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06 December 2012
Divine obscenity

Peio Aguirre

Everybody has seen it. It’s on all the screens. The “gangnam style” is the latest phenomenon on the social networks. Its duration promises to be ephemeral, like any fashion. However, what differentiates the current phenomena of planetary multitudes from the not so ancient fads of the society of spectacle (the Beatles?) is the variation in its durability that calls into question its very condition as fashion. The definition of fashion increasingly borders on the novelty of novelties, the latest consumer innovations being generated in the immediacy of the here and now. The video of this Korean singer whose name, PSY, resembles not by chance a game console, is a social phenomenon that has broken all the records for visits on Youtube. The topic has meant the globalisation of an adolescent subculture that originated in South Korea, the genre of which is K-Pop, a melange of western music that merges electronic, dance and thousands of other things, along with the energetic attitude of Japanese pop. The “gangnam” is also at the centre of theoretical debate in our times, as even Slavoj Zizek (none other!) has dedicated some words to it in one of his recent lectures, describing it as a “divine obscenity”. In an obvious way, for a materialist such as him, this must be the most earthly of the earthly. “Justin Bieber, he’s history, he has nothing to do with the millions of visits to the pseudo-dance on Youtube…” he has said, amongst other similar things.

Without a doubt the most interesting thing about the phenomenon is not its very nature as a thing, so much as the effects that it produces on the millions of its “practitioners”. In this sense, it has produced since its birth on Youtube, a revitalisation of the traditional video-clip, adapting it to the new channel of global diffusion, something that has stirred the imagination of bored Internet users and consumers who faced with the possibility of fabricating their own small video-clip, immediately launch it on the web. The proliferation of the mash-up as a compositional genre in the digital era can only be compared to that intuition of William Gibson, that when “musicians, today, are ready, they make their compositions circulate on the web, like cakes placed to cool on a windowsill, and wait for other people to re-elaborate them anonymously. Ten might be a disaster, but the eleventh might be great. And free. It is as if the creative process was no longer contained within the interior of the individual skull, if it ever was” (Mundo espejo, p. 75) Even though the “gangnam” is not the result of this creative mode, its diffusion benefits from this collective creativity that consists in choreographing a situation (in this case a dance) to a song and a crowd of people separated in time and in space.

The most famous of these parody recreations is the “pony-trot” that the artist (and Chinese dissident) Ai Weiwei made in his studio. However, the last straw in sanctioning it is the western copy of Weiwei’s video-clip, organised by his colleague Anish Kapoor and backed by the staff of various art museums and galleries, with the participation of other artists and critics. Its diffusion is its only reason for existing.

I say “western” because the action seems to be more of a big advertising campaign for the geopolitical and economic struggle between East and West: to censorship there follows a rejoinder, and then some. Strategies that were learnt in the Cold War and that somebody sets in motion. The video-clip in question is presented as a solidarity campaign in support of Weiwei, and also as a campaign in favour of freedom of expression and free speech. Not so long ago when artists were asked to collaborate on a campaign for human rights or any other social humanitarian cause, they made a poster. Now, some pass from a supposedly transcendent and elevated type of sculpture to literally playing the “goon” (or the “gangñam”). And all this with an amazement that is only explainable by way of the homogenizing effect of the cultural, economic and social mainstream. In my previous entry on A*DESK, I already circumscribed these two artists (as two shoes of the same size but of a different foot) to the sensationalisation of art on an extreme level. Now the equation art=capital=spectacle finds in Kapoor’s “gangnam” its most cynical representation. And the world of art celebrates it, or celebrates itself. It is not a question of moralising about how many causes in the world are more urgent and end up being more abhorrent than the tribulations of a Chinese artist, so much as asking ourselves what happens when the artistic-political demands of art talk in a language and through a channel that de facto nullifies all the good intentions that it proposes.

Peio Aguirre writes about art, film, music, theory, architecture and politics, amongst other subjects. The genres he works in are the essay and meta-commentary, a hybrid space that fuses disciplines on a higher level of interpretation. He also (occasionally) curates and performs other tasks. He writes on the blog “Crítica y metacomentario” (Criticism and metacommentary).

"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)