Boy has it been awhile since I wrote about Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, and I’m glad this art book thing came along to inspire me to write it up. Maybe soon I’ll get back into writing up everything else from 2016. The last flexi disk project that Oldham was involved in was one I blogged about here, which included a 7” flexi with a song Oldham wrote for Caveh Zahedi that was included with the DVD boxset of Zahedi’s films. I wonder if this 7” flexi mixed-media collaboration thing is a trend that will continue into the Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy future?
This one is a bit disappointing in that the 7” flexi contains only a replication of the song “Go Folks Go” as it appears on 2010’s The Wonder Show Of The World. So, it’s not really anything new, musically speaking. But there’s something else going on here. Replication is what this whole art project appears to be about—the concept of repeating, reproducing, replicating, and how ‘copying’ is now a normal everyday part of our lives. The art of the 21st century, more than ever, is caught up in eating its own tail, and the question art academic Bettina Funcke (say that name out loud) asks is, “How can we disengage with copying? How do we escape it?”
In her critique printed in the catalog, Funcke goes on to discuss some of the concepts behind van Kreij’s images—which are mostly gridded replications of detail from Picasso paintings (pictures of his studio)—and feature in an art gallery exhibition somewhere in…is it Denmark? No, the Netherlands. Yes, where Will Oldham’s countryside village tour with regular collaborator Emmett Kelly was filmed and then released as The Royal Dutch Tour Documentary. Maybe he met Marijn van Kreij, or someone from the Dutch art collective/collection ABN AMRO (which is, at time of writing, the name of the third largest bank in the Netherlands who presumably sponsor the art award, of whom the 2016 recipient was Mr. van Kreij), and a connection was forged, and he agreed to lend a song to the exhibition catalog. The exhibition, or presentation, by the way, is entitled Reclining Nude with Man Playing Guitar, and the viewer is invited to play this song, “Go Folks Go” while viewing the artworks.
The exhibition preamble (from the link above), describes Oldham’s song thus: “What begins as a poetic love song, full of playful inversions, ends with the exhortation: ‘go folks, go forth, trust your brain, trust your body’.” This sounds very much like a pithy summary of my own discussion of the song in my review of The Wonder Show Of The World published here a couple of years ago. Whoever wrote that sentence, “What begins…”, declines to link the song thematically, however, to van Kreij’s exhibition. “Why this song?” is the question we ask, and it’s something I might pretend to answer very soon. One thing worth mentioning is the nature of a flexi disk of course, being a cheap reproduction of a song already available on proper vinyl. The flexi plays at 45 and has a loud clear pitch, but there’s crackle too, and that’s only bound to quickly get worse as the flexi gets repeated plays. Deterioration is a theme already done brilliantly by William Basinski, and more recently in the works of Ian Craig (as a ‘copy’ of Basinski?) so what of it here? A theme of attenuation? That copying is merely dissemination and by extension, becomes outdated and worn, unlike van Kreij’s reconstitution of Piccaso art into something new?
Nonetheless, copy, reproduction—the flexi is there as a piece of physical evidence for anyone who buys the catalog, to actively engage in the art while in the comfort of one’s own home, as if one were at the exhibition by playing it on your turntable and viewing the catalog. Thus these acts themselves are a version of (weakened) replication. Cool. And how does this song bear out then? Let me examine the lyrics one more time.
It’s probable, looking at the song a second time, I over-read the lyrics when I wrote about them the first time, choosing to hear complication where there may not be any. On the surface it appears to be a love song sung from the point of view of a guy who can’t believe his good fortune—he’s happily locked into the perfect relationship—one where he’s perfectly free to leave without his partner taking offence, and that very freedom is the thing that keeps him anchored. He’s being loved, accepted for exactly who he is, and this makes him feel “welcome.” He even advises “no need to think” lest thinking upset the equilibrium he feels in this relationship. He hands agency for his life, and this luck, over to a spiritual, religious, or astral entity, whom he refers to as “God” suggesting it’s better to let God “guide us to our graves”, rather than we do it ourselves. Thus the song’s title which informs the chorus line, “Go folks! Go forth! Go folks! Trust your brain! Trust your body!” seems like a shout from the rooftops, though it’s delivered with the quiet import of hard-found wisdom, and concedes only a little to celebration. Ultimately, the song reaffirms a oneness with God, in that your brain and your body, if they’re to be trusted, are a product of ‘God’, which I read here as the unselfconscious mind, the lizard brain.
One might imagine Marijn van Kreij heard this exhortation as relating to the viewing of his work, to trust your brain and body as you react to the images. My reaction is less related to the sense of ‘copy’ than it is to ‘pattern’. The patterns lovingly reproduced in the catalog on rice paper dominate my sense-fields before any notion of replication comes into play and I’m led to wonder about visual effect. Nonetheless, if I ask Funcke’s question of myself, “How do I escape replicating things?” my thoughts lead me to argue that we are all part of one whole, that we ourselves are replications, and that is why replication and copying are true—because they mirror our existence. Looking at my own modus operandi for this blog, I’ve even referred to my write-ups, or ‘reviews’ if you will, as “textual cover versions”, and therefore just another form of copying.