Ten Reflections on Mark Amerika’s PHON:E:ME .10

Amerika’s ironies come in many layers. Just as there is no linear narrative to PHON:E:ME, so also there is no last instance, no bottom line. In Gertrude Stein’s famous phrase, there is no there there. PHON:E:ME gives me a vertiginous sense of weightlessness, as is so often the case with postmodern works. But in this instance at least, weightlessness should not be confused with blankness. In PHON:E:ME, the bland shrug of the TV viewer gives way to the febrile excitement of the virtual explorer. I cannot just sit back and passively consume the piece. I must get involved in it. To receive it, I must become an active collaborator, alongside Mark Amerika and the six other artists who joined him in making the piece. Of course, this sort of commitment is precisely what the modernist avant-garde demanded of its spectators. But in high modernism, getting involved with difficult works in this way was a profoundly elitist activity. Decoding Finnegans Wake, or learning to appreciate the paintings of Barnett Newman, was rather like being initiated into a secret society. Whereas the collaboration demanded of us by PHON:E:ME is much more open and down to earth. It’s pleasurable, though with a faint whiff of embarrassment or complicity. It’s like wearing Nike shoes, or having a latte at Starbuck’s. What could be more democratic, and more ironic, than that?

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