The repeated Pot
"The history of art is the history of copy rights, of transformations that take place during acts of copying." said Hillel Schwartz in The Culture of the Copy: Striking Likenesses, Unreasonable Facsimiles.
'Copying' is 'stealing's blander cousin. Offering comfort instead of disruption, honesty instead of tantalising illegality. There's a long tradition of making work 'after' another artist, in the tedious pursuit of getting good. But "Vincent Van Gogh made at least 520 copies after other artists, for insight and, toward the end of his life, for emotional security." continues Schwartz, identifying the dual purpose of comfort alongside study. The fine art equivalent of a teenager in their bedroom playing 'Hallelujah' on a second hand guitar.
But if repetition becomes endless, its comfort sours.
The deceased video sharing app Vine (2013-2017 RIP), a child of the current culture of appropriation and collaborative remaking… AKA dank memes, s̶i̶t̶s̶ sat at the apex of comfort and unease. Endlessly scrolled through in the same way we might binge on a Bargain Bucket, and yet each 6 second video locked in an endless time destroying loop, images arrested from their natural chronology. Like the magically melancholic Sax Seal, though it's now freed from its looping prison having moved to a free range YouTube upstate.
Commenting on Vine at its inception, Chris Baraniuk references 19th century colloquialism for the zoetrope, 'The Wheel of the Devil': "The loop is certainly demonic, for it is a dance of fire, it is uncompromising and incessant - like a recurring nightmare or the sound of knocking on the door at Macbeth's castle. … The complete absence of teleology and catharsis within the loop destroys our sense of self, our idea of progress, our intention to accomplish anything."
But what is 'demonic' if not a melodramatic word for cheeky. After all, Satan was only thrown out of heaven for challenging the idea that God should have God's way all the time. We are not beholden to our creators, the gif is not beholden to linear time. Baraniuk concludes that the loop is "a powerful way of undermining the world as it wishes to be seen, of amplifying absurdity and overturning normal."
Guan Xiao's film D A V I D looks at Michael Angelo's famous sculpture in the age of mechanical reproduction, potentially lamenting, as Kito Nedo interprets, our "commercialized interaction" with culture and how "we have forgotten how to marvel at the work". But, continuing my contrarian impulse to take the things that are derided and say "no this is good actually", I (and maybe Xiao too) celebrate this robbing of power, this redistribution of cultural wealth.
You think you're so great?! I have you on a key-chain!
More than an endless sea of identical souvenirs, Xiao's film provides an inventory of reproductive reference: of printings, of drawings, of castings. Selfies, pictures, videos, mugs, hats, t-shirts, stamps, magnets…
Like cultural shrapnel. Reappearing.
The same but different.
It's this but it's not.
Anyway, here's Wonderwall