Artwork: “By Any Memes Necessary at Junior High, Los Angeles.
“We are all connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain,” celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking told USA Today, observing the way in which the medium transforms the way in which we communicate. One of the most popular forms of discourse to rise in recent years in the meme, the vastly replicable bit of content that is copied and spreads with the speed of a virus. The cultural analogue to a gene, it self-reproduces, mutates, and survives due to its ability to respond to and adapt to the immediate needs of the time.
The meme is the perfect expression of the zeitgeist, serving the vast needs of the digitally engaged populace. A successful meme draws from the deep well of human experience, often evoking a visceral emotional response through the visual realm and then adding a zing with words to recontextualize the original image to the present moment.
While the meme has become one of the most potent and culturally relevant modes of communication, it has not yet achieved the recognition it deserves. Now, a new exhibition aims to show that it is more than pop culture: the meme is a form of art. Curated by @ka5sh, By Any Memes Necessary, currently on view at Junior High Gallery, Los Angeles, presents the work of Instagram meme-makers @tequilafunrise, @scariest_bug_ever, @versace_tamagotchi, @sensualmemes, @bunnymemes, and @gothshakira.
By Any Memes Necessary recognizes the dictum Andy Warhol espoused: “Art is anything you can get away with.” What defines something as art is someone willing to lay claim, to take a risk and place it inside a new frame. By taking the memes out of the nebulous realm of cyber space and transforming them into physical objects that hang on the wall, ka5sh is making a statement similar to Marcel Duchamp did with “Fountain” a century ago. Both artists ask you to change the way you look.
By Any Memes Necessary takes things a step further by laying claim to authorship, by affixing the meme to the mind that originated it. In a realm where forgery and theft is more common than not, the meme both gains and loses value through its lack of ownership. By moving the meme into the physical world, the artists are changing the way we consider them as a whole.
Truth by told, Duchamp and his Dadist cohorts would have loved memes for the ways they use the archetypes and ideology of the status quo to subvert the bourgeois ideals it worships. Just as the Dadaists uses collage, sound poetry, and cu-up writing, the meme makers of today will draw material from all sources and juxtapose them in new and revealing ways. What’s more, both are quite comfortable with using the readymade to change the way we look, speak, think, and communicate.
Because, ultimately, the conversation has no beginning and no end; we just look for new ways to speak to and of the human condition in the present tense. And for this reason, the meme now finds its way into the realm of art, evoking the words of Duchamp who mused, “All this twaddle, the existence of God, atheism, determinism, liberation, societies, death, etc., are pieces of a chess game called language, and they are amusing only if one does not preoccupy oneself with ‘winning or losing this game of chess.”
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.