Extreme Culture: Music, Videos and Video Art at The Infinite Mix

The Infinite Mix: Contemporary Sound and Image
Hayward Gallery / The Vinyl Factory, at The Store, London
09.09.16 – 11.12.16

Music videos are extreme culture. It’s there in the numbers. Of the thirty members of YouTube’s billion-views club at the time of writing, one is a Russian children’s show and twenty-nine are music videos. There is now almost nothing you can do that will map your affect onto so many others as watching ‘See You Again’ by Wiz Khalifa, featuring Charlie Puth. But it isn’t just the enormity of the statistics. It’s the intensity of the viewer’s experience, the complete immersion in a space of cultural fantasy that doesn’t so much feel globalised as oceanic. On YouTube, and MTV before it, the synchronisation of mind and media is pushed to its precise, addictive limit. Everyone knows this.

Maybe it is inevitable, then, that for each of the video artists on show in The Infinite Mix the possibilities and techniques of the music video always hover in the background like a challenge, or a temptation. After all, this is an exhibition of sound as well as vision, curated by the Hayward Gallery’s Ralph Rugoff on the principle that ‘what you hear is just as important as what you see’. In fact, you often hear the works before seeing them. Snatches of music fade through the temporary partitions and bare, concrete hallways of the repurposed office block where the exhibition is set. You might catch a fragment of opera or jazz funk as you turn a corner and not find its origin until you’ve been through several more rooms.

But when you come face to face with each video, that drifting music falls into place. Each artist uses music to a different purpose, but one way or another, every piece achieves or gestures at that engrossing fusion between sound and image that has become cultural production’s nuclear option. As if to establish this as a possibility, the exhibition actually starts with a music video in the straightforward sense: Martin Creed’s Work No. 1701 ( 2013 ) is just ‘You Return’, four-and-a-half minutes of joyfully repetitive guitar pop from the artist’s musical side-project, accompanied by a simple video of people taking turns to cross a side street in New York, Abbey Road style. All the participants look to be mobility-impaired in some way, and the song’s jangly chords and clattering drums become a celebration of the idiosyncrasies of their movement, turning each laborious, unsteady gait into an everyday dance of pragmatism and willpower.

It’s true that Creed’s stripped-back approach amounts to a parody or détournement of the ableism and frenetic glitz of the pop video mainstream. But it is also a freeride on its infectious energy. The minimal performance that Creed captures, people simply crossing the road, doesn’t have much to do with the conspicuous consumption and fast cuts that make it into the billion-views club, but merely by being used in this way, as visual accompaniment to a song you want to hear, the mundane footage takes a new aspect. Common sense says music is an epiphenomenon, a factitious abstraction from the noisy incidents of real life. For Creed’s pedestrians, though, music has taken over from reality. For a moment, it is they who are the epiphenomenon. Whatever happens, whatever stumbles or flickers the camera picks up, it all gets gathered into the embrace of a pop song that needs a visual body and that, in return, can lend its aural soul out anywhere.This transaction between registers is at the heart of The Infinite Mix, an exhibition that shows that, for all the furore over the ‘post-Internet’ label, ‘post-MTV’ remains just as important a premise for video artists working today. From Kahlil Joseph’s visual re-edit of a Kendrick Lamar album, to Cameron Jamie’s grassroots dance film set to a Sonic Youth song, to Stan Douglas’s footage of a studio funk jam cut up so it seems to go on forever, you see everywhere the trace of the industry that has grown up to turn listening into watching. It isn’t that every artist here is in conscious dialogue with that industry. It’s simply that music videos have changed how the moving image works. Since the 1970s, film scholars have talked about music being diegetic or non-diegetic, existing inside or outside the fictional space of the film. But the music video is a whole different paradigm. The music is everywhere at once. Those discrete frames of reference that sequester representation from presence are suspended. The visible world stands in as visuals.

