Eardrum Buzz

Eardrum Buzz by Geir Haraldseth
Text written for the exhibition catalogue for Avgangsutstillingen 2010, Stenersen Museum, Oslo, 2010.

André Tehrani does not divide and conquer. That is not his strategy of choice. His interest in popular culture is synthesized to the point of absurdity, complicating the popular and consecrating the unlikeliest of objects. For example, Proposal for Public Neo-Traditionalist Monument to be Placed on the Outskirts of Akron, Ohio presents the dome-like hats of the New Wave band Devo as a public sculpture to be placed in the band’s hometown. In The Earth is Soft and White as Snow (But Warm Inside) tropes from art history such as landscapes and portraits have been harvested from the iconography of pop music and used as elements in a composite collage, all meticulously rendered in colored pencil.

Any artistic appropriation of popular culture flirts with the tired and tested dichotomy of high and low, an empty gesture of transgression doomed to remain inside of the context of art. Benjamin Buchloh wrote: “Every time that the avant-garde (…) appropriates elements from the discourse of low, folk, or mass culture, it publicly denounces the elitist isolation and the obsolescence of its inherited production procedures. Yet ultimately each such instance of “bridging the gap,” because it remains within the context of art, reaffirms the stability of the division.” (1) Tehrani avoids bridging the gap as he reproduces the imagery appropriated from popular culture in the manner of a skilled draftsman and neutralizes the seemingly inherent potency of the appropriative gesture. By underlining the commonalities of cultural contraries, he also hints at a complexity often denied by theoretical frameworks invested in upholding the division of high and low.

Mugshot tackles the portrait genre by appropriating the police’s booking photograph of Phil Spector, famed music producer and infamous murderer. The image has been recreated in a dot matrix of adhesive labels, referencing op-art and mechanical reproduction techniques. The black and white dots provide a link, through a detour via conceptual art, to Tehrani’s encyclopedic lists, where an exhaustive inventory of terms and phrases from popular music are arranged alphabetically and presented in a neat layout. This overload of information, like data contained in a dot matrix or the referential density of the pencil drawings, all point to a specialized language far removed from the immediacy of instant communication.

Rather than providing a scathing cultural critique, Tehrani provides a framework for viewing the corresponding mechanisms of high and low, highlighting the complex mechanisms at work in popular music. By unraveling the layers within a multitude of microcosms associated with different genres, Tehrani suggests that the connoisseur is alive and well, a position that is not just encouraged in high art, but also in popular culture.

(1) Benjamin Buchloh Parody and Appropriation in Francis Picabia, Pop and Sigmar Polke, Artforum (March 1982)

Geir Haraldseth is a critic and curator based in Stavanger, Norway.

For further reading, download my MA-thesis (in Norwegian) as PDF:

MA-thesis A.Tehrani (Norwegian)