Cover and 12 page feature for West East Magazine (Hong Kong)
‘LADY GAGA X STUART SEMPLE’
West East Magazine summer 2010
Gold foil & Swarovski crystals
Cover & 12 page feature
Text/Art/Design & Art Direction Stuart Semple
Pop’s had a hard time of late, we’re in a place where we’ve got so much choice and so little time, our gut reaction is just to start blocking out content. Pop has been trying to interrupt our flow for decades. In the 80s it worked, but that formula broke in the 90s when the world decided that Hip-Hop and Rock personified the times better. However there’s something missing here and that’s the power of celebratory escapism that Pop is hardwired to provide. With the recession as a backdrop and the music industries ongoing battle with digitization making their content free the inevitable result of course is a narrowing and homogenization. If something sold before, it will again. The industry seemed doomed to a vicious circle as the labels withdrew support for the ‘big out there’ ideas.
There is something important about Pop though, something intrinsic in its very nature, and that is its allowance for collage. It’s total embrace for re-articulating existing elements. In these conditions the zeitgeist becomes a palette, with which new narratives can be created. When Hamilton defined Pop in 1957 declaring it as“ popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business”, I wonder if he also realized how useful it would be in a new millennium as a means to critique a culture of hybridity. I wonder if he predicted Gaga.
Just when it seemed that the music world was doomed to entropy. Gaga emerges, in a Warholian sense the surface seemed to be everything. The world watched and tried to understand if she was celebrating the tragic state of affairs or criticizing it in a post-ironic way. The ambiguity of course was the main act and the important one. Identifying as an artist Gaga places an umbrella of ‘performance’ over the whole output, stretching from video to fashion, stage presentations even her interviews and appearances. The works then must be taken as deliberate, pre-meditated and considered. In that context one must ask the over-riding question of whether this faux-naivety is genuine, the power of Gaga the brand resides totally in keeping that unanswered. Warhol, Nomi, Bowie and Koons before her of course used the same ambiguity card; in my opinion most have done it a lot better. Culturally though, they were never embraced to extent that she has.
My work however has not been to resolve that debate, the machine around Gaga blocked every question I had regarding this line of enquiry. When faced with the heavy art historical questions, when probed with the real questions all that resulted was silence. A clever media-trained face for what must be a multi-million dollar brand sticks to the script. She loves John Lennon, believes in art and love. Does everything she does for her fans.
In a post Warholian context, we can only be talking about post-sexuality. Gaga of course is far past our typical pin-up, yet her myth like that surrounding a ‘Gold Marilyn’ or ‘Balloon Dog’ creates its own kind of allure. With the exclusion of Lauper, Gaga is really the first female to take the pop-performance ideology to such a massive place. With her influence over future generations of fans her ‘little monsters’ I genuinely feel that her work will have a positive and lasting effect on female identity. She projects a true female strength that the mass media has subdued for way too long. For this reason alone, to me she is important.
Either way Gaga leaves her trace all over the surface of mass culture, often handing herself over entirely to her collaborators, regularly surrendering her actual body. Is it the creatives around her that genuinely have the vision? Is Gaga a platform here for others creativity? It doesn’t matter, the remarkable results cause waves of controversy over front pages around the globe. As that surface solidifies a fantasy image expands, an amorphous, hyper prolific one.
It’s that crust that protects what is inside and it’s that same crust that my work here is all about. It’s an analysis of traces from music videos, lyrics stuck on taxicab radios and soundbites from back stage interviews. Any tacky, stylistic cliché is deliberate; any hollow meaning exists as real meaning was shrouded, therefore it’s as close as it gets to truth. It’s my hope that this Gaga, the work of art, is exactly as Hamilton would have intended; a popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, big business version of Pop at a time of total hybridity.
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