Perhaps the clearest marker of the influence of this music video paradigm is that The Infinite Mix is a hugely absorbing, entertaining exhibition. Video art has had a notoriously difficult relationship with entertainment. Even now, it struggles to shake off the endurance-test association inherited from early foundations such as Andy Warhol’s Sleep ( 1963 ) – a sequence of slow-moving shots of a man asleep, for five hours and twenty minutes. Yet in The Infinite Mix, you can see the subject of Warhol’s film, the poet John Giorno, as a spry and genial stage presence, now fragile-looking and white-haired but dapper in a tuxedo and bare feet, performing his masterpiece of catty elegy, THANX 4 NOTHING ( on my 70th birthday ). The film, by the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, is accompanied only by a single, repeated guitar line and a brushed cymbal, but the effect is as entrancing, atmospheric and sad as Sleep was alienating and austere.

There is a complete lack of irony in Rondinone’s film that provokes a slight double take. Giorno’s poem is certainly tonally complex, layering up sarcasm and lament in a kind of beatific camp. But despite Rondinone’s jumps between takes and use of multiple screens, his filming of it feels like a pure tribute, with none of the ambivalent, critical distance between the space in front of and behind the camera that has become the counter-Hollywood norm. Elsewhere in The Infinite Mix this estrangement between subject and filmmaker is more in evidence, but it is offset by a sense of enthusiasm and excitement that cuts through the postmodern ifs and buts. Jeremy Deller and Cecilia Bengolea’s collaboration on Bom Bom’s Dream ( 2016 ) is less urgent than the exhibition’s best moments, its micro-documentary structure ( telling the true story of a Japanese dance-hall queen visiting Jamaica ) and surreal-naive DIY CGI sequences feeling a little familiar and tired. But the soundtrack gives Deller and Bengolea’s hazy structure an animation it would otherwise lack, in a couple of moments where the head-spinning riffs on globalised culture fuse into an irresistible blast of dance hall.

A number of works in the show share this dynamic, where a cerebral and ambivalent outline format is disrupted by an irrepressible current of pop sensibility bubbling up from beneath or outside. Elizabeth Price’s K ( 2015 ) starts off like a highbrow satire on the emotional labour market. A soundtrack of grating clanks and bangs accompanies images of a robotic production line, while a computer voice reads out a fictional promo for an elite group of professional mourners-for-hire called the Krystals. As it goes on, however, the visuals starts to be interrupted by flashes of black-and-white footage of girl bands or a music-hall singer, and although you never hear these clips, the clanking soundtrack gradually swells into a soaring passage of electro harmonies, before subsiding back into noise. Likewise, in Everything and More ( 2015 ), by Rachel Rose, a digitally distorted film of warehoused spaceflight equipment, with a voice-over from a former astronaut, is intermittently broken in on by images of the huge crowd at an EDM concert and ghostly fragments of an altered recording of Aretha Franklin. It’s like an experimental film channel that keeps getting interference from VH1.

The standout piece, however, is the one in which these overlapping modes of music video and video art are most fully and un-showily integrated. It is hard to describe Cyprien Gaillard’s Nightlife ( 2015 ) without simply repeating how stunningly, eerily, addictively beautiful it is. This is not a coincidence. For all the technical brilliance of its drone shots of fireworks over Berlin’s Olympiastadion, or the yellows and blacks of the stereoscopic flowers blowing in a courtyard at night, and for all the hidden logic of its string of locations – for example, the stadium where Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics is followed by the oak tree in Cleveland that was his gift from the Nazi government – for all this, Nightlife works by making you forget all its subtle technical and discursive frameworks, and follow it on an unpeopled, night-time tour through a dream state of shadows and floodlights, where branches thrash like dancers in the wind and torch beams pick out wire fences against the invisible landscapes they guard. Loud enough to feel the vibrations, exactly seven and three-quarter bars of dub reggae play on repeat. Of all the artists in The Infinite Mix, it is Gaillard who has learnt the lesson of MTV, that the scenes and shapes that give visual accompaniment to a song themselves take on the quality of a song. That dancing and longing can be reverse-engineered back into the world is a fact open to exploitation by artists as well as record company execs. Gaillard’s is the last piece in the show, and you emerge from the basement car park where it is screened, still rubbing your eyes, unable to get the tune out of your head.


