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Mash-Ups Mix the Old and the Now to Make Art for Today

Mash-Up As Metaphor for Something - Jtneill


People no longer expect to believe what they see and hear. With scant regard for truth, fusion technology dupes everyone in the name of fascinating art.

Mash-ups of films, books and songs have been around for awhile. The same principles create a new form of visual art, too. Photographs that span time zones put people together who were not alive contemporaneously.

Mash-up basically means creating a new art form from fusing existing works such as photos, video clips, graphics, text or animation. Computer manipulation technology makes it relatively easy, but there are some inventive, innovative and unusual new art works being born.

Visual Image As Propaganda

Jane Tallim, Media Awareness Network’s education specialist cited the city of Ottawa’s promotional brochure in 2001, which used a digitally-enhanced photo, a blended creation to convey a more symmetrical image to attract tourists. Controversy ensued over the fact that the image was presented as a real view.

Audiences are used to seeing enhancements on film (like Jurassic park, Forrest Gump, Star Wars), and in TV ads routinely manipulating images to sell products. People may no longer expect the visual truth. After 9/11, a photo circulated of a tourist captured seconds before the attack, allegedly from a camera found in the rubble.

In fact, it was from a website that specialised in placing an imaginary tourist in historical, geographical and even humorous places. Airbrushing and doctoring of photos has been widely used for political purposes from Stalin down to small-town campaigns in democracies.

Tallim demonstrated how the techniques are also employed in satire. President George W Bush and Osama Bin Laden have been the butt of many internet-circulated parodies, on magazine covers, opening hospitals, helping children over the street, landing on the moon. In digital worlds, nothing is impossible and everything is probable.

New Films and Songs From Old

A monster mash-up of the 270 films released in 2010 was just one of many sites making an art form of satire, new perceptions and very clever data-twisting. Video mash-ups are multiple sources of visual material, frequently producing movie trailer parodies, which are very popular. They are transformative, so avoid too many problems with copyright laws.

According to MTV Movie Blog, Inception (2010) was particularly popular in movie trailer mash-ups, including clever mergers with Toy Story 3, The Simpsons and The Dark Knight. Sci-fi is often a target for mash-up, as it is itself a kind of hybrid-mash. There is comical sci-fi, dramatic sci-fi or special-effects sci-fi.

As Huffington Post put it in April 2010: ‘Movie trailer mash-ups are awesome – not just because they mess with the structured format of trailers, but because they do so in many ways. Sometimes a light-hearted kid’s movie becomes a drug-infested thriller (Toy Story 2 never looked so hardcore)’.

Reservoir Dogs meets Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Brokeback to the Future, Pocahontas vs Avatar, Big Lebowski vs MacGyver, Wizard of Oz meets You Got Served, Up meets Gran Torino, Snatch Wars vs Star Wars, Apocalypse Pooh, and A Hard Day’s Night of the Living Dead, are some examples from top mash trailers that Huffington identified.

Many songs have been hijacked into unlikely mixes, and some resulting creations have become hits, such as: Bruised Water (from Natasha Bedingfield’s I Bruise Easily and Chicane’s Saltwater); Don’t Wanna Lose This Groove (from Dannii Minogue’s Don’t Wanna Lose This Feeling and Madonna’s Into the Groove); Freak Like Me (from Sugababes’ Freak Like Me and Gary Numan’s Are Friends Electric?, and The Billie-Jean of the End (from Billie Jean by Michael Jackson and Nine Inch Nail’s Beginning of the End).

The Blitz Spirit Today

People stand on a busy street that has survived for decades and wonder what it was like, 20, 40, 100 years ago. Old photos or newsreels can show it. But to merge those old views into a modern visual capture can be an unsettling experience. Nick Stone released 45 mash-ups of what he called Blitz Ghost pictures to the internet.

In the heart of Britain’s East Anglia, Norwich was bombed by the German Luftwaffe between 1940 and 1943. Over 300 were killed; over a thousand injured. There was widespread damage to property. Much of it was recorded by Eastern Daily Press and Evening News photographers, including George Swain, Cliff Temple and George Plunkett.

Graphic designer Stone took their wartime photos, found the locations and retook the scenes. He then merged, blended or mashed/meshed the then and the now. He was inspired by Sergey Larenkov, a Russian photographer who first merged contemporary pictures of cities like Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Leningrad with wartime shots.

Their appeal today lies in the concept of different eras sharing the same spaces, yet unable to touch. Time stands still, and the observer realises how much has changed, yet how little. It is a stunning artistic concept made commonplace by technology.

What is Reality?

The question it raises is: how reliable is historical accuracy? Will future historians look at now and say: ‘there was a truth, a veracity, a standard of observation?’ Clearly not. If a photograph of, say, every Prime Minister since 1918 appeared, in which they were all together in Downing Street at once, people would know that was a physical, historical and factual impossibility. Mash-ups make those kinds of bold statements.

In his book, Pictures on a Page: Photojournalism and Picture Editing (1978), British journalist Harold Evans said: ‘The camera cannot lie, but it can be an accessory to untruth’. He argued every photo is but a small, flat series of tones, its depth an illusion, its animation symbolic. He said the photo has a mysterious richness transcending limitations, so ‘our impressions of major and complex events may be permanently fashioned by a single news photo’.

The editing/cropping, enlargement or manipulation of photographic images has long been accepted in news coverage. Now it’s art in its own right; art accessible to virtually anyone with a computer. Sites like MashUpPhotos contain links to dozens of places where people can fabricate their own, for fun and/or profit. In literature fact met fiction to become faction; now it’s the case in visual art, too.

First published on Suite 101, 8 March 2011.

Photo: Mash-Up As Metaphor for Something – Jtneill

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2 Responses to "Mash-Ups Mix the Old and the Now to Make Art for Today"

  1. […] song in 24 hours via live webstream. Like improvisers on stage reacting to audience suggestion, or mashing all sorts of artists like choirs, techno and orchestras to make albums, concerts and videos, people […]

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