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Zombie Art World: surrealism, realism, formalism, conceptualism, ART!

August 13, 2014

Pop icon Katy Perry has tweeted her tour of Magritte paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago via Instagram:

GO SEE THE MAGRITTE EXHIBIT @artinstitutechi It will blow your conventional mind & wake you up from your zombie state! 🙇 🎨

This plays to social media zombie themes, music, celebrity, and art. Also, I wonder about the intellectual property implications of walking through a museum and tweeting all the paintings to support the feed of a commercial artist, but ok… See Spin: “Katy Perry Has ‘Conventional Mind’ Blown by Art: A visit to the René Magritte exhibit at Art Institute of Chicago changes everything” by Elissa Stolman

Surrealism is an important genre for zombies. I personally have had a large copy of “The Son of Man” on my wall for over a decade. Also his “Treachery of Images” (one of the images tweeted by Perry) is very important for understanding the difference between symbols and their meanings (see also a map and its territory). Many philosophers have referenced the painting, including Bruno Latour in his explication of modes of existence.

zombie frankenstein not a zombiethis is not a pipe

Katy Perry writes: “Um…YES IT IS”, but of course it’s not, it’s not a pipe, it’s only the image of a pipe. This relates to the question of whether something is a zombie or just the image of a zombie. Or more importantly the opposite question of whether someone is a person or just the image of a person, whether we have free will or just the appearance of free will.

With persons there is the part we are conscious of, and the part where the zombie machine takes over. It’s really unclear how much control our consciousness has over this zombie within (see recent work by Alva Noe and more classic philosophy on p-zombies from Dennett, Chalmers, Nagel and many others – see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry for “zombies”)

This work (like the art of Magritte and other surrealists) problematizes the question of other minds, perspectives, alternative viewpoints, and alternative logic, and it forces the viewer to question themselves and their surroundings.

With respect to Katy Perry we might say, that’s not Katy Perry. That’s just the image of her. “Katy Perry” exists in ideological space behind the veil of the media machine, attached to her material body and its productions but also separate as an emerged idea. See ZombieLaw on Bill O’Reilly and author function.

Even as materialists we can find essence in the patterns of emergence in the material itself. This is the promise of big data, and yet so far it seems that more data is not solving this problem. There is a hole in the bucket, always a hidden more, hiding in the observer herself. The starting position changes the material and art alienates us from ourselves. To paraphrase this song by Katy’s ex-boyfriend: ‘The body is a remnant of a wonderland.’

Katy Perry has always been a zombie, the icon of an industry machine. Is this really her first tour of French phenomenology or mere cross-promotion for Chicago tourism? It’s hard to say… Are any of us aware or are we all feeding into the machine, fed back and responding? Is it human or merely the appearance of a human? We have never been fully human, any more than we have ever been modern (see Latour’s “We’ve never been…“). Still, every once in a while, a work of art creates that moment of the sublime, and we feel more human.

Meanwhile, a popular post today on Imgur features digital artwork attributed to tohud.deviantart.com (query again copyright or fair use), at imgur: “This awesome artist perfectly recreates all our childhood and modern tales into a revisited realistic reality.“, a near to top comments is:

I don’t think the word ‘Realistic’ means what you think it means.

real winnie the pooreal smurf armyreal alice in wonderland

In this artist’s renditions of classic children’s fiction, “realistic” seems to mean less childish, more violent and punk. Winnie the pooh is an angry bear in a t-shirt. Yes, it’s a more realistic bear, but still with a t-shirt? The Smurfs become more military-like but still blue. This is fantasy in realism or realism in fantasy or what?