Hayward画廊 / The Vinyl Factory唱片行及180 The Strand合办
2016年9月9日 – 2016年12月4日

音乐视频是一种极端文化,用一些数字就足以证明了。在本文撰写期间,Youtube频道“亿万点击率组群”( The Billion View Club )的三十个热门视频中,除了一个是有关俄罗斯儿童表演的视频之外,其余二十九个均为音乐视频。现在当你欣赏Wiz Khalifa与Charlie Puth对唱的《当我们再相见》时,你几乎无法将你的感动投射到其他诸多( 视频 )上去。然而,关键并非是数据有多宏大,而是观众体验的强烈程度,就像完全沉浸于一个由文化白日梦所营造出来的空间里。在Youtube频道以及在此之前的MTV里,心理与媒体的同步被推向其精确、添加的极限。每个人都知道这一点。

那么,或许是不可避免的,对于每一位参与“无限混合”展览的影像艺术家而言,音乐视频的可能性及相应的技术总是在暗中徘徊,就像是一种挑战,抑或是一种诱惑。毕竟,这是一场包含视觉以及声音的展览,由Hayward画廊的Ralph Rugoff以“所闻与所见同样重要”的原则进行策划的。事实上,你常常在看到作品之前先听到它们。音乐的片段被展览所设置的临时性分割与办公楼砖块所砌成的裸露而坚实的门廊所隐没。你可能会在( 展场的 )转角处捕捉到某部歌剧或饶舌爵士乐的片段,而你要再穿过几间展室,才能找到音乐的源头。

但当你直接面对每段视频作品时,就会令音乐找到其归属之处。每位艺术家将音乐用于不同的目的,然而不管怎样,每个视频均做到或趋向将声音与图像合二为一的动人效果,这已成为文化生产的核心选择。仿佛是为了显示上述观点的可能性,本次展览是用一段音乐视频以一种直白的方式作为开场的:Martin Creed于2013年创作的第1701号作品名为《你回来》,是一段源自艺术家的音乐项目、时长4.5分钟、节奏轻快而又重复的吉它流行乐,伴以一段内容为纽约当地的人们转弯穿过一条小街的简单视频,就像披头士的著名专辑《艾比路》的那种样式。视频中的所有人看上去均有某种程度的行动力受阻,而音乐的刺耳和弦及铿锵作响的鼓声则与那些人的特异行为相呼应,将那种费力、不稳的步态化作一种象征着自负与意志力的日常舞步。


登记使用者之间的交易是这场题为“无限混合”的展览的核心,透过本次展览,我们可以看到相对民众对于“后互联网”标签的狂热,“后MTV”对于当今的影像艺术家们来说依然是他们创作的重要前提。从Kahlil Joseph对说唱歌手Kendrick Lamar的一张专辑进行视觉上的重新编辑,到Cameron Jamie为摇滚乐团“音速青春”的一首歌制作草根舞蹈电影集,再到Stan Douglas用镜头为一首录音工作室制作的放克歌曲进行混音剪辑,以令其看上去似乎永远在不停播放,当前影像艺术领域日益将聆听转向观看的趋势在展览中到处可见。当然这并非意味着每一位参展艺术家都有意识这么做。只是音乐视频已经改变了动态影像的运作方式。自上世纪七十年代以来,电影研究者们已经开始讨论音乐是否要成为电影中的叙事性元素,以及是否要存在于或抽离于电影中的虚构空间。音乐视频则是一种完全不同的范式:音乐立马变得无处不在,那些令电影陈述从有到无的作为参考的断续框架被中止了, 而可视的世界依旧可见。

或许最能表现这种音乐视频范式的影响力的,就是“无限混合”本身是一场非常吸引人、极具娱乐性的展览。众所皆知,影像艺术与娱乐行业之间的关系并不融洽。即使是现在,影像艺术依然苦于摆脱与那些早期作品的久经考验的关联,比如安迪沃霍尔于1963年创作的《眠》用五小时二十分钟的时间,以一连串慢镜头记录了一个人睡觉时的情形。而在“无限混合”展中,你可以看到沃霍尔片中的主角金诗人John Giorno金由一个活泼、友善的舞台存在,如今变得面容憔悴、满头白发,身穿晚礼服却赤裸双足,表演他那最拿手的滑稽挽歌《无所感激》( 在我70岁生辰之日 )》。这部由瑞士艺术家Ugo Rondinone制作的影像作品仅仅配以一支吉它及一对响锣作为伴奏,但出来的效果却与简约、疏离的《眠》一样充满着使人入神、悲伤的氛围。

