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New Left Review 36, November-December 2005


Lifting, swiping, zapping: popular expressions that have been aesthetic tactics since Dada. Sven Lütticken recasts the history of such practices of appropriation—not excluding those of Warhol or Debord, sometimes misplaced—as so many exercises in mythology. Anticipated by Flaubert, theorized by Barthes, staged by Broodthaers, is time running out for such creative misuses of past or present, as ‘intellectual property rights’ tighten?

SVEN LÜTTICKEN

THE FEATHERS OF THE EAGLE

Contemporary culture is built on appropriation. With digital technology, it has become ever easier for consumers to reuse and manipulate images. Like other consumer-producers, artists use Photoshop and other widely available editing programs—though the most commonly practised form of appropriation is still the act of channel-hopping, creating unforeseen and ephemeral combinations of images at the touch of a tv remote control. [1] Fittingly, the artist Johan Grimonprez, whose Dial h-i-s-t-o-r-y (1997) recounts the rise of hijacking with the use of (mainly) appropriated footage, has also charted the history of the remote control. See www.zapomatik.com. Nicolas Bourriaud has argued that in today’s digitized culture of browsing, sampling, file-sharing and photoshopping, we are almost all ‘semionauts’ who ‘produce original pathways through signs’. [2] Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction, New York 2000, p. 12. If this is true, then what is the value of these millions of ‘original pathways’? Though digitization is often presented as heralding the end of the standardizations associated with modern mass media, could it end up reinforcing them? Might the ‘pathways’ it produces turn out to be interchangeable consumerist trajectories?

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