Four Che, Seven Hues

Silkscreen on canvas
186 x 258 cms

Four prints of the artist as Che Guevara in blue, brown, grey and orange on a background of various blue and brown hues.



  • Guevara In Art - Ben Cranfield SHOW

    Guevara In Art - Ben Cranfield

    In a TIME cover article of August 1960 Ernesto (“Che”) Guevara, was described as the “Brain” behind Castro’s Cuba. Whilst Castro was the “heart, soul, voice and bearded visage”, and his Brother Raul was the “fist that holds the revolution’s dagger”, Ernesto took control of the countries ideological and fiscal policies, although in a particularly maverick way.

    Whilst recent artistic projects, not to mention notable biographies, have sought to put the brain back behind the floating iconic face, it may still seem peculiar to hear Che described first and foremost as a brain, with Castro taking the place of the visage. Furthermore, the TIME front cover of the 8th August 1960 jars with our contemporary imagination. The Che pictured in realistic shades and hues is not the Che of Alberto ‘Korda’ Diaz’s ubiquitous photograph; not the statuesque Che, staring enigmatically off into the distance, not forever young, melting into the mane of his hair and beard as a crown of thorns or a halo, but smiling, engaged and ruggedly lined. TIME, however, did prefigure the objectifying of Che, with the all attendant problems for historical truth, by remarking that he is “the most fascinating, and the most dangerous

    of the triumvirate” and that his smile has a power that “women find devastating.”

    In the same issue of TIME, there is piece on Marilyn Monroe as she prepared for “The Misfits”, directed by her husband Arthur Miller. The piece poignantly points to cracks appearing in Monroe’s façade. She is painted as a neurotic figure who reflects the character she is playing, Roslyn, as a “fractured, manhandled woman.” Monroe was found dead almost exactly two years later, “The Misfits” being her last film.

    “Che Guevara was the Marilyn Monroe of Marxism, an empty receptacle for fantasy” writes Jonathan Jones in his review of Gavin Turk’s 2001 post-Beuysian teach-in, “The Che Gavara Story” [sic]. This seems an easy association, one which we can accept without flinching. Yes, Hollywood’s tragic heroine of Che’s hated America and Cuba’s martyred hero seem to be part of the same breath. And yet it is only their emptiness which is the same. It is only the remarkable similarity of their magnitude as ciphers that makes this connection so easy. Beyond this they are, of course, complete opposites. It is one thing above all that makes the Marilyn/Che comparison so natural, and that

    is their reduction to a single image; Warhol’s image.

    Within the course of ‘The Gavara Story’, Jones reports, the question was raised as to why Warhol never “did depict Che”. Jones recalls that in fact Warhol had depicted Che, in his 1965 film The Life of Juanita Castro, but not as the Che of Warholian silhouette that we all know. We may in fact be forgiven for thinking that Warhol had in fact depicted Che in typical multicoloured silhouetted fashion. Trisha Ziff has tried to establish the origin of the famous ‘faked’ ‘Warhol Che’ and traces the authorship of the image to former Warhol assistant and star of many a Warhol iconic portrait himself, Gerard Malanga.

    Of course the notion of authorship in Warhol’s silkscreens is ambiguous and debatable and Warhol allegedly claimed the series as his own after Malagna’s appeal for help following the discovery of the forgery. We may wonder as to why Warhol had not produced an iconic image of Che himself. As Jones’ opening assertion suggests it would appear to have been an obvious choice. Perhaps Che had not captured Warhol’s imagination, perhaps, as the campery of Juanita Castro would suggest, Che

    did not possess the compellingly deep one-dimensionality that Warhol usually sought, or perhaps he simply had not got around to it before the forgery and other similar versions had appeared. Forgery or no forgery, Warhol had already made an image of Che; for all images that appear on t-shirts, the icon of the Korda photograph, the Jim Fitzpatrick posters, the “devastating” Hollywood smile, could all be said to be Warhol’s in a crucial way.

    When Jim Fitzpartick made possibly the most famous silhouette of Che using Korda’s “Guerrillero Heroico” in 1967 there was no mistaking the presence of Warhol. Warhol, as a signifier for repetitious celebrity, as an embodiment of one-dimensional contemporary iconography came before and after the flowing of Fitzpatrick’s icon into contemporary consciousness. Although those dependent on the art market might like to dispute it, Warhol’s signature was not so much a moment of artistic authoring, but a statement about celebrity and value itself. The content of the signature as repeated, as the image of Che or Monroe repeated, existed in the act of repetition itself rather than its particular signification. The proliferation of a Warhol image enacted its death with the morbidity which occurs with the

    uncanny fascination of recall and distancing. The attention to the particular and the generic which exists within a Warhol series is like that which makes the familiar strange, like a word or name repeated without context until the tongue becomes awkward around it. The morose nature of repetition leads, arguably to the limit event of Warhol’s “Death in America”, series. Hal Foster asserts, in his essay titled after the series, that;

    “Somehow in these repetitions, then, several contradictory things occur at the same time: a waning away of traumatic significance and an opening out to it, a defending against traumatic affect and a producing of it.”

