augaitis, Bruce Grenville, Stephanie Rebick
(352pp, Black Dog/Vancouver Art Gallery)


Let's get the criticism out of the way first. Mash Up conflates mass reproduction, remix, collage, montage, appropriation, sampling and readymades, which seems slightly disingenuous to this reader, who was expecting a more recent digital starting point, or at least an exploration of the term 'mash up' itself alongside theory from the likes of Mark Amerika, David Shields and DJ Spooky. Instead, we get 60 or more short essays (including DJ Spooky's) in themed clusters, alongside a generous helping of visuals (it turns out this is not just a book but also the catalogue an art exhibition), that trace one history of the 20th Century.

We start with cubism and futurism and 'the invention of collage', as well as Schwitters' Merz
work, Cornell's two- and three-dimensional collages and the idea of readymades before jumping to post-war mass media, where film, dub, video art, Warhol and Debord's Situationism jostle for attention. Then it's on to the late 20th Century, with graffiti, sampling, appropriation, scratching, dub, studio practice and appropriation the centre of things, before 'The Digital Age' arrives. Here the big topics are around digital materialism, narrative (im)possibilities, selection and perception, culture jamming, and what DJ Spooky calls 'Memory and the Semantic Web'.

It's a glorious, chaotic, celebratory mix, where the unknown and very specific jostle for attention with the obvious and overstated, the fringe and the mainstream happily co-exist. It's hard to know why some artists or writers here have been given space some seem inarticulate, others tangental to any main themes emerging, but the excitement and breadth of this book can't be denied, and I'm not stupid enough to not realise that what seems obvious to me may be obscure and/or revelatory to others, and vice versa.

I'm glad for the obscure and new here, but one of the things about the digital age, and what I suspect most of us would regard as 'mash-up' (as opposed to collage) is the availability of both what is mashed-up and the product of that process. This product (for example a song/video mash-up of two songs, posted on YouTube and/or Soundcloud) seems very different from, for example, the fine art world that Andy Warhol's screenprints are part of (limited editions sold as a commodity) or the cinema and film world that Godard's oeuvre
is part of. Glitch and digital appropriation seem to me to be different from the physical collaging of text and images on paper, or the physical splicing of audio tape or film. Or maybe I do protest too much.

I'd like to have seen more about or by William Burroughs, David Markson, Mark Amerika, films such as Koyaanisqatsi
, Philip Jeck's use of analogue material to produce digital releases, Oval and processual glitch music, Mark Vidler's Go Home Productions, more about 12 remixes and the popular end of mash-up music (Nirvana vs. Rick Astley anyone?), not to mention contemporary poetry such as Flarf and the L=a=n=g=u=a=g=e school, more about Deleuze and rhizomes, but that is always an easy game to play with anthologies. I know others will be moaning about Eno turning up yet again, or the absence of their favourite dancer or video artist. Whatever each reader or visitor to the exhibition thinks, there is plenty to read and look at here, even if part of me thinks this book itself needs a little remixing or mashing-up rather than it's traditional, linear organization.

   Rupert Loydell 2016