Everything is A Remix


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Wanyu Zheng

Reading this week’s materials, I can’t help but think of another course I am taking in this semester: Remix Methods, in which I’ve learned that everything can be viewed as a remix once you recognize what it’s referring to and its context. The term remix was originally applied to music, then developed by scholars like Kirby Ferguson and Lawrence Lessig and became a method that “combines or edits existing materials to produce something new”. The idea that “everything is a remix” has a lot in common with Daniel Chandler’s description of intertextuality: “No-one today can read a famous novel or poem, look at a famous painting, listen to a famous piece of music… without being conscious of the contexts in which the text had been reproduced, drawn upon, alluded to, parodied and so on. ” We are living in a world of the flourishing of Read & Write Culture: everyone can be productive and publish their own works (text, image, music, video) through new media platforms. If Barthes treats this possibility as “the death of the author, the birth of the reader”, I’d rather say this is “the reunion of authors and readers”: there is no boundary anymore.

Everything is A Remix: The Matrix

I find myself very much enjoyed the presentation A Matrix for The Matrix, which evoked my memory of a great many films I watched that had such strong intertextuality and dialogism with other cultural products. In fact, I’ve seen a remix video of The Matrix made by Rob G. Wilson indicating the cultural elements from other films and animations that it has derived from, and most of the comparisons are crowd-sourced by remix fans.

A text does not die but is passed along through generations of authors. This is like how Barthes characterizes a text: “ Text is experienced only in an activity of production… The Text cannot stop…” (Barthes, 157) This ecstasy appears to be huge when the influence is larger, and the more famous the original work is, the more frequent it may be cited and remixed. When I realized this fact, I subconsciously started to pay more attention to the remixed things around me in the daily life. I want to state that they have clear difference from plagiarism, because a cheap copy cannot introduce anything new while a remixed artifact always brings new understanding of our past, present and future works. Somehow, the excessive emphasis on copyright and intellectual property is placing a huge threaten to our free culture, and may kill people’s creative power. The rising of the grass-rooted writers can be a characteristic of the fan culture, and these amateurs basically irrigate their reproductions with enthusiasm and love: once their love can spur the creation of a new aura of the original, they can never be blamed.

My Own Experiment

Ten days ago I took a walk in the West Building in the National Gallery of Art, and found that even in the classic art collections, the intertextuality – the unbounded connection between art masterpieces from Middle Age to the present are everywhere. I’ve made a video, a remix of the relationships between classic works of art I’ve observed in the exhibition.

Video Details:
The design of the West Building (1937) by architect John Russell Pope was in a neoclassical style with a domed rotunda modeled on the interior of the Pantheon in Rome.
Giorgione and Titian’s Portrait of a Venetian Gentleman, c. 1510:
As a Venice art master of the renaissance, Titian had an obsession with colors, which obviously reflected on his painting that the color of the characters and sceneries might be based on the different colors of the real Venice in 16th Century.
Raphael’s The Small Cowper Madonna, c. 1505:
Raphael’s paintings of Madonna and Christ Child often had a similar theme and composition with what his teacher Perugino did. Apparently Raphael was hugely influenced by Perugino but had his own expression and spirit of art – the humanity during the renaissance. In Raphael’s paintings, the image of God was more vivid and more human.
Paine’s Graft 
In the Sculpture Garden, there is a tall silver dendroid sculpture, which recombines the elements of nature and presents a distinctive artistic expression of human desire.

 

References:

1. Daniel Chandler, “Intertextuality.” [Useful Overview; but primarily a literary structuralist take on the concept, not wideningout to dialogism and generarive principles.]

2. Roland Barthes, “From Work to Text” (1971; trans. 1977; excerpt from Image, Music, Text).

3. A Matrix for The Matrix (Irvine) [presentation]

4. Kirby Ferguson, Everything is a Remix

5. Lessig, Lawrence. 2008. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.  Penguin Press.

6. Jonathan Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence,” Harpers Magazine, Feb. 2007.