Collage is conversation first, art second.

Warren Ellis very nearly gets at something I’ve tried to get my head around for some time.To butcher his argument, the Web is, or should be, moving beyond the era of linkblogs like Boing Boing “curating” the net. He thinks it’s easy enough getting linked, and that “half the web” shouldn’t just be links to the other half.

But I think Mr. Ellis, who I hold in the highest esteem, misses something: link curation is a type of collage, which comes from the French word coller, meaning “to paste.” So when he writes, “Cory and Xeni [of Boing Boing] are the copy/paste editors for the internet,” he’s actually describing what they do as collage.

Linkblogging is only one kind of collage, or more broadly assemblage, which some people have begun to think of as art. We all know, or have been, that guy who thinks that his mix tapes are art, or his DJing is art, or that his mashups and submissions to I can has cheezburger? are art.

And maybe they are. I don’t want to be in the business of telling people what is or isn’t art. But then, if all collage, all “remix culture” is art, so is wearing the right combination of designer clothes (wardrobe design, not fashion design), stuffing your house full of the right stuff (interior furnishing, not interior design), and listening to the right bands are art. Because you’re assembling them, transforming them into something new through combination and personalization. And I don’t want to go down that road, myself: consumption and self-selection through purchasing aren’t art, at least not to me.

So if these things aren’t art, or are art only incidentally, what is their primary function?

The astute reader will guess my assertion by checking my post title: I think these things are a conversation, an ongoing conversation.

Now, conversation absolutely can be cultural production in the Warren Ellis-approved sense: good book reviews, or film reviews, are part of a conversation between the author or filmmaker, the critic, other critics, and the reader or viewer. Mixtapes achieve their power through comparison and contrast, reinforcement and juxtaposition. The best LOLcats, as Anil Dash has argued, achieve their power through a consistent grammar of repetition and variation changing through time. Isn’t that just a fancy way of describing a conversation?

This is one reason that blogs with comments seemed to be the thing just a little while ago. I remember, at the one Seattle Bloggers meetup I can recall attending, that Robert Scoble criticized my metablog design for not making comments obvious. I felt, and still feel, that the best response to a blog post isn’t a comment but another blog post. Now Scoble says that blog comments are dead. I can’t figure out if I’m on the bleeding edge, or so far back that I only look like I’m in the race. (Or maybe the universe wraps around on itself, and I am so far back that I’m in first place. Or vice-versa.)

In the end, it might be nice to separate the web into content and remixed indices to that content, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think we’re going to keep surfing the wave of remix culture for some time to come, and that the waves will be made of old and new alike. Sorry Warren, the linkblog is probably here to stay, at least for a while.

Whole Roll Photo Show

I’d love to go to a photography exhibit at a museum where, for each photograph, the entire roll of raw footage from which that picture came was available for perusal, either in analog or digital fashion.

It would be great, also, if the changes that had been made to the photo — cropping, color changes, and so on — were also made visible.

I would learn more about the photographer’s process at such a show than I have learned about in the past.

Hot Paintings

Not stolen, but oil paintings with some sort of little heaters behind the canvas. Meant to be touched, warm to the touch — pictures of faces and of bodies.

Would the heat cause the oil paints to run? I don’t know, but if so, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. (Except for fumes, possibly, and fire hazards.)

Imagine seeing a picture of a woman’s face, crying. Imagine putting your hand on her face, feeling her warmth. It could be beautiful, disturbing, or both.

Gay Prude Parade

Hey, gay people can be just as squeamish and frightened of sex as straight people. This is their opportunity to demonstrate that fact: an entire parade dedicated to the idea that they’re gay, but they don’t want to talk about sex and don’t want to see it in public, gay or straight.

They can march side-by-side, but they can’t hold hands in public.


Today, M.I.A.‘s debut album, Arular was officially released. One of several tracks I downloaded this past week in anticipation (actually, tracks that a friend downloaded for me — you know who you are, and thanks) had a genre tag that I’d not seen before: bleephall, a word that (when I write this) returns no hits on a Google search.

The great thing about this tag, as another friend pointed out, is that if you know what a ‘bleep’ sounds like, and you’re familiar with dancehall as a musical style, you already have a pretty good idea of what this sounds like. Another great thing is that it suggests other nascent genres: bleep metal, bleepcore, rhythm-and-bleep. (A Google search any of those three genres returns hits. Also, searches for glitchcore, rhythm-and-glitch, and glitchhall all return at least one relevant hit.)

Arular is a great debut album. It’s catchy, rhythmic, and just melodic enough. The lyrics go from whimsical to terrifying with astonishing rapidity, and the connection between sex and violence has rarely been made so clear. The sound is like nothing I’ve ever heard before; this is what happens when the street finds its own uses for things. A real Bruce Sterling sort of culture-clash thing. And, despite all that, not for everyone; grab a listen before you drop cash on the disc.

Art Market for Juvenile Works. Or, it beats the refrigerator.

Inspired by this quiz at ABC News, and the accompanying story, it seems to me that the refrigerator is not good enough for today’s four-year-old finger painters. The curmugeonly John Stossel writes:

One artist, Victor Acevedo, described one of the children’s pieces as “a competent execution of abstract expressionism which was first made famous by de Kooning and Jackson Pollock and others. So it’s emulating that style and it’s a school of art.”

When I told him the work was done by a 4-year-old he said, “That’s amazing. Give that kid a show.”

Maybe we don’t need to give the kid a show. Maybe someone should put up a “refrigerator art” website where children’s art can not only be displayed but auctioned, eBay-style. The market for traditional artists is pretty crowded, and visionary art/outsider art is pretty full too; this site would give burgeoning art collectors a chance to get in on the ground floor with some tremendous new artists. Heck, it might even fund their college educations in another ten or fifteen years…