I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
The ceaseless chattering on YouTube can get pretty solipsistic. While there is the lipservice given to the democratic tendencies present in allowing everyone to publish themselves online for everyone else to see, “Everyone has a voice, now it can be seen and heard.” But, like cellphones on public transit have so richly illustrated, now everyone can be seen and heard. And, as any aspiring professional blog writer can attest, the act of sharing your voice on the internet can seem to only amplify your sense of alienation as your voice is met with a deluge of billions of other voices competing for attention.
It is in this sense that Kutiman’s THRU YOU is like a love letter, tossed into that yawning abyss called the Internet. Kutiel was not the first to appropriate other’s in this way, cinema itself began in exactly this way. Just a few years before Kutiman, DJ Spooky was touring with his ReBirth of a Nation, where he reappropriated DW Griffith’s celebration of the Klan, Girl Talk had just released the amazing Night Ripper, so what warrants THRU YOU as one of the top inventions of 2009?
Come across an unfamiliar word, check the surrounding sentences to get a sense of its meaning from the context in which the strange was found.
For example, consider apprehension. Without context the word is inert, simply a collection of letters, or it is like a battery: charged with meaning and prepared to burst forth. To apprehend the meaning of these words is to understand what is being said. The room at night, no lights on, fills the child with apprehension – afraid of what can’t be seen. The police apprehended the suspect after a foot chase.
Context, the situation in which one is found, determines two things simultaneously: what is appropriate and what can be appropriated.
Eating at the local ラメン屋 (ramen noodle shop), it is appropriate to slurp the noodles, in fact, it’s a politeness to the proprietors as it informs them that the food is delicious. Slurping soup at a white tie affair is inappropriate as it demonstrates a lack of control.
Kutiman’s THRU YOU demonstrates the second sense, what can be appropriated. THRU YOU is the result of Ophir Kutiel‘s researches into funk, on one hand, and a love letter. The first sense is obvious within seconds of his project – this is a supremely danceable song. Obviously it’s a marvel that Kutiel, like a sculptor, apprehended within the millions of YouTube posts these songs. The inspiration was there and then all that was left was to whittle-down the videos until these songs were present. But what does it mean that THRU YOU is like a love letter? First, some context.
To appreciate Kutiman’s work in an expanded way, consider the history of this appropriation strategy. Similar to Whitman’s Song of Myself, Charles Baudelaire was intrigued with this new city-living-thing that was beginning to take off. Baudelaire developed the term flâneur to describe someone, such as himself, that would wander without intention and be enthralled by the aesthetic experience of being in the City. But Baudelaire, always concerned with the appropriateness of other’s aesthetics, would vacillate between flânerie and being a dandy.
What Baudelaire‘s flâneur made difficult was understanding the point of doing art any more. As soon as the poet or artist materialized their craft (by writing down a line or two, or sketching-out a scene), this object was now a commodity: that poem could be copyrighted and sold, that painting could be auctioned. Commodifying an artwork seems to remove an aura of authenticity from the work of art. This alienation of the artist from the work of art has an obvious parallel in the City as it is, in a sense, the accumulation of all those recently migrated peasants from the countryside, now alienated from their sense of community. The City was the site of alienation, and against this the flâneur was staged, aloof, something like an artistic anthropologist wandering among these new, alienated urbanites, concerned only with providing a mirror to those miserable fobs, not actually participating in all that mess. But this is dandyism. Walter Benjamin would later appropriate Baudelaire’s term, flâneur, and develop it into something that many of us will recognize today.
In Benjamin’s Arcades Project the flâneur, like Whitman’s Song of Myself, composes itself in the shared experience of being in this space at this time. It is an affirmation. The flâneur faced with the repetition of the assembly line, doing the same thing over and over again, sees an opportunity. The flâneur, like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra in the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, overcomes nihilism by affirming their experiences in each of those moments, the flâneur‘s task is be ever-present to the experiences that are possible in the places in which they find themselves. Not a passive recipient or critic, but actively engaged in the maximization of these experiences. Immediately we can think of two strategies, then, for the flâneur: say “Yes!” to everything; or the cultivation of appreciation.
There is an obvious pull of the first strategy. Saying yes to everything means a lot of fun, à Baudrillard we are left with the emptiness of asking, “what are you doing after orgy?” The phrase illustrates well the emptiness of the sort productivity that comes with always saying yes: it is a dog chasing its tail. THRU YOU is not about blind agglomeration, but the process of appreciation.
To appreciate is not simply to enjoy and be thankful for a gift. We say that a family heirloom appreciates in value as it is passed from generation to generation. It is not necessarily simply the aging of the heirloom that accounts for this increased value, it is also the lived dimension e.g. an old cast iron skillet. The longer the skillet is used, the greater its value – it’s become seasoned, it has appropriated something of all the meals prepared within it over time and thus reappropriates this context into something more than the sum of its parts.
This is the real gift of a well-met friendship. Kutiel’s project is this.
Enjoy Kutiman here.