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"Nixon" by Shepard Fairey

"And Yet it Moves"
John Heartfield, 1943.
A reference to a remark made by Galileo when he was forced to deny his belief that the Earth moved around the sun. Upon his release from the Inquisition, he stamped the Earth with his foot and said, "And yet it moves."


The Remix of Politics

By Rick Silva

"To prevent undue wreckage in society, the artist tends now to move from the ivory to the control tower of society."– Marshall McLuhan


Juxtaposition courtesy of www.bushorchimp.com

70 years ago John Heartfield used a razor blade to cut and reconfigure photos of Hitler into pointed criticisms. Today, artists and hacktivists are using Photoshop, Protools and Final Cut as their razor blades for splicing politics. From conceptually revealing to unbelievable continuity to interactive to performative, every mix is careful in its media and manipulation.

Three radically different approaches to the remixing of political images are the works of Shepard Fairey, Jon Haddock and bushorchimp.com. In Fairey’s work he uses the visual cues of past politics to remix images of Stalin, Mao, Castro and Nixon, and then places them in the modern urban setting. Fairey even encourages the copying and pasting of his stickers and posters by fans of his art, much like a political party would have its supporters do. A bit more gallery-bound than Fairey is the artwork of Jon Haddock. Haddock turns famous political events into The Sims style “Screen Shots.” His Photoshop covers of events like the anonymous man standing down a tank in Tian'anmen Square and Civil Rights protesters being fire hosed in Birmingham give us a version of the events different from the ones in our media memory. The internet itself, however, has no memory (or, very little) so to make a presence online sites like bushorchimp.com use the power of internet hype. Linked to countless blogs and forwarded to millions of emails bushorchimp.com became “the link of the day” for months. Now that the hype is over, the word is out, and the site has the obligatory “buy our t-shirt” link up, we can revisit it in a new context; as a critical take on G W Bush, using Kuleshovian juxtaposition and shape matching as a visual remix tactic.

When remixing the sounds of politics the State of The Union Address is often the a capella of choice. In 1994 audio artists The Evolution Control Committee released two tracks devoted to remixing George Bush Senior’s SOTU address in their “Gunderphonic” l.p. The tracks, called “Bush Speech (corrected) parts 1 and 2,” redo the president’s declaration of war on Iraq. Each track is about a minute long, in part one Bush’s cut-up says, “What we are doing is going to be another Vietnam” and in part two “The answer is clear, we are here for just the price of a gallon of gas.” These cut-ups are so well done, using a constant room tone and natural breathing pauses, that the ear has little chance to catch the edits. And as skilled a splicers as ECC are, it also helps that the Bush family speech pattern is so remix friendly. As diymedia.net says “their speaking style seems to lend itself to translation - or maybe it's just the fact that the disconnects between their rhetoric and reality are so incredibly huge as to compel reinterpretation.”

The Bush sample-ease gene is also helpful when rearranging video. In fuckitall.com’s video remix of George W. Bush’s SOTU address the continuity is impeccable. The remixer uses cutaway shots of the audience to bandage the jump cuts. In step with fuckitall.com’s site theme G W Bush’s cut-up says “We have a great opportunity during this time of war to lead the world towards suicide and murder.”

In 2002 W.Blake@scotoma.org posted to the nettime mailing list the G W Bush SOTU address (word frequency remix). This minimal, statistical take on political remixing is the opposite of the seamless mix tactic, but just as effective. The speech is separated into groups of words, “and” is at the top of the list with 185 uses in the speech, “evil” and “September” are halfway down with 5 uses of each, and words that get used only once like “poverty” at the bottom of the list. The speech reveals itself through the remix as a repetitious brainwashing.

When political remixers add music to their cut-ups they remove the original context, the pressure to make it sound real is gone and a new layer of meaning added. These musical mixes by groups like the Department of Corrections change the meaning of the speech with tone and tempo as well as new structure. In “DSMO (Ronan and friends vs. GW)” by Dubya’s for War, the SOTU address is interrupted by samples of Homer Simpson’s voice of reason and matched to techno beats. Others, like “George the Genius” by J. Buckley compile recordings of G W Bush fumbling his words and thoughts and mixes them with spacey down tempo beats. “GWB” by Atom Project mixes G W Bush speeches with ones of Gerald Ford and Hitler. Casseteboy’s song “Bush vs. Blair” has very little of the two leaders speaking, but focuses more on terrorism and media. Working in the music video genre the “Read My Lips” video mix is a cut-up where G W Bush and Tony Blair seem to karaoke the Lionel Richie song “Endless Love.” This mix isn’t really credited to anyone, but is a mirrored download from several hotspots on the internet back to a Norwegian zine. In Steev Hise’s “Nexus-6” video he interlaces Bladerunner scientific fiction with G W Bush future war political fact to give us a glimpse of an apocalypse soon. In the video “Blair@TUC” by Eclectic Method Blair’s cut-up says “Military action would be an act of terrorism in which the corporations will win” all the while the red “live” notice on the lower left of the screen shifts from “live” to “evil” then back again. Reagan, Clinton, Rumsfeld, Nixon, and Dan Quayle also get treatments in diymedia.net’s Truthful Translations of Political Speech Or, “What they really meant when they said that" section.

Real time remixes of G W Bush can also be found online. In the lemonbrovil.co.uk site the user can choose from 4 categories of words sampled from GWB speeches and one group of sound effects. The user arranges them in a timeline and presses play and a cartoon of G W Bush acts out the reanimated speech assembled by you. In Golan Levin’s Axis Applet project for the Whitney Museum’s Code_doc show Levin uses a map of the world to remix G W Bush’s “axis of evil” SOTU address. Riffing off of a satirewire.com story called “Axis of Just as Evil” Levin lets us pick our own trio of nations by clicking around the map, and then the java app generates that trio of nation’s “axis of.” The Canadian, Brazil, United states axis is “The axis of huge, oil producing, vodka-exporting, nuclear-powered, Olympic judo silver medal winning, cannabis cultivating, US-bullet buying, Simpsons’ travel destination countries.”

Taking the remix into its inevitable multi-media step Randall Packer of The U.S. Dept of Art and Technology and The Experimental Party has embarked on a subversive and avant-garde take on politics and press release culture. He and his staff are currently on a campaign tour addressing their “10,000 Acts of Artistic Mediation” platform. The declaration “calls on all artists and all arts institutions, large and small, to make artistic action a central value in our daily life and work” furthermore it asks “young artists from all 50 states to help overcome society's anxieties and heightening insecurity by participating in the jettison of reason and the escape from the clogs of convention in surrender to the unbridled sure of spirit and fantasy.”

From image and text to audio and video to performance, politics get mixed and remixed.
What could be next? Here’s a scenario; a hacktivist interrupts the feed into the teleprompter that is scrolling the words for the SOTU address to G W Bush. Too much on automatic pilot to notice, Bush reads the hacktivist’s words to millions of people. What we get is a live remix using the president himself as the splice between artist and audience.

more Rick Silva at

© 2003 21C Magazine