I’ve always suspected that the marriage between Kanye West and Kim Kardashian is actually one of his provocative performance art pieces, like his latest video, for the single Famous, which has created quite the pop-culture buzz. It was deemed risqué because West portrayed himself as Jesus with 12 wax versions of naked celebrities, including Taylor Swift, Donald Trump and Anna Wintour, in bed together – a concept based on US artist Vincent Desiderio’s Last Supper-esque painting Sleep (See Kanye West’s other music video highlight this year). However, this was not the most interesting aspect of the video for me, but rather West’s decision to work with video artist Julian Klincewicz, who only used a simple handheld VHS recorder to produce a rough yet realistic series of montages for the film. By sacrificing clarity, the images become more accessible to the wider public, shifting the emphasis away from visuals that require technique and into the hands of people who use Snapchat and live streaming sites in China (find out how social media imagery is affecting the fashion industry and more here). Afterall, film theorist and director Dziga Vertov did once claim, that the circulation of bad images creates ‘visual bonds’ that serve as communication between people rather than just distributing information and entertainment.
Klincewicz’s signature low resolution video was also used in a short film promoting the collaboration between Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy and skater brand Vans, as well as the new-season launch of US label Eckhaus Latta, known for its Arte Povera aesthetic. The spontaneity and street culture of skateboarding, the simple and inexpensive style of Arte Povera, and the narrative prose style of Klincewicz’s visual art, create a cohesive, resonating synergy that reflects the zeitgeist. Today, a fresh wave of designers want their labels to reflect ordinary people’s lives in all their imperfection, instead of the privileged, airbrushed lives of celebrities.
Cuban director Juan García Espinosa once said: ‘Perfect cinema – technically and artistically masterful – is almost always reactionary cinema. The imperfect cinema is one that strives to overcome the divisions of labour within a class-driven society. It merges art with life and science, blurring the distinction between consumer and producer, audience and author. It insists upon its own imperfection – popular but not consumerist, committed but not bureaucratic.’
For an example of how capitalism and consumerism-driven luxury make use of bad imagery, look no further than the Givenchy AW16 Haute Couture launch. In a series of videos, supermodels clad in splendid couture were shot against a backdrop of a stark storage room. Bad imagery helps make high-end apparel more approachable for the everyday consumer, but its price still keeps it far from reach, maintaining exclusivity and desire for the brand. It also encourages consumers to purchase the brand’s lower priced products, such as cosmetics and small leather goods.
Lower quality images are increasingly becoming the medium through which mainstream audiences create and consume. These images represent all the psychological contradictions of the modern world: opportunism, narcissism, desire for autonomy and creativity, inability to focus or resolve, readiness to overstep, but at the same time, readiness to be dominated. Bad images are snapshots of contemporary human delusions, fears, cravings and distress – all on display for anyone to see. As French media scientist Régis Debray put it: ‘Political hegemony comes down to the ability to mobilise the military, while hegemony of civil society is based on consenting soft power.’ The resurgence of low quality images, invigorated by an unprecedented amount of energy, is destined to shake up the status quo and challenge those who have a keen eye for perfection.