A Semiotic Reading and Discourse Analysis of Postmodern Street Performance

Article excerpt

Postmodern street art operates under a set of references that requires art educators and researchers to adopt alternative analytical frameworks in order to understand its meanings. In this article, we describe social semiotics, critical discourse analysis, and postmodern street performance as well as the relevance of the former two in interpreting the latter. To illustrate how the meaning of postmodern street performance is a socially constructed fluid variable that is situated, generated, and utilized in a particular context of discourse, we provide examples of analysis of street performances by Berlin-based artist Aram Bartholl. Finally, by garnering insights from this discourse analysis, we offer several conclusions. In the end, we propose the employment of social semiotics and discourse analysis as a more reflexive way of understanding postmodern street art practices.

As prevalence of new-age communication devices such as Internet, mobile phones, Blackberries, iPods, and hand-held televisions affords more diverse and accessible interactions in physical and virtual environments, the young generations today spend more time than previous generations receiving media-related Information, communicating with each other, and playing games online. They glide effortlessly between the virtual and the physical world. Many researchers and educators have begun to address this phenomenon intensively and have started to focus on the social aspect of online gaming and its Implications for education (Brown, 2006; Gee, 2004; Squire, 2002).

Along these lines, art educators have also started paying attention to postmodern conditions and art education with respect to innovative uses of new technologies such as virtual reality (jagodzinski, 2005; Sakatanl, 2005), computer art (Humphries, 2003), Identity formation in relation to popular and visual culture (Gaudelius & Speirs, 2002), interactive hypertext (Carpenter & Taylor, 2006), and digital storytelling (Chung, 2007), as well as other unconventional media in new platforms (I.e., graffiti and street art). Challenging the traditional notion of art as tangible objects Intended mostly for the high culture, these "new" forms of art encourage discussions regarding the philosophy of art, contemporary technovisual culture, and the development of multiliteracy (see Duncum, 2004).

In this era of multimodal representations, it is of crucial importance that we prepare students and teachers to be able to understand and examine the various modes of representation and the processes of their social construction. With the view taken from social semiotics, in which visual arts Is seen as a form of communication (Chaplin, 1 994), we see many recent works of postmodern street art as relevant illustrations of how meaning is not just given but is always socially constructed. Social semiotics offers a new perspective on interpreting postmodern street art. Because of the emphasis of semiotics on codes, signs, and their interactions, art educators have adopted them into their research and classroom practices (jagodzinski, 2004; Smith-Shank, 1 995; Wyrick, 2004).

Purpose

In the postmodern arena, artists produce conceptual art using unconventional media, Inspired/mediated by computer technologies, and presented through guerrilla communications and street performances. The existing art criticism models such as those proposed by Anderson (1993), Barrett (1994), Broudy (1972), and Feldman (1981) are Inadequate for dealing with non-institutionalized postmodern art, whether circulated in the streets or on the Internet. In this article, we propose employing social semiotics and critical discourse analysis for understanding postmodern street art. We explore the "WOW" Project by Berlinbased media artist Aram Bartholl asan example for this illustration. We conclude by garnering insights from reading and reflecting on Bartholl's work from a semiotic perspective. As part of those efforts, we propose the employment of social semiotics and discourse analysis as more reflexive ways of understanding postmodern street art practices. …