fifth column

Nuff Aura: Absolute Artwork Meets Absolute Desperation

By Benedict Seymour, 28 March 2014
Image: Mathematics is definitely the answer, but have you seen the question?


[This little screed was written as a facebook post but seemed worth giving a minutely longer half life... It responds to this article:]

So, the Wu Tang's next album is an edition of one. Forget tickets for Kate Bush, if you want nuff aura you need to rent time with the contents of this metal box, via a trip to a museum. Or you could just buy it outright and then let it out to everyone else who's willing to pay (Samsung-style)... Is this the official end of the fabled democratising powers of mechanical reproduction - RZA's soi disant re-'privatisation' of the record - or the definitive end of the ability to extract monopoly rent through ownership of recorded material (when someone leaks the files)? Illuminating to see the RZA still holds on to the direct equivalence of money and (use) value: music, he sez, has been devalued by being... devalued. CREAM remains the motto, and yet it would seem cash has generally been over-ruled by constant capital. 

This attempt to make a unique object do the job that elsewhere a live performance is supposed to do, providing a scarce commodity to which there is limited access, seems rather like Damien Hirst's experiment with the diamond skull, something which would make a lot more sense if one has simultaneously constructed a series of moves in more virtual money-like instruments to accompany the transaction(s). It also makes one think that bling (which is one thing both 'artworks' have in common) is the physical attempt to give material form to an ever more elusive value (form); bling is not just the signifier of new money looking for somewhere to (portably and visibly) store and advertise itself, an aspirational expression of conspicuous, auto-didactic, consumption, but also a desperate attempt to make money be money, to make value matter. The desire for recognition in the only currency which this society understands...(CREAM) is here attaining a squeeky pitch of screech higher than Kate Bush could ever reach.

But precisely as such the whole use value-exchange value, art value/money value, C-M, and M-C set of equations looks incredibly peaky and absurd. It's like Kubla Kahn decreeing a stately pleasure dome, in Staffordshire, or Florida  (though Citizen RZA has chosen Morocco for his launch...) and invoking the full panoply of fascistoid false assumptions about the possibility of an organic and authentic relation between the price and value of things. All this ornate invocation of pre-modern unities of substance and value bespeaks a desire to create a time machine which will undo its own (technical) preconditions and deposit us, or rather the 'artist', back in a moment where his achievement is at once recognised on an industrial scale and rewarded on a feudal one. Anyway, kind of a big gimmick and a total joke, but also something to keep cultural studies professors in biz a bit longer too generating questions for screeds such as these (if they're not given away for free, uniquely, here on Facebook)... 

Anyway I enjoyed writing this and might stick it on Mute somewhere - if you would like to see it published there please express your enthusiasm and recognition for my GZAlike genius using the currency (whose basis is the time it takes the consumer to assimilate and/or 'like' the 'free' 'commodity') known as 'likes'.

BTW is not every Facebook status a unique but universally available commodity, a kind of valueless but money-like token in the larger social media ponzi? As such the value of each is at once nil and incalculable, constitutive, ultimately, to the realisation of (all other circulating) commodities, to their prices and ultimate values? Thus - in this case one obviously contributes something by talking about the enormous PR punt that the whole unique album in a silver box in Morocco concept is. All social media users are permanently mobilised in labour on the realisation of all commodities these days through our wageless labour for Facebook and other social media, which is not to say that any of us are directly involved in the creation of value. But we are all busily swirling around in an infernal Dantean way in the great race of circulation, playing our part in the madness of the crowd and the bubble... Reflection within this turmoil is then a kind of thought bubble, a thinking in and of bubbles; the whole emphasis on labour in contemporary art is a misdirection cos what our labour consists of is largely beyond the white collar, something more like a white cloud; vapour labour, one might say - networked and nebulous but none the less material for that. And that, obviously, is for the lucky ones. Others are dredging buckets of mud out of Lagos harbour by hand 14 hours a day or trolling the jungles of the Congo with a rifle in their hands on the look out for other kids to shoot and minerals to loot. This kind of specificity and materiality in the relation between value and things is what RZA's great art at once presupposes (globally) and obfuscates, regally.

All such fictitious sultans, even the more 'creative' ones, deserve to have a little air let out of them, and yet a general oligarchoid tendency means the more useful ones will be the first to deflate, leaving us with the straight up arms dealers and more direct merchants in value-destruction commodities. The (vulgar) materialism of hip hop seems to have lead logically enough from black nationalism backwards to a kind of 'return to africa' in the 'like owning the scepter of an african king'/rifle of a child soldier retrogressive sense...