October 12, 2011

Post-Postmoderism: A New Order?

Today I woke up at 10:00am and, having already missed breakfast, thought "How can I best use my time today?" Wednesday's are class-free days, and in these early days of the musical, we don't have epic 10am-8pm rehearsals yet. I decided it would be a strapping time to visit the Victoria and Albert museum, for their temporary exhibition on Postmodernism, and the "death" thereof. Professor Tsao recommended it, since it tied in closely with what we were studying in Edinburgh. I'm glad he did, cause otherwise I probably wouldn't have spent the money on it; the word "Postmodernism" usually sends me walking the other direction out of confused surrender.

But now I think I understand it a bit better. And what's more, Postmodernism has EVERYTHING to do with the New Wave movement of the 1980s, which, if you've been paying me any amount of attention since 2004, you should know I love.

Since I didn't bring my camera, and probably couldn't have taken pictures anyway, I'll have to recount from my notes and what I can find online...

It started out with a lot of pictures of Las Vegas in the 60s and the emerging bricolage movement in architecture and fine art. There was this really superb tea pot that looked like a bunch of 3D shapes from a kindergarten statue all stuck together. Here's an example of a "Memphis" design one, to give you the idea:


In this area there was also a perfectly delightful French animation short called Flagrant Delit (1978). It had this whole bit with Lady Liberty (the Statue of Liberty, brought to life) renting a hotel room, crying in it for a while, then setting her skirt on fire with her own torch. The best part of it, though, was the kinky Skyscrapers.


For reals. These two got into positions that I hadn't realized were possible to emulate with animated skyscrapers. It got even better when they zoomed in on the condom (which you can sort of see in this picture, hanging off the bed) which was a "Goodyear" blimp. The whole thing made me giggle like a 10-year-old.

After that you passed under this structure of floor-to-ceiling columns, as big as trees. They were all made of plaster or something, but they were rendered to look like an ivy-covered pillar, a wooden tree-like pole, a wood carved post, a Corinthian column, and a severed, rounded block of marble. The last one (easily the most ominous) was suspended from the ceiling, and the missing section formed the opening you could walk through. As such, you felt like at any minute that whole thing could drop and flatten you into a vulture pancake, even though it wasn't real marble. I really wanted to turn to someone and say "Now that's POST Modernism!" but no one was around to enjoy my fabulous wit.

Next came the New Wave section, introduced by a searing neon sign and chain-link fences that had been arranged into these Go-go like pods to house their artifacts. There were many treasures to be found here... Hannah, you would have loved the suit of David Byrne from "Stop Making Sense." Garrett and Cyler, there were at least two clips from Blade Runner as well as some of the original costumes (How come neither of you told me there was a Rachael in that movie?? I might've actually watched it...) Jay, I think you would've gone crazy for some of the art, including one of Andy Warhol's silk screens and this guy, who's for some reason is so compelling in his stance:

"Untitled (Joe)," 1981

I got super excited when I came across the mini model for this building:

A picture I actually took.

which I saw when I visited Portland last spring. The only reason I recognized it (before the caption, of course) was cause of that awesome guy with the trident out front. I sort of thought, "Well how 'bout that -- there's a little bit of Oregon in a London museum!" and then I felt proud, even though I'm not from Portland, and again I sort of hopelessly looked around to find people to tell "I've been there!!" I really need to start taking friends on my museum visits...

My personal favorites were this:

Shopping cart chair
this:


(I can't believe I didn't know about this dude earlier. It would've been worth the £8 for discovering him alone.)

this:

Billboard appropriated by Jenny Holzer

and this:
Holographic Image of Boy George

That hologram scared the *#@% out of me when I came around the corner, cause of course you don't see it until you pass by. It looked just like a person, sitting there watching you. Only when I realized it was Boy George and not a clown did I accept it as pretty cool.

At the end they asked the question whether or not Postmodernism has actually reached its quietus, or if we're still perpetuating much of the image-obsessed, surface level yuppiedom that reached its peak in the mid-80s before giving way to self-critique. Professor Tsao shared an article from an American newspaper about the exhibition, pondering if our generation's reaction to Postmodernism will yield an "Age of Authenticy," wherein we'll find substance in craftsmanship, not capital; naturalness, not novelty. I'd like to believe it, but I think everyone likes to think of himself as being a step wiser than the generation before him, and if Postmodernism, as the exhibition claims, ended in 1990 then where are we to place the mass consumerism of our own childhood -- particularly in terms of technology? I certainly wouldn't call Britney Spears, Bratz dolls, or Beverly Hills 90210 any more authentic or natural than Devo or Kaboodle boxes -- no more than I would place Twilight, Facebook, or skinny jeans above any 90s fads.

Come to think of it, my Kaboodle box was pretty bomb.

So, as is the case at any point in history, we've reached the "Where are we now?" age. It was weird being in a museum with furniture that I can recall having a place even in my own childhood (I'm starting to feel really old!!!), and thinking that the 1980s began over 30 years ago now. I don't know at what point it's safe to take a step back and start defining the times, but I was pleased with the exhibit, and loved that it ended with a classic line (and music video) from one of my favorite New Order songs:

"Why can't we be ourselves like we were yesterday?"

Why can't we indeed.



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