The medium is the message
The phrase "The medium is the message" (1964) by Marshall McLuhan highlights both the interest generated by the mass media and how these condition our perception of reality and the information that reaches us.
Noam Chomsky, Richard Hamilton, Anthony McCall and Dan Graham were some of the 250 people who, in 1977, received a letter from a Conceptual artist doing research at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies in Massachusetts. His name was Muntadas and he had sent them a photograph taken from The Best of Life, a book reproducing a selection of the best images from Life magazine, asking if they could return it with their comments. The result was a publication with the images and comments, as well as the exhibition On Subjectivity, which was presented shortly after at MIT.
Now part of the MACBA Collection, more than 40 years later this seminal work continues to revoke the myth of the objectivity of the image. Rather than sending a different photograph to each person, Muntadas sent the same image to five different people. Reproduced without saying who wrote what, the variation among the comments leads us to question the role of subjectivity in the reading and construction of images.
For/against, made in 1983 for a film festival organised by New York's Collective for Living Cinema, is composed of a highly-condensed collage of fragments taken from commercial television, which follow one another in quick succession and reflect images of violence as a denouncement of war, destruction, fear, hunger, injustice and the manipulation of political and advertising messages in today's world.
This work questions the basic elements society uses to maintain public order. Eulàlia reveals all the forms of control implicit not only in the media, the family and schools, but also in the institutions that can legitimately exert that control, such as the police, the army and certain aspects of technology, through explicit violent means.
Brehmer was one of the most political artists of the group and from 1964 onwards his leftist political convictions found a direct expression when he discarded his name, Klaus Peter, and went under his initials KP, alluding to the acronym of the Communist Party (Kommunistische Partei), which had been officially banned in 1956. During this time his works criticised consumer society and its structures of power, legitimised by the mass media, whose mechanisms of manipulation Brehmer tried to reveal. Brehmer’s preference for photomechanical impression and processes constituted a step towards the democratisation of art, with its coarser, less polished effects more closely simulating the media sources they appropriated.
Rosler presented an acerbic and lucid interpretation of the struggle of a surrogate mother to keep her child. In the purest theatrical style of American comedy, Rosler assumes the various roles of the participants in this legal fight, including the baby and a spermatozoon. The main argument in this case, although not explicitly stated, was that Mr Stern ‘owned’ half the baby and had contractually acquired the other half. Rosler’s analysis demonstrates how political and legal systems are played out on the physical bodies of women.
At the end of the sixties, Joan Rabascall adopted the technique of photomontage and the use of photographic emulsion on canvas, working with press clippings, magazines and advertising posters. Atomic Kiss is representative of the artist’s interest in subverting the meaning of an image by associating it with others that are highly socially loaded. In this case, he places a sensual female mouth with red lips over an atomic explosion. The composition condenses the climate of social upheaval of that era while critiquing American society, which used glamorous images and unbridled consumerism to mask the destructive force of its military might.
María Ruido talks about the political power of images and the subversive potential of cinematic strategies such as off-screen, voice over, and editing, which help us understand and imagine the world in new ways. She also reflects on the always contradictory relations between the critical and experimental power of culture on one hand, and its institutionalisation on the other
“As part of our time, culture and society, art shares and is affected by rules, structures and tics like other economic, political and social systems in our environment.” So began the interviews carried out by Antoni Muntadas (Barcelona, 1942) from 1983 to 1991 with one hundred and sixty agents from the international art scene, which are compiled in the installation Between the Frames: The Forum (Barcelona)1983-1993, (2011).