"[Gaga Stigmata has] very modern, edgy photography to free flowing, urban narratives without censure to analytical essays, et cetera—like Gaga, imagination without ... limits. And the beauty is that anyone can submit work to the site, so artists and writers from all over the [world] have joined this experiment." -The Declaration.org

"Since March 2010, [Gaga Stigmata] has churned out the most intense ongoing critical conversation on [Lady Gaga]."
-Yale's The American Scholar

Thursday, August 29, 2013

“Vast Emptiness”: a personal account of anxiety, Lady Gaga, and what happens when you don’t own cable.

By Sarah Cook
“In that opening shot Gaga seems to literally become the screen – and, as the camera pulls back, what was once the screen is revealed to be the performer on the stage. This blurring between the screen itself and the performer on the stage suggests a kind of transgression of the screen.” ~Meghan Vicks, from her and Eddie McCaffray’s initial discussion of Gaga’s VMA performance
I want to start by agreeing with Meghan’s observation – in fact, the longer the camera stayed right up against Gaga’s face, the more uncomfortable I felt. Was it just me? I became incredibly anxious for the camera to back away, and to see her body, the stage, the surroundings…

It didn’t help that MTV online was a bit tenuous throughout the VMA airtime, taking forever to post each performance (which was supposed to happen immediately after it occurred), and only offering a live-stream of alternative cameras: a couple backstage views, a view of the audience, a few different rooms, etc. For me, this became the most interesting part of the whole experience: I found myself anxiously searching various online sites for a chance to live-stream Gaga’s performance, and I clicked repeatedly through all the different live cameras that MTV offered, trying to see which one was the most promising at any given moment. It became a race to see Gaga live, or to at least figure out which source would allow me to see her performance the soonest.

But here’s where it got especially weird: once Gaga started performing and I had yet to find a live stream, I realized I could hear her faintly in the background from these random MTV cameras. Each camera had a slightly different volume of sound, but none of them were loud: so while the visual cues were completely absent, the echo of “Applause” in the background told me she was onstage at that moment. I clicked ever more rapidly to try and see what I was only slightly able to hear. I clicked over to something called the “Talent Lounge.” There, I saw a bar with the phrase “Good Vibrations” written along the front. There were three small TV screens hung up in various corners of the room – they looked about a half-inch big on my computer screen – setting a kind of sports bar vibe. I was about to click onto a different camera when I realized those three small TVs were all broadcasting Gaga’s performance: multiple Gagas, and yet they were all so tiny! And so, my first taste of Gaga as Gaga as Gaga was through computer through video through TV, all these layers of technology that gave me what I desired only by lining up just so.

Gaga looks into Gazing Balls for inspiration

By Jon-Michael Poff

Jeff Koons’ Gazing Balls – a series of plaster casts paired with metallic blue globes – figures largely into Lady Gaga’s 2013 VMA performance. A little over halfway into her performance, Gaga holds a blue gazing ball above her head as she sings, “One second I’m a Koons, then suddenly the Koons is me.” (In a wide shot, one can see her backup dancers hoisting gazing balls above their heads as well.) Though visible for only ten seconds of the performance, the Koonsean gazing balls give insight into Gaga’s professional ambitions, her personal struggles, and her relationship with her fans.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Evolution of Gaga: The Medium Condition of Lady Gaga

By Roland Betancourt

Lady Gaga sings, “I can feel my heart beating in your hands, my aura and yours meeting in this dance, pull the trigger I’m ready, it’s show time” – probably an excerpt from a rumored forthcoming song, “Aura.” The camera focuses closely on her face, which is set into a white two-dimensional square that seems to evoke the white modernist canvas, and, in particular, the square as a manifestation of this medium – recalling an iconic modernist work, such as Malevich’s Black Square (1915), whose intellectual heritage is directly traced to the Russo-Byzantine icon. Here, we see Gaga as an icon set in a flat two-dimensional space. Particularly, it speaks to the miraculous image of Christ impressed on cloth, known as the image of Edessa in the Eastern Christian church, attested in an image such as the Holy Face of Genoa.