    In the waning of the traumatic, Foster is referring to Warhol’s own remarks about the diminishing effect of the “gruesome” when viewed “over and over again.” However, Foster also perceives these sites of repetitious unpleasantness to be instances of ‘traumatic realism’ – a reenactment of the death depicted in the horror of the semelfactive seeing again and again. Such a trauma is reminiscent of the film ending of Graham Greene’s “Brighton Rock” in which Rose goes to play a recording of Pinky’s voice to console her after his death, only to hear

    a partial truth as the record hits a scratch and repeatedly jumps with static rupture saying ‘I love you’.

    Similarly, the protagonists of Warhol’s portraits become forever frozen in a permanently repeated death with the question of salvation or damnation deferred. A viewer of “Brighton Rock” is forced to relive a trauma both numbed and accentuated by the dramatic irony of the situation; we know that if the record were to play Rose would not hear Pinky say how much he loves her but would instead hear him tell her “I hate you, you little slut”.

    The initial horror of the dramatic realisation, as the record is played and the abrupt relief of the jumping needle, both softens the feared finality of the death of the illusion and at the same time deepens the trauma by continually reminding us of the emptiness of the words embedded in Rose’s mind. Similarly, the banality of Warhol’s repetitive and softened, ‘Hollywood’ endings are in themselves traumatic instances. A singular image of Monroe as colourful clown could have been seen as a celebration, or at least a monument to mourn, multiple Monroes (proliferating forever more at grotesque rate of speed)

    become a yawning sorrowful emptiness, a morose stuck record.

    As Hannah Charlston says in her introduction to the catalogue which accompanied the V&A’s exhibition “Che Guevara: Revolutionary and Icon”, “The story of the Che image is in part the story of the growth of visual literacy.” Whether or not Che was a good man or a bad man, a hero or a psychopath, the trauma which is repeated in the proliferation of the image through a continual reordering of the linguistic, denoted and connoted, as Barthes might suggest, results in a deadening loss of aura and history. The multiple instances of Che’s reworking in poster form, by activists (on all sides), admen, artists, designers, becomes an essay in contemporary textual fracturing. Following on from Barthes, the retelling of Che as image may indeed be best understood as a symptom of our visual literacy, our ability to digest and read all as textual mirror.

    Discussing Che as icon is becoming as clichéd as the image itself. If one wants to discuss the rabid force of commercialisation, the ubiquity of celebrity, the reduction of the revolutionary spirit to image, then ‘Che’, via Korda, via Fitzpatrik, via Warhol, is too

    exemplary to ignore. As we attempt to move forward heroically, tragically, romantically, pathetically, tragically, comically, then we may easily find ourselves picturing ourselves as Guevara, in Elvis stance, through Warhol, as an act of trauma magnified; three one-dimensionalities compounding our own.

  • Gavin Turk Is Not A Common Thief - Matt Mason SHOW

    Gavin Turk Is Not A Common Thief - Matt Mason

    Some people think he is, but I disagree. I think he’s more like Hans Gruber, the German terrorist who takes over Nakatomi Towers in Die Hard.

    Let me explain.

    Mr. Turk is certainly a copycat. This is a well known fact, and indeed, a reason people are drawn to his work. The way he deals with concepts such as authorship and originality resonate with us, and for good reason.

    Most of us are common thieves.

    Every day each of us break copyright laws many times, without even realizing. If you photocopy a page from a book, take a picture of a work of art you didn’t produce, sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in public or forward an email you didn’t write, you’re guilty.

    Our ideas about property rights, intellectual or otherwise, are generally viewed as good for society. Most of the time, they are. The problem is our laws pertaining to intellectual property are no longer sophisticated enough to deal with the ways we use information in the real world.

    A law professor named John Tehranian from The University of Utah recently conducted an experiment that proves this. He made

    a note of every time he inadvertently broke copyright law and then worked out how much he would owe if he was sued each time this happened. He calculated that he would owe an average of $12.45 million a day. If we take Tehranian to be an average law abiding citizen, then the average law-abiding citizen is currently ringing up $4.5 billion a year in copyright violations.

    Of course, the majority of us don’t get sued for these heinous crimes we commit daily, because these laws are ridiculous and unworkable, and most acts of copyright infringement are entirely harmless. The crimes are ignored and we go unpunished. But we’re still common thieves on paper. This huge crevasse between law and reality appeared because two things happened.

    First our technology changed. When these laws were written, information used to flow in one direction. Producers produced, consumers consumed. There was a clear line between broadcaster and receiver, artist and fan, creator and pirate. But today that line is just a blur. Information now moves in many directions at once. Anybody can produce, rebroadcast or remix information of all kinds. Consumers can talk back in a variety of ways.

    They can form angry mobs or fan clubs - the fate of producers is in their hands. There is a power shift going on.

