Picture for a moment the internet as a place: a ultra-connected Pangea where you can walk from Tokyo to Buenos Aires in a second. Of course that’s not true; but then again somehow it is. Let’s not forget that the internet is indeed physical — a network of cables, computers and satellites. It’s not conceptual, it’s a material thing. With enough dedication and food poisoning, we could eat the internet.
Now imagine this enormous continent has different places with their own individual cultures. It’s easy to grasp that Brazil and France had different cultural processes and thus generated their languages, imageries and ideals from their specific contexts. The same is true for Wikipedia, Tumblr and World of Warcraft.
Let’s focus our lens a little bit: let’s talk about art.
For most of its existence, the internet-land has imported art from the other earth and sky places. Justin Bieber songs on Youtube, Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights on Pinterest, Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes as a free downloadable pdf — all clearly available on the big interweb halls of art, but none really originated from the internet culture.
For sure some pieces are conceived with their internet gallery in mind or even taking advantage of the web environment special connected grounds. Still, the Mona Lisa was made in Italy and no Louvre appropriation will ever change this.
So where is the art from the internet?
Oh, everywhere. Let’s talk about one manifestation in particular. But first…
Where do art-babies come from?
Art movements are born as a cultural response to a bigger social-political-technological environment. The creators involved in this process are living those same societal effects, even if they don’t know each other.
For example, the hippie movement was born in the US as a rejection of the horrors of the Vietnam war efforts, a strong alignment with the civil rightsand women’s rights movements and widespread use of psychoactive drugs. The early artists of the flower power were experiencing those social phenomena before the first song was written.
Easy to understand when you talk about countries, but intra-internet it gets trickier. (Almost) anybody can be (almost) anywhere online, no need for passports nor expensive flights; so your own environment is much more related to your choices. As if you could teleport yourself anywhere on the globe, but you could never be in two places at the same time. By the way, where would you be right now?
Art can be demanding
Not every art style is easy to enjoy. Some pieces ask for a certain baggage from the spectator — and that is ok. Art should be varied and multiple, even if that means that some percentage of the world’s art is hard to grasp.
Please note here that I’m not talking about understanding, just appreciating. Most people don’t know that the Mona Lisa is the flagship of a revolution in painting technique called sfumato and that the Christ the Redeemer is the first big statue of Jesus with no cross on his back — but not knowing those factors don’t diminish people’s delight. Probably the mythos created around those pieces have done much more for them than the actual technical revolutions they represent.
I’ve experienced first hand the price of art: I needed two years and a half of music university training to really start to enjoy dodecaphonic music. It’s actually a sort of music perception puzzle, only by understanding all the notes and their relations you can start having fun listening to it; but of course only trained musicians can do that. It’s not a genre that proposes processed beauty, it challenges you and that’s pretty cool.
So whenever you go to a museum and just don’t understand a sculpture or you listen to some bizarre song and don’t get it.. well, maybe you’re not ready yet.
Enter the Vapor
As dodecaphonic music challenges you to listen to it technically, Vaporwave challenges you to enjoy it ironically. It glorifies the stupid and meaningless — and by doing so it shows us blatantly how stupidness and meaninglessness can slip through our attention cracks.
I strongly recommend that you read the rest of this listening to this, because I suddenly feel the energies of Vappy — the God of Vaporwave and Burger King Discount Tickets — invade my body. Oh celestial Walmart meme-creature, command my words!
I am one with the Vapor now. I will be your guide.
Let’s start talking about our thoughtful and handcrafted influenced. What are the most bizarre and meaningless references we can muster? 80s catchy tunes slowed down? Good! But we can go lower… how about obscure 70s japanese funk? Ooooh I can smell instant ramen out-of-date sauce! We’re getting there, but I feel we can find even more low-life tunes.
How about mall elevator music and Windows 95 sound effects?
Oh yah, that’s the shit. That’s what I’m talking about.
But wait, we also need a strong visual style to represent everything we consider good and fair. After all, we’re making art to elevate the human spirit, inspire true virtue and care for other. In that case, let’s just make collages with Nintendo 64 game’s backgrounds, a bunch of Fiji mineral water bottles, some pink dolphins and greek statues.
Yeah, that’s the sort of feeling I’m talking about. Now snort that strawberry milkshake.
Why is it important if it’s a joke?
Vaporwave is a movement of unsatisfied artists who chose to wield sarcasm as their weapon of choice. Instead of arguing and fighting, they spend their time elevating Seinfeld, 90s games and Pepsi as saints just for people to feel how ridiculous this is (I’m serious, there’s an artist called Saint Pepsi and it’s pretty good).
As Adam Neely well describes — it’s a style that should not be analysed by notes and scales; If you do so, you miss the point completely. The beauty, the irony, the appreciation is a little more contextual than that.
Yes, it is indeed a joke that went too far — probably to the bamboozlement of its on originators. Yet, it shows us how new art movement can (and will) be generated directly from the lands of the interwebz. Also, the properties of the web make sure we have the whole story well documented.
In 1917 when Duchamp signed a porcelain urinal and exposed it in a gallery, a lot of people just said “meh” and walked away. I admit that it’s hard to grasp, yet a lot of opportunities of appreciation were just lost by these people. They were witnessing history and they chose to not give a shit.
With new technologies like virtual reality and blockchain promising to become ubiquitous in our lives, we should give the benefit of the doubt to any movement born from those technological landscapes.
Who knows? Macintosh Plus may have changed art history forever. If this sounds ludicrous, I’m going to repeat: Duchamp literally put a urinal in a gallery. Beat that.
If you feel the crush of consumerist society, the sweet smell of a BigMac or just want to learn more about this new genre, you can click here, here and here. Good stuff.
Stay aesthetic, my friends.
(this post is a tribute to my friend Alex — aka Sony — who introduced me to the aesthetic way of living and is also part of a really cool band with vaporwave influences)