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a multi-media spectacle by Ben Neill and Bill Jones at Symphony Space
by Joseph Nechvatal - 03/07/2005

The backlash against the logocentric apparatus and corporate globalization has set in by now. It is well known that we live in an era where image is nearly everything and where the proliferation of unbearably intrusive brand names defines so-called culture.

Palladio affirms this awareness through an infuriating and thus stimulating interactive movie/opera/rock concert/theatre spectacle by pioneer hybrid electro-acoustic composer Ben Neill (creator of fantastically meandering sounds which could go on forever) and digital media artist Bill Jones that was performed at Symphony Space March 4th and 5th. It is a multi-layered DJ/VJ culture jamming adaptation of Jonathan Dee's book Palladio which immerses us in the indistinct question: "In a world where the line between culture and commerce is increasingly blurred, can you really sell out anymore?"

The visual form here was created by Jones's interactive computer video component, projected and mixed live onto a movie theater screen, which included commercial samples seamlessly merging with live-action footage as the lead characters - played by Cort Garretson (a charismatic composer/performer who never buys into the notion that all is retrograde orthodoxy), the hauntingly beautiful and immensely intriguing Zoe Lister-Jones (her character makes many insightful points) and Mikel Rouse (who convincingly plays a jack-ass advertising creative director who’s big idea is that corporate advertising can function with no solitary representational subject-matter and no central representational focus) - are transported into a digital environment created from the ads portrayed in the story and abstract visual noise. The problem is this transportation feels like a total subordination to the logocentric order.

Indeed, Palladio presents a good description of how much of a presence multinational corporations have become in our lives. As you can imagine, this logocentric theme raises some interesting questions. Is everything artistic already colonized in an age when Sergei Eisenstein's dialectic montage has become the dominant mode of advertising and a tool of media industry? If so, what have we sacrificed in becoming a society of consumers? Why have we allowed it to happen? Is pop culture our only culture? If not, just what is the alternative? What, for example, ever happened to Jonas Mekas’s high-art concept of “absolute cinema” which was designed to oppose such colonization of the psyche? Is it enough to say that corporate branding pervades our lives and is encroaching on our public institutions - so there are less and less places that are free from the noise of advertising and logos?

Honestly, we do not find any state-of-the-art answers to these problems (nor any liberational politics or even hermeneutical interrogation) until the final text messages that romantically closed the show (yes you can still sell out young art-star by ignoring citizen-centered alternatives to the international rule of the logo). But up to that point we merely watch art and commercialism collide in mutual exploitation without ever turning into a glorious nihilism via an excess of signifier - as Jones fluidly mixes video action with sampled commercials. But is this mixing alone a work of cultural criticism or even an invitation to flights of anti-logoscentric thought? Is this part of the anti-corporate movement or just a hip recycling of the logo – and thus strengthening corporate logomania? In other words, can you stop drinking by drinking even more?

Sure, Palladio employs technical savvy and personal testaments to love to detail the insidious practices and far-reaching effects of corporate marketing. But all of this is seen from the capitalist consumer perspective. Where is the emerging global worker solidarity here? The culture jamming hacktivist approach displayed here was frustratingly Warholian ambivalent - as logo fighters display the corporate logo. The visual result was reminiscent of classic Nam June Paik video manipulation (aesthetically-informationally intense) but is this a service to the interests of a provocative Naomi Kleinish No-Logo morality? I was not convinced of that.

I know the idea is that a new techno empowered generation has begun to battle consumerism with its own best weapons via computer-hacking acumen. But where is the opposition here? Where is the innovative strategy for the active ruining of logo representation (an ideal objective first articulated in feminist practice by Michele Montrelay back in 1978)? [1]. Rather portrayed is the particular set of cultural and economic conditions that make the emergence of opposition inevitable. This is really a question of form rather than content then.

Antonin Artaud's theoretical work could be reviewed in this respect. Perhaps a deeper examination of his proposals found in _Le Théâtre et Son Double_ (_The Theatre and its Double_) would be beneficial to a ruin of representation as strived for in Palladio, as Artaud proposes that art (in his case drama) must become a means of influencing the human organism and directly altering consciousness by engaging the audience in a ritualistic-like activity involving excess. Even though in his essay "The Theatre of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation" Jacques Derrida describes how Artaud's theory may be seen as impossible in terms of the established structure of Western thought [2], this is precisely why Palladio (with its vital connections to the representational excess) can be placed in parallel position to Artaud's hypothesis. Georges Bataille confirms this assertion of excess as ruin in his essay "Baudelaire", particularly by linking Baudelaire's imagination with notions of the impossible. [3]

Of course the superimpositional layering found in Palladio has been tried successfully in the 60s/70s (one thinks here of the expanded theatre ideal of Milton Cohn's late-60's _Space Theatre_; the essence of which was a rotating assembly of mirrors and prisms mounted on a flywheel around which were arranged a battery of light, film, and slide projectors - essentially it was an expanded version of László Moholy-Nagy's famous _Space-Light Modulator_ into which one may enter). But is the art world today ready to make substantial use of multi-layering with its inherent loss of coherence and representational ruin today? I doubt it (the opposite seems to be in fashion), but one would hope so, for such ruin is a challenge to us to find new expanded boundaries of self-representation.

Undoubtedly, we need ruined representations to live fully now, and just such ruined representational shifts are far easier to contribute to the public in the form of artistic expression free from corporate influence. Effectively, such an artistic and perceptual shift in our self-representational ontology (a shift which involves fundamental changes in aesthetic perception) can be expected to engender extraordinarily deep artistic conflicts. This will entail a review of past and present approaches towards both non-representational and representational aesthetics which Palladio almost advances, for our imagined logo-free future depends on the kinds of discriminating questions we seek to construct in our artistic practices now. In that regard, read McKenzie Wark’s new book A Hacker Manifesto.

All in all, Palladio is a beautiful and comprehensive account of what corporate logo economy has wrought but lacks a persuasive proposal for destructive/creative actions to thwart it. In spite of these reservations, I can only applaud Palladio for stirring up the pot of these issues, which provoke thought and encourage exploration. Even by cultural conservatives, I hope.

[1] Michele Montrelay, “Inquiry into Femininity” in m/f I (1978), pp. 83-101

[2] Jacques Derrida, "The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation" in Jacques Derrida _Writing and Difference_, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, (1978) pp. 232-250

[3] Georges Bataille, _Oeuvres Completes: Lascaux: La Naissance de l'Art_ Paris: Gallimard (1978) pp. 200-202