Thursday, 22 March 2018

Digital Art/Collage: The Tribe / Art Gangs

Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night (read it here) was Nik Cohn's now famous article which supposedly inspired the film, Saturday Night Fever. By the time it was written (1976) I felt less inclined to be a member of any tribe. I don't know that youth culture tribes exist anymore, not being in touch with what's happening on the street. The once clearly discernible tribal dress codes paraded around in the streets seems absent, but then, would I recognise them if I saw them?

Art gangs have their appeal. Alan W. Moore wrote a book about them. Calling various collectives 'gangs' romanticises them, of course, conjuring images, as it does, of street-wise toughs touting brushes instead of flick-knives. A few did manage to merge the two idea with street actions and plenty of attitude, most famously the Black Mask/Up Against The Wall Motherfucker 'gang'.

The idea of an art 'tribe' still has an appeal, if only a romanticised, mythical one, as opposed to an actual possibility. Today we have collectives. From my experience, they are far from the bold new visionary model, but instead, just a group of disparate art-makers united only by the financial clout that collective resources brings.

It should be no surprise to anyone that the art gang today, despite, one would think, having enough causes to fight (gallery monopoly, the market, contemporary ennui etc) does not exist in the classic, romantic form. Politically splintered as most people are the focused vision in that sense is unachievable even if it were desirable, which it isn't as far as I'm concerned. I want no part in an art view shackled to old Left/Right dogma.

The only tribe I would join would be one united by an aesthetic criterion. The only problem being recognising and defining it, even in loose terms. Perhaps the unifying factor would be common ideas about what's bad art, or plain wrong, rather than specific styles.

I called these pieces The Tribe whilst thinking about politics this week. If the very nature of a tribe creates a pack mentality which can turn against others when provoked to demand that their enemy succumbs to their view, tribes in politics seem to be everywhere. Art, in theory, is free from such behaviour, although history proves that art 'gangs' were quite capable of savaging others, even themselves, with the help of aligned critics. In these relatively peaceful times in the art world, I wouldn't mind seeing some of the old fight. A passionate debate in a bar between the Classical Skills-based Mob and the Anarcho-Digital gang verging on a punch-up would be something. 

Meanwhile, we'll continue making images. It's better than trying to make others think the way we do by new would-be authoritarian means. 

)Pop art, Dada, neo-Dada, surrealism, digital art, collage, digital collage, art print, London art, Situationist, Paolozzi, richard Hamilton) 

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