In this moment, Lady Gaga’s body operates as the medium for the Video Music Awards, since the show begins from this space – she is an emblematic, bodily manifestation of the flat white canvas. Upon her body, Lady Gaga has wrapped into herself the modernist white cube of the museum and its blank canvas. As the camera zooms out, her body is revealed to be clad in an elaborate dress with large shoulders and gown.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

#throwback – Lady Gaga’s Disease: Jo Calderone and the Pathology of the Image’s Virulent Body

By Roland Betancourt

Note: This essay was presented at the Northeastern Popular Culture Association’s Annual Conference at Western Connecticut State University on 12 November 2011. This paper – which addresses the crucial aspects of image virality, Jo Calderone, and Pierrot – has not been altered in any fashion since it was written back in 2011. The original draft from which this derived was written before the “You and I” video and before Jo Calderone’s manifestation at the 2011 VMA; as such this essay bears witness to the coherent unfolding of Lady Gaga’s project over these subsequent years in a salient manner – particularly given the role that the figure of Pierrot played within this very argument, a figure who has recently come to the forefront of Gaga’s work in “Applause.”

The Queerness of Joey Graceffa

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What is the Location of Pop? Part III: When Marina Abramović Twerks

By Roland Betancourt

Dance, Dance, Dance, With My Hands, Hands, Hands: Gaga-Pierrot, Repetition, and the Total Artwork in “Applause”

By Ayah Rifai

Mother Monster is miffed. Following a succession of tweets calling for an end to fan wars, excessive gossip, and blogger criticisms after leaks of her new single, “Applause,” surfaced on the Internet, Gaga implores us to change our ways and enter into a post-critical age of pop music so that artists may do what they’re best at: entertaining us.

In my previous contribution to Gaga Stigmata, I argue that what distinguishes Gaga from other pop artists in the music scene today is her contemporary realization of a Gesamtkunstwerk, a “total artwork” that synthesizes music, drama, poetry, the material arts, choreography, and technology into a unified project. Now that the era of ARTPOP is upon us, Gaga does not disappoint: she remains true to her aesthetic with the release of “Applause.”

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What is the Location of Pop? Part II: Professional Fangirling – On Tyler Oakley, Metadata, and Conspicuous Signification

By Roland Betancourt

fangirling (v.): the reaction a fangirl has to any mention or sighting of the object of her “affection.” These reactions include shortness of breath, fainting, high-pitched noises, shaking, fierce head shaking as if in the midst of a seizure, wet panties, endless blog posts, etc.

What is the location of pop? Or, what is popular culture today?

“Transforming as Magic”: on Gaga’s GMA appearance and official video release for “Applause” (a partially ekphrastic set of working notes)

By Sarah Cook

1. “I live for making you happy.”

Interview and official video premier on Good Morning America, August 19th, 2013.

The dynamics of fame, of fandom and obsession – an “obsession with transforming” – the expectations of hundreds of thousands of thousands of fans:

“obsessed, obsessed, obsessed about the music.”

When, and where, does failure come in? There will always be failure when so many people are counting on you; that’s fame. But there seems to be another type of failure at play in Gaga’s work: failure as a method; failure as queer – failure as allowing the unsayable to be said. To quote John Pluecker, “I’ve been thinking about how best to fail in this piece. And in failing come to say this thing that I haven’t been able to say.”

Monday, August 19, 2013


By Devin O’Neill

Lady Gaga clearly just wants attention.

How does this still manage to be a controversial statement? But it is, it is. It looks so benign, but it hides a number of terrifying realities inside its apparently innocent body, just like she does.

The Chromatomachy: Demeter’s Salvation of Persephone, and other Chromatic Myths

By Roland Betancourt

The other day, I defined chromatomachy – from the Greek chromata (colors) and machia (battle) – as a battle of color on the proportions of the mythic Ancient Greek war of the giants, the gigantomachy, or the war of the Amazons, the Amazonomachy. Lady Gaga’s music video for “Applause” did not fail to manifest precisely this notion of a chromatomachy articulated specifically through the language of Greek myth. The video unfolds like a grotesque burlesque show at the bottom of a minimalist hellscape. The carnivalesque scene is replete with human-animal hybrids, dancers, our familiar Pierrot, a giant magician’s hat, and a colored-smoke emitting cauldron. While the video does not narratively stage a battle between color and black-and-white (as Gaga’s earlier statements might suggest), it certainly constructs a cyclical push-and-pull between the two – like the passing and return of seasons.

