by Carlos Cuellar Brown
A compelling wave of new realism is recycled in Muu Blanco’s photo-collage remix, “New Com-positional Thinking.” In this work, Blanco uses combinations of chance objects, performative gestures, and photomontage. The resulting composite imagery, re-contextualizes the source data and appropriates reality with brand new meaning.
The appropriation, sampling and remixing of everyday images have been a trend of contempo-rary art and popular culture; in the remaking of a preexisting object, the artist rescues the mun-dane and converts it into an entirely new context that acts as a mirror for the ideas of our times.
Cultural appropriation is a universal trait that urges us to borrow the best from other cultures, brewing melting pots of amalgamating ideas into a refreshing new landscape, breaking away boundaries one meme on top of the other. The alteration of pre-existing images and objects is a strategy that has been used by artists for centuries. The appropriation of an image removes it from actuality, detached from its source, with new meaning.
This issue of appropriation still sparks controversy and courtroom proceedings that file suit questioning the concept of authorship.
Roland Barthes thought that authorship in art was obsolete and anachronistic, he argued that the piece or work spoke for itself regardless of the author, in this sense he would argue that the birth of the viewer or reader gave death to the author. 1 The appropriation of images and ideas in contemporary art is deeply ingrained in the methodology of artists. A fresh look at an old image in a new context and perspective can trigger an entirely new experience that is beyond the original work of art.
In contemporary art, the high definition rendering of digital media has sharpened the focus of the sampled object.
With a wide palate of user-friendly tools, the artist can massively intervene manipulating and editing the reformulated image.
This compositional language allows Blanco to transform an image into something else, seamlessly blending each other, eroding the edges of the sampled material.
The re-contextualization of ordinary objects was institutionalized by Duchamp when he immor-talized “readymades” in the gallery context, the found objects have found a way as new material for the artist.
Towards the end of his career Rauschenberg was already experimenting with computer-based digital collages and composites that juxtaposed smoothly simulating a slick flattened reality that is distinct to the protruding pasting techniques of assemblage art. 2 The exaltation of the found object to the rank of art, is a projection of the human psyche, this kind of contrasting is found in Kurt Schwitters “Merz” collage work made out of junk fragments, labels, bus tickets, fabric, paper cards, metal threads, strings and bits of broken wood; like Max Ernest magazine clippings, the juxtaposition generates a dreamlike unreality that transforms the sampled work into a work of art. 3 Blanco’s compositional method also takes on a performative quality like the one found in Joan Miro’s “Collages, Constructions and Objects,” where materials were intentionally appropriated, borrowed, journaled and later assembled in gestural representations.
Appropriation took on a new level of pop art as mechanical reproductions of popular cartoons and advertisement images, portrayed a reformulation of consumer culture. Postmodern appropriation artists deny altogether the notion of originality, leaving the re-contextual to be negotiated by the viewer.
Appropriation artist Sherrie Levine simply re-photographed the photographic image with little intervention, rethinking the photo and bringing new awareness or aesthetic newness to the original image. Levine and other modern appropriation artists have spun a new mode of representation based on the unauthorized possession of popular images and objects. With little attempt to alter or modify the images, in 1979 Levine photographed the work of photographer Walker Evans. By reformulating the existing record into a brand new aesthetic experience
4 Levine brought attention and rediscovered this iconic photographer.
In this same tradition, Paolo Gasparini’s “Retromundo” reconstruction by Muu Blanco, resamples the legendary and documentary photographer and his Latin-American conflict zones. 5 Blanco’s refreshing perspective rediscovers social tragedy in a stark context. Gasparini also re-appropriated posters and autocratic propaganda, which he used to document Latin-Americas rural and modern polarization full of violence and empty ideology. 6 In voluntary exile, Muu Blanco re-composites these photos, restoring social responsibility from the current perspective.
Anxiously detached from the social context, this work re-examines, in particular, the ruin of Venezuela, a reality that unites both artists.
Besides the contextual reframing of the historical black and white photography, Blanco intentionally ordered and randomly applied “body-action” performance to re-dimension his work. He did this by sprinkling bright colored pills and medications over the photographic canvas.
Like Jean Arp’s random ordering and chance collage, Blanco’s causal autobiographical gesture emerged by accident after a bout of sickness, diagnosed with pneumonia and lumbago simultaneously. 7 He was left feverishly banished and barred in a foreign land, surrendered slave to the painkillers prescribed to him that week.
