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Emma Cook, Autumn Winter 2013Emma Cook

Is everything really a remix?

An RCA graduate questions the importance of the remix in curating

We are media partners of the Royal College of Art MA cuating graduate exhibiton, No One Lives Here. In this series of blogs, graduates will explain their particular thoughts on the exhibition, which concerns the digital revolution. Take it away, Rachel! 

From its early roots in classic jazz and disco 12"s to the anarchic Negativland and the slightly more palatable Hype Williams, remix culture has spread like a virus during the online years.  No One Lives Here, an exhibition at the RCA by graduating curators showcases artists whose work builds upon the tradition of the ‘digital revolution’ and who employ remix strategies to produce pieces that are symptomatic of the perpetual condition of remix culture.

The concept of remix, which is having something of a redux moment thanks to the artist and cultural theorist Eduardo Navas’s new historical book on the subject, Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling. He initially focuses on remix’s roots in music production and expands to look at its influence on contemporary internet cultures. Navas defines this new incarnation of Remix culture as ‘the activity of taking samples from pre-existing materials to combine them into new forms according to personal taste’ and presents this strategy as being commonly employed in other areas of culture, including the visual arts. He identifies this as the most dominant pattern of human behavior in mass communication and the Internet and positions remix as ‘cultural glue’ and the compulsive, obsessive action of ‘cut/copy & paste’ as the new norm of creative behavior.

Navas states that key figures in hip-hop have played a crucial part in the massive cultural shift from our status as passive consumer to our current demand for choice as we adopt the role of prosumer (consumer/producer). We bear witness to this phenomenon in the slowly fading dictatorship of Facebook and other social media and the enduringly vibrant blogosphere and emerging hybrid art practices.

In the exhibition No one lives here, the curators identify artists’ practice that engage with the digital remix phenomenon of the last 15 years and demonstrate its influence in contemporary strategies of cultural production. This is evident in pieces such as 19:30 by Aleksandra Domanović, an ongoing series of contemporary commissioned remixes of historical Eastern Bloc TV news idents. The remix impulse is also present in the work of Californian performance artist Shana Moulton, who takes her own domestic environment and turns it into a branded remix tableaux resembling something between an Emma Cook fashion film, a cheap pharmaceutical ad and a Miranda July fiction.

In White Mountain, the accompanying research display to No one lives here, the association with the sardonic side of remix culture is presented through the sci-fi inspired kitsch image of the Pionen Data Centre which hosts the contemporary agent provocateurs of the Remix phenomenon; the WikiLeaks files and Pirate Bay. 

The real question that is played out here though is can isolating the act of Remix as a creative gesture effectively challenge the mainstream’s passive acceptance of visual and commercial production choreographed by the strategies of appropriation, recycling and recontextualization? Or is our own obsessive compulsive relationship with the democratic illusion of Copy & Paste an addiction that we simply cannot shake?