Monday, November 21, 2011

Is this fan art?

Despite working in a publishing house that exposes me to a lot of it, I'm not well-versed in independent art. The abstract, dramatic, sometimes erotic performance art that might be best explained to some of you as kin to the 'cow jumping over the moon' segment in Rent is not a field I feel capable of commenting on. However, while working on a book of performance art I came across something that looked very familiar...

This is "An Evening with Jabba The Hutt", a performance piece by Lali "Spartacus" Chatwynd. It was put on in a gallery in England in 2008. Its content is not entirely clear to me, but the idea was that the girls danced and Jabba told his side of the story.

This is an example of niche art, as well as the kind of performance that the artist may design specifically to be performed only once, in front of a live audience whose very liveness is essential. It's supposed to be underground, subversive, unique. Frieze Magazine calls Chatwynd's style a mix between "a disco at a science-fiction convention, and a primary school nativity play". "An Evening with Jabba" is a "re-imagining" of a Star Wars scene, and is " ritualistic" and "socially dynamic". Pretty lofty terms, huh? But come on, it's Star Wars characters, that's not nearly creative enough to be considered high art, right?...well, BBC News covered the piece when it was nominated for an art prize that "shows originality to be entirely possible".

No word on whether the Lucas empire of companies ever knew about this: it was probably over too fast and circulated in to narrow a circle for them to issue a cease and desist. As far as I am aware, it was also free.

But oh to be able to go back to 2008. I feel a bit late saying it now, but all this makes me think of the ways in which fan fiction could be considered as much an art form as anything else. Performers talk about lofty concepts of space and connectivity and myth to justify installations featuring things like a half-eaten block of chocolate or the artist's own hair.  Maybe I just don't understand. But it also make me feel like fan fiction could be justified in the same way if enough of us just tried. People like Henry Jenkins, Lev Grossman, and the Journal of Transformative Works team are working on that justification, on giving fanficcers an academic language to speak.

Sometimes modern art --"pieces" like a single red dot in the middle of a white canvas, or a show composed entirely of someone waxing a violin -- are called silly, indulgent, or pornographic by the people who are outside their niche audience. That sounds a lot like the usual reaction to fan fic too. Fan art is more accepted--but that's a post for another day. For now, let's talk about the evening with Jabba. Is it original? Does that even matter? Is it fan art?

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