The video blatantly stages a modern day riff on the Disney classic Fantasia (1940), a fantasy of music, color, magic, and myth with a playful, at times absurd, humor. Gaga appears in a variety of guises that allude to mythic figures: for example, she emerges out of a giant hat like a magician’s rabbit, yet the figure she embodies is reminiscent more of a Satyr, with her disco-ball pants and perky fiber-optic tail, than a rabbit.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Iconography in Motion: In Preparation for the Chromatomachy

By Roland Betancourt

On 18 August 2011, Lady Gaga uploaded on YouTube a “Pop Video Countdown” of her favorite music videos that changed the landscape of pop culture. Among these she listed David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?,” which she hails for its simplicity and effectiveness, going on to say, “and that makeup, you can never forget it.”

What is the Location of Pop? A Pop Phenomenology, Part I

By Roland Betancourt

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Pop Music Emergency: From Pallor to Applause

By Laurence Ross and Meghan Vicks

The voice is one akin to the automated airline intercom telling you to secure the mask to your face and breathe normally in order to begin the flow of oxygen. “Thank you for your cooperation during this pop music emergency,” she posts.

This voice is admittedly calmer than the one a mere seven hours before: “A POP MUSIC EMERGENCY IS UNDERWAY 911,” and “911 SUMMON THE MONSTER TROUPES.” Or her post on Saturday: “Wanna grab some shovels and fuck up some hackers?”

Applause: (from the Latin applaudere, to strike upon, clap), primarily the expression of approval by clapping of hands; generally any expression of approval.

What exactly is a state of emergency, let alone a “pop music emergency”?

A state of emergency is a period when the exception to the rule takes over – the state of exception. Normal order is suspended, and what is usually outlawed takes control precisely in order to save the system that is under attack or corrupted, that is under unbearable tension or friction. It turns out (as it often does) that the system is dependent upon that which it normally excludes, outlaws, taboos.

Lady Gaga announces a state of emergency on 12 August 2013, and there emerges “Applause,” accompanied by the jester Gaga-Pierrot. “Applause” and Gaga-Pierrot are thus positioned as the exception to the rule that has come to rule, as the exclusion-from-the-system that is necessary to restore the system, as the outlaw that has come to save us from a corrupted rule.

The questions arise: what is this system that we need saving from? What has caused this state of emergency?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

CODA: Lady Gaga is Over

By Roland Betancourt

– If you don’t like pop music, you should turn this off.
– Lady Gaga is no longer relevant.
– Ever since Born This Way, she’s a flop.
– DO NOT buy her new single ‘Applause’ on iTunes.
– Give her no A-P-P-L-A-U-S-E.
– DON’T dance to the song at all.
– DO NOT buy ARTPOP on November 11.
– She’s over.



As I wrote and published my initial response to Gaga’s cover-art for “Applause,” Lady Gaga was making an appearance at Showgirls, a weekly drag show on Monday nights at Micky’s in West Hollywood. Gaga appeared alongside drag-queens Courtney Act and RuPaul’s Drag Race alumna Shangela, who achieved Drag Race fame with her sketch of Laquifa, the P.M.P. (the Post Modern Pimp-ho). The two queens were dressed in Pierrot costumes, and wore the “Applause” cover-art makeup. As they lip-synced “Applause,” Gaga followed them around on stage with a video camera and a mounted LED light recording them (and at times the audience). Gaga also seems to have recorded several of the other drag queens’ performances as attested by a pic tweeted by Shannel:

Here, as a coda to my earlier essay, I wish to focus on Gaga’s filming of “Applause,” which has been described by blogs as being for the “Applause” lyric video, though whether this will only be for the lyric video is yet to be confirmed.

The performance at Micky’s resonates with the issues I addressed in my essay, notably: the full-fledged and unambiguous manifestation of the Pierrot iconography as a stock character, and the crucial connection between Pierrot and the Manifesto of Little Monster’s “Jester.” In the performance, Gaga reveals Pierrot as a function of drag: his stock character is duplicated on stage with the dueling Pierrots, demonstrating the trope’s duplicability with no real or original other – other than the typological form of Pierrot, which is meant to be proliferated, embodied, and performed (never just a re-performance). The use of this proto-viral image serves these tropes well and, of course, responds directly to Gaga as videographer.

