Filmic and Literary Activism

Its the London Book Fair this week, and China is the controversial ‘market focus’ country. To mark this, English PEN staged a day-long forum on Chinese literature and invited artists both from inside China and in exile.

One of the visitors was Ou Ning, who introduced his film about forced demolitions in Beijing, ahead of the 2008 Olympics. During the Q&A I asked Ou Ning about remix culture in china, and then followed with a rather loaded question about film vs literature. You can watch the event below or see my particular question on YouTube.

There wasn’t time for me to engage him in a debate, but I’m not sure I agree with Ou Ning’s assertion that film beats literature. Both are important. In the short term, I agree that film and video are superior in showing fellow Chinese people, and the rest of the world, what is actually happening. However, I’m not sure that providing that enhanced knowledge is sufficient to bring about lasting change. I think literature has an essential role in bringing about change, whether that is through an Arab Spring style uprising (a ‘Jasmine’ revolution?) or a kind of Chinese glasnost. A fundamental shift in mindset is required for either kind of reform, and I think the depth and nuance that long form literary work brings is essential to inspiring such a change.

Sharing Adele on the Internet

What a fantastic supercut from Zapatou:

I love stuff like this – it speaks to the idea of a shared humanity and global culture, something that only the internet reveals.

And it is enriching art like this which is likely to be compromised by the propose SOPA legislation in the USA.  Yesterday a number of sites, including Wikipedia, went ‘dark in protest at the proposed law.  SOPA is a US initiative and so its difficult to know what we in the rest of the world can do to support it.  Signing this Aavaz petition (along with a couple of million other people) might be a good start.

 

The Age of the Remix

I mentioned ‘mash-ups’ last week. It’s a term that seems to have only gained traction in the past year. To me it seems to mean something halfway between ‘collaboration’ and ‘remix’. I don’t know what it means to other people.

We live in the age of the Remix. Sure, sampling and cover versions have been around for decades. Simple, honest plagarism has been around even longer. But it is the current era, one of cheap recording technology and limitless storage space for content, that the Remix and the mash-up will come to dominate.

The most popular video clip on the Internet is not a famous speech, a TV moment, or even One Night In Paris. Instead, it is footage of a plump kid wielding a broom, pretending it is a light-sabre. In one sense, he was not really pretending – The clip is so ubiquitous because thousands of people have added special effects to the footage, giving the anonymous hero a proper Jedi weapon (one suspects that the video was originally made for just such a purpose). Filming something and adding special effects is technically a remix. When we see unadulterated video, we call it “raw” footage, which suggests the idea that it is incomplete and un-evolved. Only when it has been mixed does it take on a clear and proper meaning.

I think one of the reasons I enjoy the music of Will Oldham is his propensity to remix his own songs. Hearing an old tune sung in a new style forces you to think about how the original was put together. The differences between the two renditions bring out the best of both. This is also true of artist Tommy Perman’s project Chinese Whispers, where the mix that was remixed was remixed was remixed, by an ever-expanding group of producers. Real World Records run a similar ongoing project too, again facilitated by the Internet and accessible production software that simply was not available five or six years ago.

Tommy Perman is a member of the FOUND collective. A couple of years ago, they thought up an excellent tag-line to promote their ‘Stop Look Listen’ exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy: Remix Our Poster. The results were quirky and highly entertaining. What the FOUND exhibition shows us is that an initial thought can take different people on very different journeys. The pleasure lies not in seeing one aesthetically pleasing image… but in seeing dozens. It is delightful to see how varied are the thought processes of our fellow human beings. When it comes to lateral thinking, human imagination expands into infinite dimesions. The idea of the remix gets better with each new pathway.

A more recent example is the Layer Tennis Tournament, currently in progress over at the Coudal Partners site. One artist remixes another artist’s work. The remix is then remixed once more by the first player (using Photoshop layers)… and so the ‘volleys’ continue. Last week, illustrator Kevin Cornell took on designer Shaun Inman. The individual images they created are very pretty, but it is the juxtaposition of two different minds that makes it entertaining.

The Remix allows dialogue between many minds, not the monologue of a single person sharing their experience with us. Technologies, which we humans have invented and perfected over the past generation, increasingly allow this kind of art to arise and develop. And why not? Human thoughts overlap, and our art should too.

Update

From a good review of Waves (and British Theatre in general), courtesy of Ben Brantley in the New York Times.

At a time when the theater is often regarded as the quaint elderly relation of the art forms, it’s a pleasure to the see this alleged invalid flexing its muscles, turning cartwheels and generally showing off to the tune of “Anything you can do, I can do better.” Adaptation, at its best, is not mimicry; it’s rejuvenation.