By Stephano Castelli
1. Prelude (of the end)
What is left of Pop after sixty years? What is left of a story which began in 1947 with the Big Bang of Paolozzi’s gun and was continued by Alloway’s ‘independence’ before passing through the ‘aesthetic nazism’ of which Crispolti accused Warhol: A story which ended up with Livingstone’s potentially infinite ‘continuing history’?
The real question to ask is – what is left out of Pop? The answer is: nothing. Pop in fact has lost its capital letter and camouflages itself; it corresponds with a collective horizon, it pretends to fade away but instead has just blended itself into the background, imposing itself on all phenomena. Pop pretends to become a hologram when instead it is reality, which is becoming more like a hologram thanks to pop culture.
Everything is pop. Even art, of every kind, becomes ‘items’: telegraphic impulses that are transmittable and exchangeable. Real Pop, on the other hand, meaning art that is actually intended to be pop, assumes various forms which can be divided into four subcategories:
1. Classical Pop, this draws inspiration from the 50’s, 60’s and 80’s (1980’s Pop and what followed thereafter marked a period of decline, a sort of voluntaristic neoclassicism).
2. pop, with a small p, refers to the phenomenon of today’s undifferentiated popular culture.
3. pop or Pop artists (subcategory of points 1 and 2) who knowingly analyse collective thought. They can be divide into celebrative, critical and, as in the case of American Pop, ambiguous.
4. Organic pop artists (another subcategory of points 1 and 2). Lackey’s of the system, integrated and accepted who confront the visual-cultural scene without putting it into doubt. A significant portion of young Italian artists belong to this category.
Stuart Semple belongs to the third category. He mixes ambiguity and critical spirit, pushing the accelerator of excess in a shocking way. He makes détournements but doesn’t disfigure. He remains autonomous in recording pop culture, without ever acritically adhering to pop; he re-elaborates it in his own personal universe. His reference point is that of a voluntaristic and complete artist. His items are music, fashion, literature, cinema and youth subculture. The point in his favour, compared with many others, is the sincerity (but not naivety) of his work, the willingness of sublimation.
His ambiguity allows spectators to decide whether what they are seeing is celebrative or critical of mass culture. What is certain is that you can easily get lost in Semple’s many worlds: entering into those which the title of one of his series’ defined ‘post-Pop Paradise’ and which I would define as ‘artificial paradises’; paradises which today are impossible to escape from, paradises which don’t blunt but moreover hyperbolize impulses, with the aim of creating awareness of visual contemporary reality.
Semple, who is English and was born in 1980, is nonetheless a child of the grandiosely decadent American Pop season of the 80’s, which reinterpreted those of the previous decades. Of this ascendance he maintains non-conformism which allowed the mixing of Pop, Bad Painting, graffitism and post-urban culture.
2. Autopsy report – Individual x – year 2008
- Blinding shine created by a pale, inconsistent and fickle light.
- Sexual overexposure. Artificial pheromones fill all available space and more.
- Diamonds for breakfast. Indigestible.
- Indistinct sight. Reality acquires wide-screen format, like the frame from a film. Horizontal gaze which sees all symbols on the same level but unable to form them into a theory.
- Constant close-up. Position and scale does not imply a perspective and neither are hierarchical.
- Rictus, which replaces expressions.
- Buying power corrodes facial physiognomy.
- ‘Lettering’ and placards are the privileged forms of expression. Esperanto realized. Self-imposed decree.
- Phrasing from 80’s pop songs. Music whirls in the head. Soundtrack like a nazi self-dominion. Electronic musical notes rise, akin to films and car advertisements.
- Looks like a zombie. Sex borders not with death but with its removal removed.
- Death of the individual. Impossible to say ‘I’, pronounce it or think it.
- Giantism of the imagination.
- Spread of the consumerism germ. Ten doses of need induced, one of lack and the trick is in action
- Hologram dimension of the person. Interface/interscum.
- History’s first self-induced domination.
Not yet discovered. Semple chooses to highlight the phenomenon with
mimetic ability. This is the main act, highly political, of all sincere Pop
(point 4 is excluded from the above classification).
Pointing the finger to stress what already exists is the first phase of the
revolution. It’s a political gesture voted to failure for a matter of principle, the
first revolution lost from the beginning in the history of man. Such an action is
a Galilean option for overcoming the existing horizon. A gold medal for civil
merit is given, even though it’s actually tin following post-modern logic.
3. Pop song elegy at the death of the individual
We are therefore zombies about which a video-clip will not be produced and whose song won’t sell 50 million copies / we are the ones whose shower’s always golden / we want someone to claim us, someone to follow. Someone to shame us: some brave Apollo. Someone to fool us: we want you, Big Brother / We cultivate Overabundance and Futility, Intellighenzia and Expansiveness, Far-sightedness and Homogeneity / We see the end in the underground, in the bitch who sits next to us, in the tired guy, in his Dior bag / We are writers in crisis in Beverly Hills and we are John Cassavetes. We are rich architects in Bel Air and old divas of the noir / We are those who didn’t make it out alive from the 80’s / We are zombies: because of all we’ve seen, because of all we’ve said: we are the dead / We were the world. We were history.
“If we don’t use the shared language and symbolism within popular culture to communicate, know and support each other, the inevitable consequence is one of isolation”. (Stuart Semple).
The third point is composed of citations from the following songs: Commercial for Levi by Placebo, Big Brother by David Bowie, Intellighenzia by Matia Bazar, Il liberismo ha i giorni contati by Baustelle, Colombo by Baustelle, Non si esce vivi dagli anni ’80 by Afterhours, We are the dead by David Bowie.
For the parts about ‘the impossibility of saying I’ and the giantism of imagination I am in debt, linguistically and conceptually, to Giuseppe Genna and Antonio Scurati.