May 17, 2008

KRAZY! show leads to crazy thoughts

The Vancouver Art Gallery opened this week with an exhibition that wants to change the way people think about comics, animation and video games.

It's called KRAZY!

Bruce Grenville curated the show with the help of a squad of guest curators who are distinguished practicioners in the fields of manga, comics, graphic novels (aren't these three categories all the same?), animation and video games, including Art Spiegelman - the creator of the Pulitzer Prize-winning comic, Maus.

KRAZY! is built around the premise that it is time to reconsider the importance of popular "visual culture", ie comics and all, with culture as a whole. And the act of hanging on the gallery wall the work, be they original comic pages or animation cels, will somehow provide the critical space to assess the phenomena.

Spiegelman in his opening remarks that felt more like an apologia to the media that the artists included in KRAZY! was "just the tip of the iceberg."

But Spiegelman and this show has it all wrong.

Visual culture isn't an iceberg, and KRAZY isn't its tip. Visual culture (KRAZY culture, if you will) is an ocean and as it increasingly dominates big "C" culture in total they may be little left outside of anime, comics, etc.

Music, literature, visual arts and other story-telling and representational activities may soon be the distilled and frozen chunks floating in KRAZY culture.

If it comes down to Astro Boy versus Hamlet or the Mona LIsa, the 1 000 000-horsepower robot creation of Osamu Tezuka may be the champion.

It's not that KRAZY culture is more important than high culture or the fine arts and literature. It's just that KRAZY culture is bigger and more pervasive in the popular is the near essence of the popular imagination.

KRAZY culture - having been outside the validatiing discourse of museums and galleries or art journals - has developed its own discursive environment of comic shops, meetups, conventions, blogs, zines and chatrooms where there can be on occasion a fairly sophisticated analysis of all this cutural production. KRAZY culture already has a critical framework to address the importance of itself built on fandom instead of academia or the curatorial class.

So what is the KRAZY! exhibition for? What does the frame of a gallery provide? It does validate the appetites of the nerds who support KRAZY culture and its attempt to crossover into and become the respectable and profitable mainstream (take for example the success of the film, Iron Man). But does KRAZY! add to the conversation? Or is the exhibition intended to help visual art culture and its institutions catch-up?

In a content-is-king world, KRAZY culture is King Kong AND Godzilla and what a gallery may only offer is, perhaps, some gilding.

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