Long entrenched in British literary tradition, parody, pastiche and caricature have, more recently, been revived in contemporary British urban art. Street artist Banksy’s foray into social criticism of war, art world commercialism and totalitarianism (just to name a few) or Mau Mau’s sprawling colourful murals, elaborately scrawled on public surfaces are such notable instances of irreverent commentaries that satirise and caricaturise. A more domestic, less public iteration of the extent to which parody, pastiche and caricature have become hallmarks of contemporary culture is found in the Internet. The emerging culture of open imitation, reconfiguration and deconstruction – helped generously along by readily available digital technologies – in many online communities exists for a variety of reasons: to pay homage, to ridicule, to praise.
An East London-based collaborative duo, We Like STATIC’s first solo show at Collectors Contemporary follows the standard bearers of the emerging wave of urban and digital art. The show is a deliberately pastiched-response to contemporary events, comprising works that situate themselves in the middle of a key postmodern rhetoric that juxtaposes, layers, subverts, appropriates, deconstructs and parodies the boundaries between ‘high’ art and ‘low’ art through various artist media. Static is primarily concerned with artistic processes that flaunt the deconstruction, reconfiguration and the juxtaposition of disparate elements. Handcrafting, screen-printing, spray painting and the use of hand-cut stencils layered with glass and aluminium characterise their practice; the result is a three-dimensional graphic style of bright colours overlaid multiple times, consequently enacting an interplay between shape, colour and perspective that changes according to the position of the viewer.
But if Static’s works seem to recall graffiti art – a medium often associated with alienation, marginality and rebellion – it becomes clear that the only common ground here is the techniques of production when juxtaposed alongside those who use the spraycans for the purpose of tagging or delineating territory. Their works tell a different and a less angsty story, evidently operating within the boundaries of light-hearted satire and irony, encapsulating and caricaturising contemporary consumerist obsessions. Against a backdrop of sketched diamonds, a masked Elizabeth II holds a pink spray can in a hand as she sits on her throne, having, presumably, just sprayed a caricature of her own crown on the wall next to her in Queen Vandal (2012). Static’s ironic take on graffiti artists’ tendency to rebel against authority positions the head of state as a perpetrator of graffiti tagging, barely disguised by a handkerchief covering that deliberately reveals more than it conceals. In a parody of the British Monarch’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Lovely Jubilee’s (2012) places a literal emphasis on actual diamonds, while Luxury Vandals’s (2011) mash-up of motifs explores the commodification of art and fashion.
Unlike the sprawling nature of graffiti that sometimes extends from floor to ceiling in subway passageways, Static’s pop ephemera emphasise the material in the small confined space of the glass display. Disconnected from the environment and circumstances in which the graffiti of urban subculture is normally produced (Static’s duo work in an East London studio), the graffiti-like nature of their works ceases to be associated with the destructive, illegal act of vandalism or political resistance in urban dereliction. Yet one gets the idea that each work indulges in aesthetic play for its own sake, its chromatic universe simultaneously hinting at the multiplicity of coexisting cognitive and cultural paradigms while also failing to communicate any obvious message.
STATIC, based in East London, is the creative output of Tom and Craig who have been working together since 2006. We Like STATIC will be on show at Collectors Contemporary until 22 November 2012.