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National Art Education Association

A Semiotic Reading and Discourse Analysis of Postmodern Street Performance

Source: Studies in Art Education, Vol. 51, No. 1 (FALL 2009), pp. 21-35
Published by: National Art Education Association
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Copyright 2009 by the National Art Education Association
Studies in Art Education: A Journal of Issues and Research
2009, 51(1), 21-35

"Apart from artists in A Semiotic Reading and

the institutionalized Discourse Analysis of Postmodern
Street Performance
art world,

postmodern street SHENG KUAN CHUNG

University of Houston
artists adopt guerrilla
communication and Postmodern street art operates under a set of references that

requires art educators and researchers to adopt alternative

pubic intervention analytical frameworks in order to understand its meanings. In this
methods to article, we describe social semiotics, critical discourse analysis, and
postmodern street performance as well as the relevance of the
disseminate former two in interpreting the latter. To illustrate how the meaning

of postmodern street performance is a socially constructed fluid

their work with variable that is situated, generated, and utilized in a particular
an intention of context of discourse, we provide examples of analysis of street

performances by Berlin-based artist Aram Bartholl. Finally, by

generating public garnering insights from this discourse analysis, we offer several
conclusions. In the end, we propose the employment of social
discourse about semiotics and discourse analysis as a more reflexive way of under-
various social
standing postmodern street art practices.

Correspondence regarding this article may be sent to the authors at the
Department of Curriculum and Instruction, 256 Farish Hall, University of
Houston, Houston, TX 77204-5027. E-mail:;
The authors contributed equally to this article by rotating the authorship.

Studies in Art Education I Volume 5 1 , No. 1 2 1

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prevalence of new-age commu- view taken from social semiotics, in which visual

nication devices such as Internet, arts is seen as a form of communication (Chaplin,

mobile phones, Blackberries, iPods, 1994), we see many recent works of postmodern
street art as relevant illustrations of how meaning
and hand-held televisions affords more
is not just given but is always socially constructed.
diverse and accessible interactions in
Social semiotics offers a new perspective on inter-
physical and virtual environments,pretingthe postmodern street art. Because of the
young generations today spend more time emphasis
than of semiotics on codes, signs, and their
previous generations receiving media-related
interactions, art educators have adopted them into
information, communicating with each other,
their research and classroom practices (jagodz-
and playing games online. They glide effortlessly
inski, 2004; Smith-Shank, 1995; Wyrick, 2004).
between the virtual and the physical world. Many
researchers and educators have begun to address
In the postmodern arena, artists produce
this phenomenon intensively and have started to
focus on the social aspect of online gaming conceptual
and art using unconventional media,
its implications for education (Brown, 2006; Gee,
by computer technologies,
and presented through guerrilla communications
2004; Squire, 2002).
and street performances. The existing art criticism
Along these lines, art educators have also
models such as those proposed by Anderson
started paying attention to postmodern condi-
(1993), Barrett (1994), Broudy (1972), and Feldman
tions and art education with respect to innovative
(1981) are inadequate for dealing with non-insti-
uses of new technologies such as virtual reality
tutionalized postmodern art, whether circulated
(jagodzinski, 2005; Sakatani, 2005), computer art
in the streets or on the Internet. In this article, we
(Humphries, 2003), identity formation in relation
propose employing social semiotics and critical
to popular and visual culture (Gaudelius & Speirs,
discourse analysis for understanding postmodern
2002), interactive hypertext (Carpenter & Taylor,
street art. We explore the "WOW" Project by Berlin-
2006), and digital storytelling (Chung, 2007),
basedasmedia artist Aram Bartholl as an example for
well as other unconventional media in new this
plat-illustration. We conclude by garnering insights
forms (i.e., graffiti and street art). Challenging
from reading and reflecting on Bartholl's work from
the traditional notion of art as tangible objects
a semiotic perspective. As part of those efforts, we
intended mostly for the high culture, these "new"
propose the employment of social semiotics and
forms of art encourage discussions regarding the analysis as more reflexive ways of under-
philosophy of art, contemporary technovisualstanding postmodern street art practices.
culture, and the development of multiliteracy (see
We define postmodern street art and, in
Duncum, 2004). particular, street performances. We then offer
In this era of multimodal representations, it several
is of select educational implications of this
crucial importance that we prepare students andof communication and representation. The
teachers to be able to understand and examine section will be followed by discussions on social
the various modes of representation and the
semiotics and critical discourse analysis and how
they can be used to serve as a helpful analytical
processes of their social construction. With the

