Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
As a tactic of dissent and political protest, appropriation artists use commercial and government images to critique power, by subverting the intended message and displaying their critique in public spaces. Appropriation activists are revolutionary subjects, graphic agitators, and rebellious bricoleurs who engage in the tactics of guerrilla semiotics, `subvertising,' fauxvertising and culture jamming, to expose advertising imagery as a system of ideology that manufactures identity, sublimates desire, and naturalizes the construction of race, class, and gender. Their tactics also indicate the attempt to reclaim public space to address the privatization of culture and the unequal access to cultural resources. The use of images and tactics of appropriation creates a more diverse array of voices in the public sphere and opens spaces for active participatory engagement with the public to address systematic asymmetries of power. The appropriation tactics and images used by Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, and the Guerrilla Girls in the late seventies and eighties, for example, addressed the normalizing representations of gender, sexuality and identity in advertising and the idealized promises of consumption. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the Billboard Liberation Front, Adbsuters, Robbie Conal, and Shepard Fairey engaged in ideological warfare over the right to own, access, produce and display appropriated images. From billboards intended for commercial advertising to the display of `subvertisements' in magazines, and the un-commercials to promote Buy Nothing Day and TV Turn off Week, these activists confront the prevailing cultural apparatuses of meaning and the political economic structures that enable their power. To capture the cynical trendsetting demographic more resistant to traditional advertising, advertisers have co-opted the imagery, style and tactics of these artists. Their tactical strikes and visual style now convey hip, new, edgy and cool brand identities. Their images have also been commodified as commercial products and institutionalized art and have become fashion. As appropriation artists and advertising agencies engage in the same tactics and use the same visual style, the lines between art, appropriation and advertising have blurred and the public sphere overcome with a pastiche of visual codes.
The dissertation traces the tactics of appropriation of Barbara Kruger, The Billboard Liberation Front and Shepard Fairey as exemplars of transgression and commodification within the changing commercial conditions of neo-liberalism. Their works, tactics and strategies are emphasized as points of insight into the practices and conditions of subversion as well as the limits of hegemonic containment that reproduces the political and economic structure within which they operated. The dissertation furthers and contributes to the theoretical and methodology of critical cultural studies as it emphasizes the role of the economy and ideology in reproducing the prevailing hegemonic order. Critical cultural studies hinges on the concepts of hegemony as lived discursive and ideological struggles over meaning and communication resources within historically specific and socially structured contexts. This framework emphasizes the poetics of appropriation - the use, meaning and spaces of articulation of visual representations with the politics - the socio-economic and discursive conditions that reproduce the dominant social order.
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Copyright 2012 Michael Alan Glassco
Glassco, Michael Alan. "Contested images: the politics and poetics of appropriation." PhD diss., University of Iowa, 2012.