A Survey of GOSSIP POP

Gossip Pop is an ongoing art project that melds gossip with pop music via live performance and video. The term also functions as a bland, generic label or pseudo-brand for Dodd’s pseudo band. The D-I-Y, tongue-in-cheek nature of Gossip Pop deftly exposes the narrative constructs and disturbing ideologies lurking beneath the spectacle and melodrama of tabloid celebrity cults and reality TV.

Dodd uses the medium of pop music/video to create works that resonate like the bedroom posturing of an emotionally dysfunctional, media-saturated teenage fan, or the shonky image on a pirated DVD that could never quite pass as the real thing. The deadpan vocal delivery, robotic movements and simple manufactured beats (generated by GameBoy and palm pilot) underscore the poignancy and emptiness of our cultures addiction to superficial entertainment, constant novelty and instant gratification.

The “disproportionate pervasiveness of celebrity,” to use Graeme Turner’s phrase,[1] has, in part, spawned the Gossip Pop project, a performative fiction whose product or commodity—that is songs, music videos, and live performances—are appropriated from the imagery and texts of the mass media celebrity culture, with a special focus on gossipy tabloid magazines such as New Weekly (NW). The Gossip Pop project directly incorporates the persona of artist/producer into the product (as lead singer, band member and/or fan). These art works inevitably are reliant for their meaningfulness and impact on an assumed shared tabloid vernacular amongst the audience or viewer—a general familiarity with the faces and names and stories of the celebrities referenced in the artworks. But more importantly, they rely upon a sophisticated awareness of the repeated constructions and conventions of media pop culture that convey celebrity stories and produce the celebrities themselves, feeding and shaping collective epistemophilic and scopophilic desires[2] and the machinery of the drive for “fifteen minutes” of fame.[3]

The cultural divide between art, considered as high or elite, and celebrity, considered low or mass, is obvious. Nevertheless, within the capitalist schema, both art and gossip could be considered as analogous in their kind of “surplus value.” The term “surplus value” is necessarily deployed loosely in the context of contemporary commodified culture where notions of “non-surplus” value are so hard to define, and where questions of value are relative and ideological—not required for life or survival in its essential form, but none-the-less of value. The sense in which surplus value is ascribed to gossip and celebrity culture versus art by society and culture differs and this issue, amongst others, is a key distinction that the Gossip Pop work seeks to address and comprehend.[4]

Gossip Pop, by its appropriation of a pop brand or musical “band” format coheres with significant and ongoing strands of practice and preoccupation within contemporary art. Numerous visual artists are referencing pop or rock music in their works in a variety of ways: conceptually, materially and methodologically, and popular associations between the identity of the artist and the identity of the rock star are commonplace. The multifarious interpretive potentials pop music offers for the artwork, artist and art audience are rich and significant. Not the least of these potentials is the context of easy familiarity by which pop music is integrated into everyday life, indicating a longing on the part of art for some of pop’s effortless communicative immediacy, effectiveness and popularity.

The performative manner in which the Gossip Pop work is delivered is borrowed from pop music familiarized and internalized. The performance is a performance of a generic pop star. The poses are absorbed from my personal cultural history and experiences—an immersion in the pop music culture of TV shows like Countdown and hours spent listening to music. The youthful dream of talent or fame, “starring” in the bedroom and adored by countless fans imagined through the mirror as manifested in Gossip Pop is the private made public yet again—a public embodiment of a (self-indulgent) fantasy. But is it only the implied desires for fame and the precocious amateur performance of amateur material that are exposed—a questioning of what comprises the distinction between the professional and the amateur or what constitutes quality? Does pop music primarily allow artists “the possibility of experimenting with dilettantism at the highest level and showing up virtuosity as trivial?”[5] These aspects of inquiry are indeed present in the Gossip Pop work, but the bigger picture is considerably more complex.

For the most part, Gossip Pop is produced according to the following basic methods:

Step 1. Take the text from a celebrity gossip magazine article and change it into a song or lyric format.

Step 2. Create backing music by adding beats and melody.

Step 3. Practise song with vocals. Record one version with vocals, one without.

Step 4. Create a video backing. This could use images from the same magazine article or from several magazine articles of the pertinent celebrity subject.

Step 5. Then video a performance singing the song and superimpose it in front of the backing like a music video. Add backing sound with vocals.

Or perform the song live to backing song in front of a projection of the backing video. Step 6. Incorporate either of the above two completed results into an art exhibition. At this stage add objects such as posters, a stage, a range of screens, monitors or projections, silver tape etc.

Step 7. Exhibit/Perform

 

Sue Dodd, Melbourne, March 2013

 

[1] Graeme Turner, Understanding Celebrity, (London/New Delhi:Sage/Thousand Oaks, 2004): 3.

[2] Patricia Mellencamp, High Anxiety: Catastrophe, Scandal, Age and Comedy, (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992): 156.

[3] Already apocryphal, Andy is amused by how misquoted this iconic phrase is on Thursday July 1978, approximately 11 years after it was first attributed to him. See Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries, Pat Hackett, ed, (New York: Warner Books, 1989): 156.

[4] See approach to surplus value in art by Diedrich Diederichson who uses the term Mehrwert. Amongst the more straightforward reasons he ascribes to art’s “exceptional status” as surplus are firstly its autonomy, secondly because it is an “ally of desire” and finally that it is, unlike the rest of life, “full of meaning.” In Diedrich Diederichsen, On Surplus Value in Art: Reflections 01, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, (Berlin/New York: Sternberg Press, 2008): 23.

[5] Peter Pakesch, “Introduction,” Rock-Paper-Scissors, 7.