Monday, August 12, 2013

GAGA PIERROT: Something of a Devoted Jester

By Roland Betancourt

[T]he costume of Pierrot worn by the mime becomes the white field into which cast shadows are thrown, creating a secondary set of traces that double two of the elements crucial to the image. One of these is the Pierrot’s hand as it points to the camera; the other is the camera itself, the apparatus that is both the subject of the mime’s gesture and the object of recording it. On the surface of the mime’s clothing, these shadows, which combine the conventional language of gesture (pointing) and the technical mechanism of recording (camera) into a single visual substance, have the character of merely ephemeral traces. But the ultimate surface on which the multiple traces are not simply registered, but fixed, is that of the photograph itself.

As an art historian, this is a stereotypical (albeit groan-worthy) place to start: a quote by the loved/reviled modernist art historian Rosalind E. Krauss. In her 1978 article “Tracing Nadar,” published in the journal October, Krauss described a late-nineteenth century photographic representation of the stock-character Pierrot by the French photographer Nadar (aka Gaspard-Félix Tournachon), focusing on the question of the photographic medium itself and its capacity to capture the indexical trace of its object – that is, on the power of the photograph to capture the objects that it represents through the physical impression of light within the camera that has bounced off the body of the sitter. In the ekphrastic description (cited above), Krauss sees the photograph of Pierrot pointing to the camera as manifesting the logic of the photographic medium, with Pierrot himself operating emblematically.  

Félix Nadar (1820-1910), Adrien Tournachon (1825-1903), Pierrot the Photographer, also called The Mime Artist Deburau, 1854. Salted paper print. H. 28.6; W. 21 cm© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Krauss’s reflections on medium specificity, medium reflexivity, and other related modernist myths dominated the fields of modern and contemporary art from the 1970s to the 1990s. Building upon and responding to the work of contemporary mentors, friends, and fellow critics, Krauss was accompanied in the crusade for medium-specificity by figures such as Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried, who saw medium-specificity as the paradigm of modernist and late-modern artistic production. Essays such as Greenberg’s “Towards a Newer Laocoön” or Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood” are taught in any survey of modern and contemporary art – and often even find their way into the most expansive surveys of global histories of art.

Hence, when I first saw the cover for Lady Gaga’s single “Applause” from ARTPOP, Krauss’s ekphrasis on Pierrot as a medium condition resounded in my mind. Surrounded by a voluptuous and crinkly white garment, Gaga’s head emerges from within the folds. She wears a tight, black skullcap, and features a white-powdered face. The image is strikingly in keeping with the iconography of the stock-character Pierrot of the Commedia dell’Arte, whose trope dates back to the seventeenth century, and is famously depicted, for example, in a 1718 painting attributed to Antoine Watteau, now in the Louvre. The character Pierrot serves as a particularly adept emblem for ARTPOP given that he was a figure of popular culture who nevertheless found its way into the most notable art of his periods, from Watteau’s canvas to Nadar’s picture – produced in the cutting-edge medium of photography. As “Applause” says: “Pop culture was in art, now art’s in pop culture, in me.”

The Burqa’s Aura: Gaga and the End of Western Art

By Devin O’Neill

So Lady Gaga decided to wear a burqa, and sing about it, and now the Internet’s eating her alive.

This deserves some attention, truly. This conversation is about the future of artistic dialog. It’s much bigger than it looks on the surface.

First, I’m tired of hearing “oh, this is just sad grasping for attention, she’s just trying to cause controversy, this isn’t culturally relevant.” No, no. Stop and think. CLEARLY it is. CLEARLY she’s actually touching a sensitive cultural button. Otherwise people wouldn’t be so pissed off about it. If what she was doing was just a sad, irrelevant grab for attention, nobody would care about what she’s saying. But they do. In terms of starting an important cultural conversation, she already wins. Let’s clear that up to begin with. The argument has blossomed.