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framework for understanding postmodern street Militancy against the historic exclusion of
performance. After that, we use Bartholl's works to women from politics, science, medicine, history,
illustrate an actual application of these methods and art and the traditional subjugation of women,
and present our associated analyses. still common in many cultures, underlies the
feminist art movement that criticizes the ways in
Postmodern Street Performance
which society has become saturated with gender
Postmodern street performance has its roots
stereotypes, influencing male and female role
in the activist and feminist art movement of the
developments. To disseminate these messages
1 960s. Apart from artists in the institutionalized art
about sex/gender-based prejudice or discrimi-
world, postmodern street artists adopt guerrilla
nation, feminist artists use urban streets to reach
communication and pubic intervention methods a mass audience. Feminist artists such as Suzanne
to disseminate their work with an intention of
Lacy, Leslie Labowitz, Barbara Kruger, and the
generating public discourse about various social Guerrilla Girls are keenly aware of how the modern
society is structured to fulfill certain functions and
To reach this goal, many have performed the forms and types of problems that result from
conceptual pieces on controversial issues in urban such structure.
city streets that aim to enlighten, shock, and These artists have used a variety of aesthetic
sometimes confuse the audience. For example, media to tackle issues and concerns relating to
a performance by David Hammons showed him gender inequity. For these artists, the everyday
standing on a snowy street corner in New York City personal experience is political and should be
selling snowballs, which, in effect, made a highly subject to public discourse. One of the feminist
public and somewhat amusing statement about aesthetic strategies, according to Lucy Lippard, is to
art as commodity (Firrincili, 2006). As another include "collaboration, dialogue, a constant ques-
example, artist Tania Bruguera challenged the tioning of aesthetic and social assumptions, and
issues of violence, censorship, and human resil- a new respect for audience" (qtd. in Felshin, 1995,
ience by performing half-naked, wearing only a p. 18). Other feminist artists attempt to push the
lamb carcass and herding a flock of sheep through common notion of gender much further, "beyond
the streets of Ghent, Belgium (Bayliss, 2004). the dialectic between beauty and the beast and
Hammons and Bruguera are not alone in their beyond the schism between nature and culture.
efforts in challenging established art institutions Gender itself ... [has been] suddenly unhinged
and preconceptions through their innovative from any loaded definitions and distinctions
thinking, humor, and alternative expressions. For between men and women" (Hess, 1995, p. 327).
instance, African American artist William Pope.L Like feminist art, activist art is also a branch
is notorious for challenging racial stereotypes. In of the conceptual art movement originating in
fact, his series of provocative and disturbing street the late 1960s and early 1970s (Felshin, 1995).
performances have often ended in his arrest. In According to the art historian Nina Felshin (1995),
a 1997 performance, Pope.L stood half-naked on activist art, whatever its forms or methods are, is
a New York City street. He clothed himself with a process-oriented. Activist art no longer caters
skirt made of dollar bills and chained himself with to the needs of the art world and its institu-
sausage links to the door of a New York City bank. tions (or the art elites). Activist artists, instead,
Instead of begging for money from the pedes- make ephemeral pieces in multimedia at public
trians as a typical New York City panhandler would sites to initiate a civic dialogue about issues that
in front of the bank, Pope.L encouraged people to have a direct impact on people's lives. To get its
strip away his dollar bills (Pollack, 2003). messages out to a much larger audience, activist

