Viral artidote

“But in an age when technology seems increasingly to have a mind of its own-even if that “mind” is actually the product of global economic forces-art offers an important check on technology’s relentless proliferation.” Blais, J. and Ippolito, J., 2006. At the edge of art:, About.

Blais and Ippolito assert that art is important for the “health” of society, raising questions in both the conscious and subconscious of its members on societal/cultural movements and drivers. They use the metaphor of art as an antibody rising from the body (society) in the latter’s defence against the unchecked nature of technological and consumerist culture (the virus). Although the metaphor of an antibody and a body is an interesting one and very apt since an antibody is something generated by and thus part of the body that is part of the body’s defence against foreign (non-self) or mutated (altered-self) items that can cause the body harm, a virus is an external and separate entity that invades the body, infecting it and causing harm. It might therefore be more appropriate to alter the metaphor as applied to consumerist culture and technological progress, especially as these are also products of society. These latter components of society might be better described as a cancer (self-originating but altered-self, whose growth and further mutation is no longer within the body’s control). Cancers are again something which antibodies attack, change and ultimately get rid of in most cases.

Foot and Mouth virus


This metaphorical description of art’s role in society is very nicely represented by the performative work of Chris Mitchell in http://williamstopha.wordpress.comHowever, an alternative metaphor for Chris Mitchell’s work, which is equally valid in some ways, is that such artforms that involve Internet interactions of uncontrolled file sharing and audience participation, might be better likened to the spread and mutation of a viral infection, albeit one which can be beneficial to society.

Mitchell further asserts however, that the commercially successful forms of creative expression suppress anything that does not have a market value.

“My aim is to produce a collective enquiry into the social function of performance art as a resistance to the process of commodification and the invalidation of culture that is not commercially viable. Formulaic, mainstream reproduction hegemonically disempowers alternative ideology and grass roots community and this enquiry will investigate ways in which this hegemony may be challenged through performance and the free dissemination of digital community art.”, Project proposal, Chris Mitchell

Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that the modern consumerist culture combined with unrestrained technological advances have had deleterious effects on community, society, and indeed the earth’s environment, the assertion that they disempower alternative thinking and art is, in my opinion, not entirely true. It is the very rebellious nature of alternative thinkers that empowers and even imbues them with a romantic aura. The fact that society of any era has always had freethinkers, who think alternatively in a creative or political sense or both, is what makes human society so varied and interesting. We are not all sheep that will blindly follow societal dictates, even in the most harshly intransigent societal structures. There is a certain segment of society (pretty much any society throughout history and culture) who is almost pre-programmed to question and rebel in some way.

Indeed, to apply another biological metaphor from genetics and Darwinian theory: Variation and the interlinked ability of an organism to adapt, is intrinsically important to that organism’s success in terms of its evolution and its very survival as a species. The societal “body” therefore has an absolute need for variation within itself (alternative thinking). Art plays an essential role in initiating questioning and thus facilitating alternative thinking.

“Like antibodies, artists must always be on the lookout for an experience to ‘catch their eye.’ To achieve such resonance, one artwork might beguile; another might perplex; a third might astonish. It is impossible to write out a strict prescription for how art works, which is why it is so important for an artist to be receptive to when it does. Art often works by resonating with an unconscious meme, and the unconscious is by definition something that is impossible to articulate in advance.” Blais, J. and Ippolito, J., 2006. At the edge of art: <;, Arrest.


About clairezammitart

Multi-media fine artist Based in London
This entry was posted in performative and participatory, tp1011 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Viral artidote

  1. Jon Ippolito says:


    Thanks for this rumination on the viral status of art and technological culture. I take your point that the metaphor of cancer better reflects the way technological / consumerist memes originate inside rather than outside the social body. I guess Joline Blais and I chose the viral metaphor because we didn’t know of any naturally occurring antibodies that target cancer. (There’s plenty of research now into bio-engineering such antibodies, but that’s a different story.)

    That said, while memes themselves are typically the products of human thought or effort, their rapid proliferation seems to me increasingly the product of non-human agents such as bots and network routers (think of spam or computer viruses). That’s why I might still consider an infection of technological memes to be external to the society–in a similar way to the RNA of viruses being alien to the human genome.

    In the end, though, it’s just a metaphor to get people thinking, and I like the direction you went with it 🙂


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