    Secondly, all this new technology amplified one of our oldest behavioural traits; copying. Copying is part of the human condition. It is the backbone of our culture. It is how we learn to talk. It is how we learn social norms and manners. We are, all of us, relentless copying machines. And now we have access to the internet, the most advanced copying machine we’ve ever created.

    The big problem is that our laws are not written with the behaviour of billions of human copying machines in mind. We common thieves don’t spend large amounts of time and money coercing governments to make sure copyright laws suit our behaviour. But large multinational media companies do. The result is a set of rules that serve their needs, but don’t work quite as well for everyone else.

    But the lot of the common thief is worth defending. Families shouldn’t be receiving takedown notices from record labels for posting home movies up on YouTube of their kids dancing to copyright protected music. Companies shouldn’t be

    able to use copyright law to stifle free speech and stop information that makes them look bad from reaching the general public. Entertainment conglomerates shouldn’t be allowed to upload damaging spyware onto your computer without asking you, just to make sure you’re not stealing any of their content. Telecoms companies should not be given the power to decide what information you do and don’t see online. If the disconnect between law and reality is not addressed, our freedoms will be eroded.

    It takes a different kind of thief to defend such freedoms. It takes artists like Turk publicly questioning who owns what. We need pirates that speak truth to power in order for things to change. Without the outcast at the outer marker moving the boundaries, everything stagnates. Ideas capable of making society better, fairer or more democratic are always resisted by those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. We need people who innovate without asking permission.

    Some of the greatest innovators in history were thought of as common thieves when they started out. When Thomas Edison invented the phonographic record player, musicians branded him a pirate out to steal their work and

    destroy the live music business, until a system was worked out so everyone could be paid royalties. We now call this system the recording industry.

    Edison went on to invent film making, and wanted to charge a license fee to every film maker using his invention. Several New York film makers, including a young man named William, disagreed with this policy, and fled to the then still Wild West coast where they could make films illegally away from Edison’s team of lawyers, and flee to nearby Mexico if said lawyers were dispatched. This town of pirate filmmakers is still there today, it’s called Hollywood. William’s second name was Fox.

    Today these industrial monoliths established by pirates are locked in fierce battles with us common thieves to protect their intellectual property rights. But when throwing lawsuits at your fans suddenly becomes an important part of your business model, you no longer have a business model.

    When information flowed in one direction, it was easy to take culture and attach it to a product in order to sell it. Those on the edges of society created meaning, and then the commercial world stole it. But now the outsiders

    are finding ways to take meaning back from the market. People are organizing without organizations. Loose-knit networks and open source structures are proving to be more effective at doing some things than governments and markets. As a result we’re rebelling in new ways. Warhol famously said that “good business is the best art.” Culture used to be one of the only ways of rebelling in a non-violent manner, but today we can kill bad ideas with new business models.

    It already seems like bad ideas and old power structures are being brought to the slaughter on a daily basis, and the revolution hasn’t even started yet. The future promises even more unfettered access to information and intellectual property. In May of 2008, a Professor named Adrian Bowyer at the University of Bath created the world’s first 3-D printing machine that can print out a copy of itself. The internet may be the world’s ultimate copying machine at the moment, but that was just Act One.

    Act Two promises even greater levels of conflict. The war over intellectual property is going to get weird. But this movie has a happy ending. The truth is this new reality is

    good news for creators and copyright holders large and small - it’s just taking a while to figure out the details.

    The future promises unlimited opportunities to create, reach audiences, gain notoriety, earn money and all the rest of it, if we can only reconcile the two conflicting forces at work when we have a new idea. At the same time as we are thinking “how can I get this out there?” we’re also asking ourselves “how can I benefit from/monetize this idea?” We want to spread ideas as information, but capitalize on them as intellectual property.

    Which brings me to Die Hard.

    Just before 20th Century Fox released the fourth Die Hard film in 2007, the marketing team at Fox had only one question: How do we get people excited about the Die Hard films again online?

    They didn’t know a comedy rock band named Guyz Nite had just uploaded their new video for their song entitled Die Hard, to YouTube. The verses of the song outlined the plots of the first three Die Hard set to a sequence of tightly edited clips from the movies. It was hilarious enough for millions

    of people to watch it and tell their friends about it.

    The legal team at Fox found out about the copyright violating video. They did their jobs, and asked YouTube to take down the infringing material. And YouTube did. End of story.

    Except it wasn’t. When the marketing team at Fox found out about the video, and the millions of people getting excited about the Die Hard franchise again because of it, they called Guyz Nite. They had only one question: How much do we have to pay you to put that video you made up on YouTube?

    It all worked out in the end – copyright laws were ignored in favour of user-generated content that helped everybody out. The band even got an invite to the New York premiere of the film. Pirates can reach the places other advertisers cannot reach. It’s like Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

    This period of corporate cognitive dissonance we are experiencing will continue for some time. But unreasonable and outdated notions about intellectual property will eventually become history, if enough of us strive to be more

    than just common thieves.

    Towards the end of Die Hard, Holly McClane says to Hans Gruber, “After all your posturing, all your're nothing but a common thief.”

    Hans replies, “I'm an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane.”