50 50 by Oliver Laric is a version of the 50 Cent track In Da Club composed of 50 other versions of the same track—in this case, YouTube user videos in which a user (or users) performs a homemade karaoke performance of a pop song in front of a home video camera or webcam.
Laric cuts these versions together in such a way as to create a single, seamless performance of the track which has less to say about In Da Club and more to say about the fact that the world of images in 2007—the year the video was initially uploaded–is composed of versions of In Da Club as much as it is composed of the original track.
When one searches for a pop track on YouTube, more often than not one will find versions of the track produced by rank-and-file YouTube users as opposed to an “original” version.
And if one does find an “original” version of the track, it will still be versioned anyway through the video’s visual component—say a slide show of thematically relevant imagery or a static screen of text and graphic elements advertising whatever it is that the user sells.
This ecology of versions is what 50 50 shows me—confronts me with when I view it.
It is thus a work of—one could say—YouTube art or new media art as it turns on the question “what is YouTube?” or “what is new media?”
But is it a work of contemporary art?
Well, does it turn on the question “what is contemporary art?”
I’m not sure.
It could be exhibited as contemporary art, but the problem is that that’s all that it could be as contemporary art—“exhibited”–one more interesting thing.
The work doesn’t address contemporary art’s own issues and concerns; it doesn’t look contemporary art in the eye.
And to 50 50’s credit, it really shouldn’t.
The work works because it frames itself in the paradigm of the Web and contributes to the world of that paradigm, describing the Web to itself.
In this way it is not unlike 50 Cent himself who frames his work in the paradigm of pop music and contributes to the world of that paradigm, describing the sound of pop to itself.
However, the sculptural component of Laric’s work Versions—a series of variations not on a YouTube function, but on an art-historical reference—does—one could say—speak to contemporary art by describing the history of fine art’s own entanglement in the condition of versioning to its contemporary self.
By creating a series of identical casts from the molding of an art historical work—an icon from St. Martin’s cathedral in Utrecht which was damaged in a fit of iconoclasm during the Protestant Reformation—and altering only the pigmentation of each casting, Laric mutates one’s understanding of iconoclasm.
The art icon is no longer physically defaced in order to save it—as in the Reformation—it is spiritually defaced in order to save it—as in the version.
In the press release for an exhibition of Versions at the Seventeen Gallery in London, an anonymous author writes in regard to Laric’s sculptures:
After the conceptual event of iconoclasm, after the physical inscription of that event as damage on the very surface of these icons, the formal hierarchy between the original and its modification is fundamentally undermined. Instead there is equipoise; no single truth, no original; no derivative; just versions…
This is a statement about the world of art and its objects, describing art to its contemporary self.
Thus, Oliver Laric’s project encompasses both works made for the world of new media as well as works made for the world of contemporary art.
So, which is he–a new media artist or a contemporary artist?
Well, perhaps if one was forced to locate the beating heart of his project one could say that Laric’s art occurs in neither new media nor in contemporary art, but rather on his website– in his leaps from world to world, performing the role of the artist, describing time to itself.
By: Jeff Baij