在Rondinone的片子里完全没有一点点引发人恍然大悟的反讽意味。Giorno的诗歌自然是调子繁复的,在一种故作祥和的表演中层层交织着讥讽与哀悼。然而,尽管Rondinone在各种屏幕的取舍之间来回跳跃,他的镜头感觉上像是一种单纯的颂辞,在其摄像机前后空间之间也没有一点反好莱坞准则的矛盾、批判性的距离。在“无限混合”展览的其他地方,这种被拍摄对象与拍摄者之间的疏离感更加明显,只是被一种切断后现代式讨价还价的热情与兴奋感所弥补罢了。Jeremy Deller与Cecilia Bengolea于2016年合作完成的《Bom Bom之梦》并非是本次展览中的最佳之作,其微型纪录片的架构( 叙述一名日本舞厅女王访问牙买加的真实故事 )以及超现实且天真的DIY-CGI测序让人感觉有一点似曾相识且略显疲态。然而作品的配乐则赋予Deller及Bengolea的朦胧结构一种不可或缺的动画感,有关全球化文化主题的即兴演奏在很多时候化作一股不可抗拒的舞厅中的爆破之音。

在此次展览中有不少作品都同样具备这样的动态,即充满矛盾的以头脑为主导的形式被一股抑制不住的、从内里或外在迸发出的感性的流行趋势所破坏。Elizabeth Price作于2015年的《K》以感性的讽刺笔调描绘劳动力市场上的知识分子作为开场,一阵刺耳的铮铮砰砰声伴着机器人生产线的影像出现,与此同时,从一部电脑里读出一段为名为克里斯塔尔( Krystals )的待业精英专职送葬人所设的虚拟宣传辞。然而,随着片子的推进,画面开始被不断闪现的女子组合或舞厅歌手的黑白镜头所干扰,尽管观众不会听到这些剪辑片段的背景声音,录像开头的铮铮声在沦为噪音之前逐渐增强为一段响彻云霄的电子和声。同样,在2015年由Rachel Rose创作的《一切及更多》中,一段有关存放于仓库中的宇宙飞船设备、伴着来自一名前宇航员的画外音、被数码扭曲的影像,间歇性地被一场电子音乐节上汹涌人潮的图像以及歌手Aretha Franklin被改编过的录音片段所打断。这令整部作品宛如一个不断被VH1病毒感染的实验电影频道。

然而,最引人注目的作品,是集合这些模式重复的音乐视频及影像艺术之大成者。除了不断重复着“多么令人惊叹、诡异而又引人上瘾的美丽”之外,Cyprien于2015年创作的《夜生活》很难用其他辞藻来描述。这并非巧合。无论是其用无人驾驶飞机航拍柏林奥林匹克体育场烟花表演的技术之精湛,抑或是夜晚庭院里盛开着的甚具立体感的鲜花之黄色与黑色光影,还是其串联不同场景背后所蕴藏的逻辑金例如在播放Jesse Owens于1936年奥运会中摘得四金的运动场之后,即切换至栽种着由纳粹政府送给他作为礼物的橡树的克利夫兰。上述之种种,《夜生活》可以做到令人忘却其所有技术上及散漫的框架所带来的微不足道的缺陷,而随着作品展开一场不见人影的晚间旅行,在一片充满着阴影及流光的梦一般的世界里,枝头乱颤宛如风中的舞者,火炬的光束从电线围栏所守护的看不见的风景处透出来。背景配乐则是不断重复播放的、响得足以让人感受到其振频的雷鬼音乐。在“无限混合”展览的所有参展艺术家中,只有Gaillard从MTV中学习,即作为一首歌曲视觉上的伴奏的场景与形式本身呈现出这首歌的质量,而舞蹈可以反客为主,这是艺术家及唱片公司高管所能利用的事实。Gaillard的作品是这次展览中的压轴之作,当你从其所在的地下停车场中离开时,作品的影像仍在你眼前晃动,无法从你脑海中抹去。