Another noteworthy development from the art world is something called Zombie Formalism. Artist George Pfau first alerted me to this use of the word in this way. His own zombie art includes impressionist paintings based on zombie movies. He sent me some articles about “zombie formalism” and the word seems to apply in at least two ways. First these works are sets of systematic repetitions of art work (coating canvases with electroplating and other similarly automatic-like art production). That’s formalism and it’s clearly related to the automaticity of zombie-like behavior. But also these artists are discovered and resold by art dealers who take lots of profit as middlemen. These middlemen also play a significant role in getting the works recognized in the first place, so it’s hard to say who is the zombie: the machine-like artist or the shill act of the artist selling. They are both producers of the art because there is the physical production and then the ideological production. Some important players here are Walter Robinson and Jerry Saltz:

zombie jerry saltzzombie walter robinson

See:

Artspace: “Flipping and the Rise of Zombie Formalism” by Walter Robinson:

these days, loud and clear, is the hum of an art style that I like to call Zombie Formalism. “Formalism” because this art involves a straightforward, reductive, essentialist method of making a painting (yes, I admit it, I’m hung up on painting), and “Zombie” because it brings back to life the discarded aesthetics of Clement Greenberg, the man who championed Jackson Pollock, Morris Louis, and Frank Stella’s “black paintings,” among other things.

Do I need to prove that formalist abstraction is a walking corpse?

Vulture: “Zombies on the Walls: Why Does So Much New Abstraction Look the Same?” by Jerry Saltz:

“These artists are acting like industrious junior postmodernist worker bees, trying to crawl into the body of and imitate the good old days of abstraction, deploying visual signals of Suprematism, color-field painting, minimalism, post-minimalism, … “

Huffington Post: “Zombie Conceptualism” by John Seed:

“Zombie Formalism” tends to be easy to understand and it favors novelty and off-hand effects and images: you can be newly “undead” and still get it. Because of its air of easy-going warmed-overness, “Zombie Formalism” seems to have some attitudes in common with “New Casualism,” a related set of trends in abstract painting.

Wall St Journal: “The Weird and Surreal, Natural and High Tech” by Peter Plagans:

There’s a style in abstract painting these days called “the new casualism” or, in the felicitous phrase of painter-blogger Walter Robinson, “zombie formalism.” Its hallmarks are a loosely or partially stretched monochrome canvas, an exposed stretcher bar or two, and perhaps an oddball embellishment such as a bent nail or quick hit with some spray paint. Current figurative painting enjoys an equivalent, something I would call “casual weirdism” or “slacker surreal.” Its main tenet is, in effect, paint whatever you want however you want.

NewAbstration: “Undead Formalism” by Robert Linsley

Two Coats of Paint: “Responses to Zombie Formalism

If the art jargon is throwing you for a loop, try MoMa’s Learning site: “Glossary of Art Terms

Pop music is formalism, and though we can forever marvel at the sublime within the old alienated images of Katy Perry’s youth, she’s growing up and getting philosophical, and the pop fads don’t last forever… As for Hegel, the truth of things is that they end but the digital and material traces can last forever.

That’s not Katy Perry, that’s just the image of what was maybe once Katy Perry’s body, but does that make it any less sublime? Would it have ever become sublime without the hidden music producers and networks of influence that her literal body had nothing to do with? Katy Perry is a composite cyborg of the machine, an ideological marketing function of a vast enterprise. Is she also a person? Yes precisely, but I think maybe that word doesn’t mean what we think it means…

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4 Comments
  1. http://martinmugar.blogspot.com/2013/12/zombie-artthe-lingering-life-of.html
    this was written in Dec 2013 and was acknowledged as the first use of the term by Raphael Rubinstein. http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazine/theory-and-matter/
    paragraph 18. Amy Wilson as well as Sharon Butler at first seemed to accept my role prior to the SVA forum but Robinson prevailed on them as he is a well known critic and gadabout in the NY art scene and I am just a humble blogger living in the NH woods. In the end I think my ideas about the kind of art that Zombie Formalism seems to embody are more important than who came first.I also used Abstraction with my Zombie and Formalism seems to be crucial here in what you are writing.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. This is not “too realistic for comfort” TL;DR | zombielaw
  2. What is zombie formalism? @sfaq @painterstable @sva_news @svatheatre @jacobgreber @amywilson @walter10065 | zombielaw
  3. flying underground #nomnom to you all | zombielaw

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