Thursday, June 19, 2008

Reproduction: Its Opposite is Extermination

The true heirs of Nineteenth-Century chromolithography were advertising [PLATE 17], propaganda [PLATE 18], and mass media. Limiting editions may nibble at the rarified edges of artistic reproduction, but propaganda and advertising destroy the very limits and possibilities of the technologies of reproduction. Any message or image—no matter how bland, bizarre, or brilliant—numbs with sufficient repetition, eliminating diversity, undermining the search for truth, exterminating alternative ideas, with lethal implications for life itself.

The Twentieth Century revealed extremes on both ends of the replication spectrum: expansionary tendencies and hegemonic message-making on the one hand, and authoritarian censorship and control of reproduction on the other. These forces proved capable of influencing and reshaping entire populations, prompting the First World War, the Russian Revolution, Hitler's final solution, nuclear war in Japan, China's one-child policy, and global ecological crises and species extinction. Reaction to the nightmare aspects of capitalism, fascism, and communism, including the manufacturing, media, and military methods behind them, provoked the dominant currents of Twentieth-Century art.

Modernism had a problem: signs of human, scientific, and technological progress were being contested violently throughout the world. Progressive modernists, with their roots in the Enlightenment and the Nineteenth-Century reaction to academic conservatives, were overtaken by a new avant garde that continues to dominate the art world in the Twenty-First Century. The postmodern challenge for visual artists remains: how to respond to the ubiquity of visual culture without retreating to the philosophical and sensory self-explorations of formalism and art for art's sake? Marshal McLuhan famously said, "advertising is the greatest art form of the Twentieth Century" [PLATE 19]. [1] In the Twenty-First Century, can art push reproduction technologies beyond mere commerce and ideology?

1. Procter & Gamble Co. I Thought I Was Doomed To Dull, Unattractive Hair Until I Tried Drene. 1937.
Kansas City Star. Courtesy of Duke University Ad*Access Project.

2. Mikhail Troitskii. Poema o Mashiniste (Poem about the machine operator). 1932.
Oformlenie Nikolaia Muratova. Leningrad: Leningradskoe oblasnoe izd-vo. Series: Biblioteka "Leninskikh iskr". 18 page, 19 cm. Agit-prop (a contraction of "agitatsiia" and "propaganda") was used in the Soviet Union after the Revolution to promote appropriate values among the masses, and included books such as Zubarev's Poema o mashiniste. Courtesy of McGill University Rare Books and Special Collections Division.

3. Coco Robot Studios. Che-Britney. ca. 1999-2002.
Street flyer used throughout Boston and New York Universities and city streets to promote the launch of trampt Magazine, designed as a series for the suck:now (subversive urban culture killing) f guerilla marketing campaign. The poster spoofs one of the world's most widely reproduced and merchandized images, the 1960 black-and-white photo of revolutionary Ché Guevara by the Cuban photographer known as "Korda" (Alberto Diaz Guttierez, 1928-2001). Courtesy of © coco robot studios, aka "cocoa robot studios" a division of Abuse The System, Inc., Boston, MA.

[1] McLuhan, Marshall et al. 1996.

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