From the Underground
Collection: Courtesy of the Artist and Seventeen Gallery.
David Blandy’s video From the Underground is a formative work by the artist exploring notions of self and otherness, particularly with regards to our relationship with popular culture. How much of our selfhood defined by the cultural specificity of mass media, and are there limits imposed on the formation our identities? In the video, the artist descends into the London underground and steps onto a tube train, the whole while animatedly lip-synching the lyrics to the rap song Bring Da Ruckus by the Wu-Tang Clan in all their profanity. Blandy’s lank middle-class white British appearance sits awkwardly with the stereotype of a fan of underground hip-hop. Yet, he uses his genuine fandom to foreground his relationship to the cultures of other communities and contexts, particularly the realities of race. Blandy acknowledges his debt to the hip-hop music that has formed him, that inspired him to use appropriation as a way to circumvent the modernist myth of the originality of the avant-garde, whilst aware of his alienation from the form, due to his class, privilege, location and ethnicity. The sincerity and intensity of the performance is evident, but it is not quite enough to transcend these boundaries, and from the final minute of the work it is evident the artist is aware of pathos of this failure. Made in 2001, From the Underground is an artwork that might be framed today within debates on ‘cultural appropriation’, which considers the ethics of adopting elements of one culture by another, and whether, due to levels of social dominance that might enable this, be inappropriate. Within contemporary art specifically, the debate revolves around whether there should be limits to artistic freedom depending on the levels of privilege of the author, or whether appropriation and inspiration should be a natural part of the artistic process. This idea is further complicated in From the Underground if we note that the Wu-Tang Clan, as their name suggests, adopt samples and aesthetics of classic Kung Fu movies from Asia in their music.
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