BY Matthias Dusini in Reviews | 13 JUN 05
Featured in
Issue 92

Just Do It!

BY Matthias Dusini in Reviews | 13 JUN 05

A moustachioed Mona Lisa, the Michelin Man as a member of the Black Panthers, and the Karlsplatz in Vienna renamed Nike-Platz – these examples by, respectively, Marcel Duchamp (L.H.O.O.Q., 1919), Bruno Peinados (The Big One World, 2000) and (Nike Ground, 2003) share an aesthetic strategy referred to by the show’s curators, Thomas Edlinger, Raimar Stange and Florian Waldvogel, as ‘culture jamming’.
The term actually originated not in the discussion of visual semiotics but in reference to acoustic interference. In the 1950s radio hams began disturbing broadcasts by using the same transmission frequencies. The idea of ‘culture jamming’, as a similarly subversive approach to the mass media, came to prominence when the Californian band Negativland was taken to court by U2 for misuse of one of their songs. Their prosecution led to bankruptcy for their record company, SST. Right at the end of ‘Just Do It!’ visitors see Craig Baldwin’s film tribute to Negativland (Sonic Outlaws, 1995), in which an elderly musician with a white beard demonstrates what culture jamming can be. In his hand he holds a scanner that captures private telephone calls, which then serve as sound material. That’s how banal the day-to-day activities of a communications guerrilla can look.
Many of the exhibits thrive on retrospective myth-making. Like the hacker, the culture jammer is emblematic of a new form of cultural disruption. Instead of attacking head-on, they slip into their enemy’s clothes like a form of camouflage. The exhibition starts historically, with Duchamp’s aforementioned reworking of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous portrait. Next to this hangs Elaine Sturtevant’s Wanted Sturtevant (1978), a wanted poster for Marcel Duchamp – or, to be more precise, for Rrose Selavy, his imaginary persona in women’s clothes. The appropriation of material from art history forms a sub-theme within the exhibition, on the premise of a critical relationship between original and copy. Those involved in the Situationist International, represented by a few examples of reworked comic strips, are presented as the elder statesmen of a radical critique of consumer society. Together with the Dadaists, Punk and Neue Slowenische Kunst – all present here – they constitute the canon of an art that proves amenable to the socio-critical requirements of the cultural left.
It would be easy to overlook the apparent fascination many artists have with reworking logos – for example, in the poster series ‘Ads’ (2001), by Tobias Rehberger, Silke Wagner’s VW bus Lufttransa Deportation Class (2001) which clings to the corporate design of the Lufthansa airline, whose participation in the deportation of asylum seekers she wishes to criticize, or Warhol’s Brillo Boxes (1969), reconstructed here by Mike Bidlo as Not Warhols (2001). An ambivalent fascination with the power of logos, whether they are commercial or political, was demonstrated by the disproportionate number of swastikas in works in the exhibition.
The Nike swoosh is the epitome of post-industrial branding, and here it was the target of a number of attacks. Daniele Buetti burns it onto the cheek of a fashion model in Nike (1995), for example, while Olaf Nicolai blows up a Nike shoe into the room-sized Big Sneaker (2001). And does the facial hair that Duchamp stuck to Mona Lisa’s upper lip not consist of two Nike logos? The show ends in a wild sampling of material from political activism. Its main shortcoming is that the propagandist potential of the exhibition architecture itself was ignored. As a result, one occasionally had the tiresome impression of walking through an open book. At least, however, the term ‘culture jamming’ sounds too clumsy to be developed into a global brand.

Matthias Dusini is a writer and editor of the magazine Falter. He lives in Vienna. His most recent book, written jointly with Thomas Edlinger, is In Anführungszeichen – Glanz und Elend der Political Correctness (Quote Unquote – The Splendour and Misery of Political Correctness, Suhrkamp, 2012).