aug 12

Architecture Personified

Lady Gaga: Architecture Personified? I ask not in jest, is there anyone trying harder to bring the avant-garde to the mainstream? (Actually, are we allowed to use the term "avant-garde" any more?)


Caveat: I am so not a deep student of L.G. -- I've only seen a few of her videos, and not listened to all her music.


I'm not convinced. I think she's doing an imitation of something that used to be avant-garde. It's like a historical re-enactment of avant-garde. Which still counts as trying hard at something, and still makes for a spectacle!-- but it's just not pushing anything forward, which is what I think the avant-garde is supposed to do.

And yes, for my part I think there's definitely still a real avant-garde... I'm just getting more & more afraid it's a) in China, and/or b) not on the internet.

posted by Robin at 2:50 AM on August 12, 2009

"something that used to be avant-garde" sounds exactly right. Lady Gaga likes what I thought was cool as a college sophomore, even though I would have despised her as a college sophomore.

posted by Rex at 2:56 AM on August 12, 2009

I think her dress made of Kermit the Frog puppets was a bold and refreshing move by a savvy cultural pioneer. While it might look like exactly the same kind of thing a clownish attention whore would do, I can tell that it was really a statement about art, or really a question about where we are today. Hail, GaGa.

posted by Eric at 11:11 AM on August 12, 2009

Hm. What if imitating the avante-garde is the only choice? That it's the repetition of it, rather than the innovation, that becomes important?

To truly be avante-garde would be to 'push boundaries' - but what would that even mean? To be shocking? To be outlandish? To wear ball-gowns from the '20's with AK-47's attached to the belt? What boundaries, either aesthetic or social, would be left to cross?

I think the problem is that to push something forward requires some kind of boundary line that would allow you to see the 'progress'. I'm not sure that's possible any more.

But it just occurred to me: what if it's the break or gap between Lady GaGa and whoever that person under the schtick is that's actually the avante-garde here - a return (but not) to fame that isn't the public embodiment of an identity but public display of a made-up character. Celebrity as conscious, self-reflexive 'acting', rather than the more common attempts to hide it.

posted by Nav at 11:37 AM on August 12, 2009

Whoah, Nav -- "The End of History and the Last Lady Gaga"!

I think there are absolutely still boundary lines, and still opportunities for progress. They're hard to see; they've always been hard to see.

One of the reasons I mentioned China is that I think one of our big boundaries has to do with political & moral assumptions -- the assumption of democracy, for instance. I could imagine a Chinese writer or artist making a strong, sustained case against it -- a sort of anti-Locke of the 21st century -- and

You could also probably push some boundaries with biology, along two dimensions: food, and self-modification. Food is more obvious -- and I'm surprised compelling talk about food (what it is, where it comes from, whether or not we kill animals to get it) hasn't been the subject of more compelling (non-lame) art. Self-modification is a big one -- you see little examples of it here and there, and some of it does rely on the shock factor, for sure. But this is gonna be a new frontier soon, if it isn't already, and jeez, talking about making a sacrifice for your art. "Yeah, I injected myself with octopus DNA... now I can make my skin change color. The downside is that I now smell like an octopus."

Those might all be silly examples (they're just off the top of my head) -- but I am 100% convinced there is an avant-garde, and the fact that it's not immediately identifiable -- iconic -- almost proves my point ;-)

posted by Robin at 1:32 PM on August 12, 2009

(I see that I did not finish that third graf, but just left it dangling with "and." Assume the rest of the sentence was awesome.)

posted by Robin at 2:43 PM on August 12, 2009

Smart as always, Sloan.

What I was referring to was the position of the avante-garde in a culture: it used to refer to the cutting-edge, the new, the provocative, to act as a marker of what might be coming. But take, I dunno, Dead Prez: their first disc strongly advocated a kind of neo-Marxism; but, like everything else, it was just one more voice, one more perspective. The cutting-edge blurs so quickly into the present that it's hard to see avante-garde in the same light - or, perhaps more accurately, imbue it with the same transformative potential.

But I like your examples and your last paragraph. What I'm wondering is if the avante-garde will have to become bodily precisely to avoid its subsumption into the same circles of discourse - oh, it's just that, it just means this same old thing. It's what Derrida characterised as the difference between futur, the future that inevitably comes out of the present, and l'avenir, the thing to come that cannot be predicted, precisely because it's different in the grand, radical sense of the word.

posted by Nav at 6:34 PM on August 12, 2009

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