Sunday, September 16, 2007

Beck's Fusions snoisuF s'kceB

Apologies for the titular trick, but it does reflect the recent Beck's Fusions installation in Trafalgar Square. Every year, Beck's sponsors an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (on the Mall, just off the Square) and this year music videos got turned around.

This was no ordinary video installation, tho' - the ICA has too much clout for it to be thus. Instead, they erected a giant silver pod in Trafalgar Square, with a video screen running all the way round the inside. The pod was big enough for about 50 people to numb their asses on the floor, but the 360 screen made artistic and audience sense. On the Sunday evening of this three-day wonder, the Chemical Brothers turned it inside out (aptly), into a stage for a free gig.

The brief was for ten artists each to take a song and (re)make its video; their choices ranged from the popular end of pop (the Chilis' 'Under the Bridge') to the drab end of rap (Jay-Z's 'Kingdom Come'). Befitting this remodelling project, several remixes and covers were involved, including Cornershop's Punjabi 'Norwegian Wood', Ciccone Youth's 'Into the Groove(y)' (after Queen Madonna) and Beck's fabulously submerged version of 'Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime'.

Oliver Laric's 'Under the Bridge' is one of the best videos, innovative and thoughtful about the modern world. If you YouTube the song, you'll find hundreds of user covers; what Laric has done is slice one note from each video and put it on screen, so the whole song is represented by a sequence of brief video clips, which are laid out like cards. (You can see a clip here).

The song holds up until the chorus, where it gets a little fuzzy, but Laric has already made his point brilliantly. Recreating a song from technology-enabled covers really gets to the heart of Web 2.0, where user-generation is key. We are no longer living in a world where art is sacred and untouchable but rather one where anyone with a digicam can create their own version, and by layering all these shots across the screen, we get an idea of digital democracy.

Entirely unsuccessful was Nick Jordan's laughter-free 'Norwegian Wood', which thought it was being clever by contrasting Cornershop's version with an actual Norwegian woods and a Norwegian couple presumably there to stand for the song's couple. If it was trying for irony - India and Norway! - it failed, but if it was trying to give Norwegian stereotypes a good run-through, well, it was fine.

Erik van Lieshout also based his idea on the content of the song, 'Kingdom Come'. In an almost unbearably "caring" video, he took his camera around Israel and the Palestinian borders. See - where the kingdom's supposed to come! The unforgivable sin was dullness - you should at least be able to extract beauty from the landscape.

I'm not familiar with Cat Power, but I enjoyed 'Who Knows Where the Times Goes' with its new video by Jane and Louise Wilson. They took a camera around the Kazakh desert and an abandoned shipyard in NE England, both of which - tho' ostensibly with nothing in common - were unutterably lonely, fitting the song perfectly. I found this one very moving for its evocation of loss, universalising the song rather than tying it down.

Another good use of technology was Graham Dolphin's 'Expressway to Yr Groove(y)' (despite the name). Dolphin made a mirrorball of images of Madonna, spinning and turning, from all the stages of her career. One small square would pop up on the screen then whiz across it, doubled and redoubled and redoubled again, until the whole wall was filled with these mosaics. The manifold faces of celebrity were quite neatly evoked.

Those videos based on the literal content of the song never managed to grow beyond the song, like any anodyne pop video. The real art was in using the song as a jumping-off point; that's why Laric and the Wilsons were so successful - they made ideas and emotions into their videos.

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