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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.”

Upon hearing this, I decided to re-watch Bowie’s video, given that Bowie has played an important role in Gaga’s visuals before, most notably in the lighting-bolt eye makeup that she used in her early work – an explicit reference to him. Not to mention that Bowie also channeled a version of Pierrot in his “Ashes to Ashes” music video, opting for a harlequin costume instead of the monochrome white one that Gaga used for the “Applause” cover. Upon turning to the video, the fortuitous advertising campaign for “Applause” did all the work for me, presenting an excellent side-by-side comparison of the Bowie video and the “Applause” cover art. The tight close-up shot is commonly used throughout the video, interspersed with wider shots of Bowie dancing, all in front of a white background. As the screenshot above captures, Bowie’s makeup was truly unforgettable.

As Gaga announces that the “Applause” video, which premieres on 19 August 2013 on Good Morning America – almost exactly two years to the day after her citation of the Bowie video – shall be a battle between Black-and-White and Color, we must linger on the significance of this parallel, as well as on the issues I have previously discussed here to imagine a spectacular Technicolor chromatomachy – from the Greek chromata (colors) and machia (battle). Let us begin to imagine: a war of color on the proportions of the mythic Ancient Greek war of the giants, the gigantomachy, or the war of the Amazons, the Amazonomachy. Or, the transcendental revelation of color via the icon in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (1966). While we do not know what the battle will look like, we know that its terrain will be the white-canvas body of Lady Gaga as per the visage of Pierrot, refracted through Bowie and others. Truly, “iconography in motion” as Gaga has described it.

Author bio:
Roland Betancourt is a doctoral candidate in the History of Art Department at Yale University writing a dissertation entitled, “The Proleptic Image: An Investigation of the Medium in Byzantium.” In April 2012, he co-chaired a major symposium at Yale entitled Byzantium/Modernism on the mutually generative collision of Byzantium and Modernism. In addition to various other projects, he is currently editing a special volume of the journal postmedieval entitled, “Imagined Encounters: Historiographies for a New World,” which asks scholars to suspend disbelief and create cross-temporal analyses using artworks and theories from different historical spaces.

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1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this article. I am cautious about Gaga and her feelings, and since he's yet to "Accept" Gaga as an artist that has anything much to say from my last read of what Bowie said "...I feel a lack of any true emotion in her work. I do not connect with her emotionally. Her songs are fun, but she should try to find the meaning. And emotion simultaneously to connect with her fans, and fans-to-be..." Not a direct quote by any means just from what I remember. I don't want her to get hurt feelings if he says anything rude to her. Let's PRAY to God, or the Universe, or whoever or whatever you want, that nothing sad comes of this for my woman!


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