Notes on Mash Up

Mash Up: The Birth of Modern Culture / Vancouver Art Gallery

3 years in the making, 371 artworks, 156 artists, 30 curators and coverage of a century of art history, this is one of the most ambitious exhibition about the progression and diversity of Modern Culture. My initial grasp of the phrase “Mash Up” in the context of an art exhibition is that it would probably be a show about collage featuring mostly cut and paste art pieces and photomontage. However, upon seeing the diversity of mediums curated in this exhibition, my pre-conceived notion of collage and the exhibition title has been broaden. “Mash Up” includes mediums such as photography, photomontage, drawing, prints, videos, sound clips, sculptures, site-specific installation and more. All of these demonstrate the birth and development of the concept and practice of collage as an influential form of cultural production since the 20th century to the present time. This monumental curatorial effort is impressive but I found myself being a little overwhelmed by the amount of visual and sensual information presented in a relatively confined gallery space. I personally would prefer to have just a bit more of breathing space in between pieces to better absorb each particular visual experience. With the gallery aggressively propagandizing about needing a bigger space in the recent years, I can’t help to speculate if the gallery intentionally “crammed” such a large scale of exhibition into the current space just to prove their point. While I absolutely respect and admire the curatorial efforts, I also wonder if it is necessary to maximize the scale of exhibition in order to convey their curatorial theme.

There were many pieces that I enjoyed from the exhibition but I spent most of my time in the sound clip sections, which was unusual for me because I tended to skip or just skim through non-visual pieces in art exhibitions. My personal interest in hip-hop and the well-written descriptions on the walls drew me to mull upon these sound pieces. Hip-pop is a unique creative genre in which the artists actually create by appropriating and altering of existing original pieces. Conventionally speaking such practice is infringing upon plagiarism, a huge taboo in creative production, which is about originality and new ideas. Therefore, it is interesting to see how the core concept and practice of such a popular and recognized creative genre is seemingly a counter example of that. The pieces in the “Mash Up” demonstrate the compositions and techniques behind the making of hip-hop. There are also examples of pieces that faced lawsuits of copyright infringement, an ongoing controversy in this genre. There are debates as to how much appropriation and alteration is appropriate for artists to claim their ownership over their crafts. Visual artists seemed to have sorted this out in the early onset of photomontage faze or at least managed to find a way to respectively credit their sources. Is the music industrial particularly vulnerable to this issue because everything is so easily up for grasp nowadays? Or is this issue become particularly sensitive when significant commercial gains is involved? There is nothing new under the sun and that virtually every creative production is an appropriation and alteration of other creative productions. Artists need to pay credits to credits are due but the real question seems to lay in the value of payment not the intention of payment.

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