Monday, April 30, 2012

Haley Wollen’s Video For Blood Orange’s Champagne Coast

‘What’s the newest of the new’ is the Ouroboros of our culture.  The current standing of this state is still vague but if you want a peek into what is the secret-cool-club watch Haley Wollen’s new video, “Champagne Coast” for Blood Orange. There are more art references and cultural cues than is to be expected and it makes this music video oddly tantalizing and mildly addictive to watch. Wollen’s creation of an interior space, stylized females and the attitudes they possess, is a rabbit hole into a visual subaltern.  In almost five minutes, this video somehow manages to capture a “now” that makes words like “contemporary” seem like intellectual downers. 

I don’t know much about Blood Orange, aka, Devonté Hynes who is a 26 year old musician, born in the US and brought up in the UK, this is my first introduction to his music.  I don’t know much about music in general, I seem to have a persisting stroke spot in that lobe of my brain, but I’m still curious and it affects me just as bodily as the next gal, but needless to say, my way of getting to the video was circuitous.  I saw it posted online and I was like “blah” since there was a prejudice that it would be just another flat, animated, gif vid but it kept reappearing on my online travelings so I clicked and watched and was surprised.

The song on first listen was not my cup of tea; there is an earnest sloppiness that seemed a bit disingenuous and slightly dull.  On second listen though that earnest sloppiness had levels of charm and the whole Prince meets Robyn meets Robitussin vibe felt sort of comforting.  The song is basically Hynes singing “come to my bedroom” over and over again.  It’s a slowish song but one that has enough swag to dance to.  As Hyne’s song is playing you enter into a virtual animated space that culls from Second Life and other video games like Duke Nukem.  They are also composited with images from interior design magazines, teenage girls’ bedrooms and various cultural cut and pastes of art and kitsch. 

The movement of the “camera” is like that of a video game.  There is a pointed center in which the viewer/player travels and there is panning and directional zooming as you travel in this virtual space.  There are distinct rooms and the focus within each room is a dancing girl.  They are in their early to late twenties and are fantastically ambiguous in various ways.  There is an odd non-whiteness to all of the girls, even though some are white.  There is a confluence of styles and trends of the 90s and early 2000s and a mix of Chicana, suburbs and raves (minus the drugs and alcohol.)  The girls are girls but there isn’t a creepy pubescence angle or hyper sexualization.  They are literally dancing by themselves in this virtual world and they look neither silly nor ironic.  The clothes and styling of the girls is what throws things off the most, but in a good way.  There is a mixture of couture pieces with running shoes and a general Euro vibe.  There is a weird sophistication and aloofness to the attire which also has a healthy dose of raunchiness.

The package of the video is what makes it much more interesting than other exercises in these new aesthetics.  The stylizing of the entire piece is something that can only come from being super pro in art direction, which Wollen obviously is.  The interiors are a series of connected rooms that seem to go in a circle.  It looks like an apartment in a high rise in New York circa 1989.  The look of the spaces have a general 90s vibe, everything about the video has a tinge of the 90s.  There are armoires, lounge chairs, entertainment centers, and yes a bedroom.  Sprinkled throughout on the wall are images of art and posters like Manga comics, Covergirl ads, modern and other periods of art, all becoming signifiers but just as quickly flattening out in their contexts.  The spaces are a perfect collage of the real and virtual, there is flatness to these spaces and this flatness has been heightened to create visual affect and mood.  What I loved most was when moving from one room to another, while turning a corner, something that was three dimensional in frontal view became a hovering sliver on its’ side.  

The way in which Wollen composed this interior space made me recall Richard Hamilton’s 1956 collage, Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?, and also Martha Rosler’s series Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful 1967-72.  Hamilton’s collage is referred to as the first piece of “Pop” art and it ushered in a slew of artists that used commercial consumer goods in their art making practice.  Rosler’s series took the mediation of the Vietnam War and contrasted this to the domesticated sterility and place of womanhood in suburban life.  The time and relativeness of what all of these artists were/are doing and the way in which they were/are re-simulating alternatives is in specific contexts to the time in which they were made and although there are huge differences, the shared affects are interesting nonetheless. 

Wollen has created a private dance party video shared world that may not be overt in its politics but there is still a trigger of social reflexivity in its compilation.  This video, in its own way, reflects a part of the current condition, which has a distanced self-awareness or rather a looseness of specifications in meaning.  There isn’t a “point” being made in this video, it is a fun, cool, and weird alterna-space that has been created digitally but is also being lived by young people today.  Everything is background; everything can be snipped or inserted to create a place that is not a stage for spectacle but a place to chill out with friends and dance.  The signifiers do not signify as much in this world, not in the way that we have been used to at least.  This is what makes the mini world that Wollen has created so interesting and one that we want to exist in.