Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Frankenstein Aesthetic: Cut n' Paste

Cut n' Paste. It goes by many names but the strategy has become one of the most pervasive forces in our culture.

Developed by Cubists.
Wielded as a powerful device by Surrealists.
It transformed pop music in the 80s in the form of sampling.
In Web 2.0 parlance its progeny go by the moniker of mash-up.
In The Simpsons you can see its influenced in the richly layered references and quotationalism of the writing.

The Surrealists had a game they called "exquisite corpse". From Wikipedia: "The technique was invented by Surrealists in 1925, and is based on[citation needed] an old parlour game called Consequences in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player for a further contribution." (Drawings were produced this way as well.) The name comes from the first surrealist example: "The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.

If you look around you see the handiwork of cut n' paste everywhere. Even the elemental visual constructs we call icons have been spliced and sutured. Here is an example I snapped off at Yoyomart in the meatpacking district (before they told me not to take pictures in their store).

Skulls are (have been for a few years) the new smiley face. Irony has festered deeply into our cultural consciousness.

Tangent: I was listening to an interview with Isaac Mizrahi yesterday and he was talking about (the death of) earnestness in fashion, about how people don't or won't wear the type of "perfect" outfits like they did in the 50's. There always has to be an element of irony, a glitch, a wrinkle, something that throws it off. You can see this lack of earnestness and irony hard at work in the use of skulls as a decorative motif, as the new smiley face we hide behind.)

A t-shirt with this image was given to me a few years ago. I love the broken heart, bat-winged skull. Incredibly simple and complex at the same time.

Picasso created his grotesque figures by placing things in the wrong spot.

In "Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic" Daniel Harris writes about the link between the aesthetic of cute and the grotesque:

"Cuteness is not an aesthetic in the ordinary sense of the word and must not be mistaken for the physically appealing, the attractive. In fact, it is closely linked to the grotesque, the malformed. The grotesque is cute because the grotesque is pitiable, and pity is the primary emotion of this seductive and manipulative aesthetic."

He uses the So Shy Sherri dolls as an example.

The doll is in fact an anatomical disaster. Here head is too big, her legs are swollen and her finger look as if they have been amputated at the knuckle.

Mr. Winkle is the posterchild for the cute and deformed.

Marty Feldman, who played igor in Young Frankenstein, had the same sort of bulging eyes as Mr. Winkle and many "cute dolls".

Betty Davis had strange eyes to.

When I was a kid I used to walk around singing the Kim Carnes song "Betty Davis Eyes" but change the words to "She's got Marty Feldman Eyes". The song is a opens with a beautiful sense of DETACHMENT and features a wonderful use of the S&M clap.

I fear this post has spiraled out of control and into a mess of tangential references so I will leave you in the clapping hands of Miss Carnes.

1 comment:

danimc said...

Don't forget the W. S. Burroughs 'Cut-Up' method for writing. You can use the Cut-Up Machine here.