In the intimacy of his malaise, the expatriate intervened the old photography with contortions of a dissident display, hallucinating sampled juxtapositions.
And you discover the new photo is not a hallucination but part of the humanitarian crisis present in Venezuela.
The current news informs us that pharmaceuticals have disappeared altogether from the shelves and stocks of a collapsing medical system. 8 The corrupt government agencies illegal cover-ups that profit with million dollar fraudulent contracts, deliberately stock medicine in large warehouses, hoarding them till they expire, 9 In the meantime large sections of the population including children and the elder, need insulin, chemotherapy, and basic medication to stay alive.
Blanco re-polishes the societal mirror, he reminds us of this brutal reality, blurring and reconstructing a new image out of his composite photo-overlay.
The larger picture is a sick society that is straddled in intensive care, begging for recovery.
The people in Venezuela are unable to self-mediate their own destiny, appropriated by a rogue state that denies simple care for its citizens, robbing them of their dignity, having to endure with resignation the suffering of their sick and injured.
What will it take for this society to rid them of this pathogen?
What medicine is the best medicine for the larger society?
Not this corporate system that delivers painkillers and increases our demand for drugs. The greeks word for drug “pharmakon” had a double meaning, it could cure or kill. Pharmaceuticals have medicalized addiction and they represent the “good” illegal drug monopoly that supposedly cures; in this system, the overconsumption of these medically prescribed commodities pushed by physician lobby, generate high profits regardless of their adverse effects and dangers.
10 They have poisoned the human body with chemical pollutants, many of which cause hazardous side effects, organ failure, and death. But the pharmaceutical giants and their “remedies” have been exposed, they feel threatened by nutraceuticals, millennial herbal medicine, prevention and informed consumers. The “bad” illegal drugs that kill, are the scapegoat of society, this has led to the moral double standard money laundering war on drugs and its many profiteers. The flow of this money pays for the systemic violence used against the people.
Like the mythical Gasparini and his photo-mural assembly, Blanco proofs that photography can be an act of political conscience. Like the Neo-Dadaist, he celebrates and mocks culture and invites the viewer to decipher critical meaning. The covert cool and detached pop artists had a hot vein that was very much involved in the social protest, anguished and angry, they called themselves “doom” or “No!art”. 11 Like the assemblage artists they omitted nothing from their crude presentations of appropriated trash, objects, strings, and de-collage; they were out to shock, negating art, interested in political satire and generally pessimistic, impatient with the idea of ownership and passionately invested in society.
1 K. M. Newton, “Roland Barthes: ‘The Death of the Author’.” Twentieth-Century Literary Theory (1997): pp. 120-23. Web.
2 Paul Watson, “A Brief History of Assemblage Art: Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, and Dave McKean,” The Lazarus Corporation, 27 Dec. 2003. Web.
3 Carl G. Jung, and Marie-Luise Von Franz. Man and His Symbols. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964, p. 291. Print.
4 Hayley A. Rowe, “Appropriation in Contemporary Art.” Student Pulse 3.06 (2011). Web
5 Paolo Gasparini, Victoria De. Stefano, and Alvaro Sotillo. Retromundo, Paolo Gasparini. Caracas: Editorial Caracas, 1986. Print.
6 Patricia Masse, “El Ensayo Fotografico Latinoamericano De Paolo Gasparini.” Revista De La Universidad De Mexico, No. 530 (1995): pp. 38-41. Web.
7 Anna Moszynska, Abstract Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1990, p. 66. Print.
8 “Venezuela Healthcare Crisis: Under Maduro, Medical Shortages Reaching Critical Level.” International Business Times, 14 Aug. 2015. Web.
9 “Se Destapa La Olla: Empresa Fantasma Importa Medicina De Cuba Que Se Pudre En El SEFAR.” YouTube, 02 Feb. 2016. Web.
10 Ivan Illich, Limits to Medicine: Medical Nemesis, the Expropriation of Health. London: Boyars, 1976, pp. 63-76. Print.
11 “NO!art AND THE AESTHETICS OF DOOM SHOW.” Iowa City, 2002. Web
12 Lucy R. Lippard, Pop Art. New York: Praeger, 1966, pp. 102-103. Print.