The subject under discussion is the shape that the dialog should now take. And the position of the above article makes a relatively familiar set of assumptions:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

We are all Picasso, Baby

On Wednesday, 10 July 2013, Jay Z performed “Picasso Baby” from his album Magna Carta Holy Grail for six straight hours at Pace Gallery in Chelsea, interacting with the invitation-only audience made up of many of the art-world’s elite, including performance artist Marina Abramovic. Many agree that Jay Z’s performance draws inspiration from Abramovic’s MoMA show “The Artist is Present,” and Jay Z himself acknowledged her influence.

The performance was filmed and edited into a docu-music-video, titled “Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film,” which was released on 2 August 2013. In that video, Jay Z explains:

Concerts are pretty much performance art with the venues changed. And just by nature of the venues the performance changes, right? You’re in a smaller venue it’s a bit more intimate, so you get to feel the energy of the people. In a concert, especially a large concert, all that energy comes to you. Like, what do you do with that energy? You know so today, it’s kind of an exchange. We have some way to drop it back off, you know. When art started becoming part of the galleries, what became a separation between culture, and even in hip hop people were like, almost like, art is too bourgeois. We’re artists, we’re alike, we’re cousins. That’s what’s really exciting for me, bringing the worlds back together.

We were immediately drawn to the performance’s “stigmata effect.” That is, the artist doesn’t just perform for the audience; the audience (made up of critics, fans, other artists, children) becomes an equal and necessary part of the performance. “Picasso Baby” takes place not just in or through the body of Jay Z, but also through the bodies of the people at that event. Everyone becomes “Picasso Baby.” As the “Manifesto of Little Monsters” positions Gaga as the “devoted jester” to her kingly and queenly fans, renders Gaga the mirror that reflects – and therefore embodies – her fans, so Jay Z’s performance changes depending upon who comes before him: sometimes he watches the audience sing or dance, sometimes they mess him up, and they always impact his movements, his engagement, his spectacle. We’re tempted to ask: who’s interpreting whom? Who’s viewing whom? Who’s influencing whom? Who’s the artist and who’s the audience? But these are questions that no longer make sense during the “stigmata effect.” As Gaga would say, “There is no chicken or egg.”

We guess we could ask: are we part of the performance? Do we experience the “stigmata effect”? Or is that performance bounded by a specific place (Pace Gallery, Chelsea) and time (6 hours; 10 July 2013), and we’re merely spectators, not participants in the spectacle?

We think interpretation wounds the performance once again, lets its blood to let us in, allows us to become “Picasso Baby.”  

In this spirit, we invited some of our favorite writers to contribute to a roundtable discussion of the performance, to build a conversation that is a stigmata of “Picasso Baby” at Pace Gallery.

+ + Kate Durbin & Meghan Vicks + +

Monday, August 5, 2013

Gaga in Space

By Ben Fama

On Saturday, 3 August 2013, The Atlas Review, in cooperation with the Marina Abramovic Institute, hosted a long durational performance in the screening room of Brooklyn’s upscale Wythe Hotel. Under Marina’s instruction, more than 55 performers read Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris in its entirety. “Special guests” included Marina Abramovic, Neil Gaiman, and Lady Gaga. 

Marina introduced the event by skyping in on a screen and relating an allegory about a shepherd walking beneath the stars. The shepherd taught Marina to close her eyes in order to listen better when talking to other people. Event staff then passed out white blindfolds and encouraged the audience to wear them for as much of the performance as they chose.

The first reader was Lady Gaga. Gaga provided a short video, which began with a flash of an image of herself, short hair falling in her eyes. The video went to black screen as she read the first page of the novel. The clip ended with a quick flash of the same image, a look I overheard someone else describe as a Mara-Rooney-Girl-with-the-Dragon-Tattoo-esque. Other standouts included Lynne Tillman, Jennifer Tamayo (who performed with a megaphone), and Monica McClure who collaborated with dancer Cori Kresge. 

Considering that Gaga appeared alongside Marina at the 20th Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit just last Saturday, 27 July 2013, her participation here isn’t surprising. 

Visit the Marina Abramovic Institute’s kickstarter page for additional information.

Author bio:
Ben Fama is the author of New Waves, Aquarius Rising, and the artist book Mall Witch. He is the co-editor of Wonder. His work has been featured and discussed in The Brooklyn Rail, Bomb Magazine, Action Yes, Jubilat, and on the Best American Poetry Blog. He lives in New York City.