Studies in Art Education I Volume 51, No. 1 23

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artists utilize "such mainstream media techniques are expert at, what you do every day. The
as the use of billboards, wheat-pasted posters, touch, the hand of the artist and the hand
subway and bus advertising, and news inserts to of the sanman [sic]. I want to make a chain
deliver messages that subvert the usual intentions of hands ... A hand-chain to hold up the
of these commercial forms" (Felshin, 1995, p. 10). whole City. (qtd. in Phillips, 1 995, p.1 83)
Indicative of these efforts for sizable exposure, In her series of maintenance art, Ukeles
urban streets are the key avenue for postmodern manifested the work of sanitation workers as an
street artists to engage in the political discourse aesthetic endeavor that should be known and
that urges for changes. publicly appreciated. Importantly, through such
Such postmodern street art and activist art can creative expressions and performances, she was
be seen in a series of well-known street perfor- able to exert influence on the issues of urban
mances by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, exemplifying ecology while simultaneously publicizing her
her concern with sanitation and landfill issues efforts in New York to the cities around the world
in New York City (Phillips, 1995). Ukeles and thevia her noteworthy photography exhibitions.
New York sanitation workers worked together to
In order to create art that effectively addresses
motivate city residents to improve and care for
contemporary social issues, a number of street
their environment. As part of her performance,
performances have employed in their creations
Ukeles dressed up as a street cleaning lady in
postmodernist concepts such as mini-narratives,
SoHo, a neighborhood known as a gathering spot
contingency, pluralism, fragmentation, decen-
for the city's art elite, whose streets are notorious
tralization, irrationality, depthlessness, hyper-
for their filth and litter. During her performance,
reality, hybridization, pastiche, and kitsch. In an
nearby shop owners offered her old clothes and
attempt to synthesize such a movement, Clark
rags to scrub down the streets and sidewalks. After
(1998) described the prototype of a postmodern
about an hour, some bystanders joined her in the
artist as "a collagist who relies on allegories, meta-
cleanup effort. Phillips (1995) described Ukeles'
phors, and narrative elements to create art that
aesthetic intention as follows:
essentially parodies contemporary culture" (p. 9).
For Ukeles, public art must stimulate and
In addition, Efland, Freedman, and Stuhr (1996)
sustain a civic dialogue. The immensity
noted that "postmodern artists are often inter-
and urgency of the issues that she
ested in surface, juxtaposition, and illusion" (p. 29).
engages (city viability, active citizenship,
As ironic and parodie as their work may appear,
environmental awareness) demonstrate
a large number of postmodern artists are deter-
that, for her, contemporary activism means
mined to make their work accessible to a broad
a comprehensive, compassionate response
range of viewers in their intention to disseminate
to a complex, multivalent world, (p. 1 68)
their political messages. Their ultimate goal is to
Another important piece of Ukeles' perfor-
"encourage viewers to question individual and
mance was shaking 5,000 sanitation workers'
collective assumptions, beliefs, and practices and
hands. Ukeles explains, in her own words, the
take action to bring about positive and healthy
significance of shaking hands with New York City
conditions of social change" (Krug, 2002, p.1 88).
sanitation workers:

I've talked a lot about 'hands,' to 'handle' Why Social Semiotics?

waste, 'handling' the pressures and As Rose (2001) pointed out, anything that has
difficulties of the job, and finally - about meaning "can be understood in terms of signs and
'shaking, shaking, shaking hands.This is the work they do" (p.74). In light of the meaning of
an artwork about hand-energy. What you street performance that is derived from the corre-

24 Lee and Chung / Postmodern Street Performance

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Figure 1 . A screen shot of World of Warcraft. Photo used with permission from
Aram Bartholl's website at

sponding public discourse and its social context, Semiotics in art education is nothing new
we suggest employing the framework of social (jagodzinski, 2004; Smith-Shank, 1995). When
semiotics and critical discourse analysis to better we consider artmaking as a way of making
understand postmodern street performances. The signs, symbols, and icons, understanding of its
very goal of these postmodern street performers products and creative processes can be achieved
in reconceptualizing the meaning of art through by employing semiotics. Educators such as Jeffers
direct interaction with the audience provides a (2000) proposed using semiotics to provide a
sound justification for employment of social semi- comprehensive art program in order to combine
otics as our analytical lens. In the section below, the formalist and contextualist aesthetic theories.

we will first provide a brief description of social The language and perspective of semiotics
semiotics and critical discourse analysis. Next, we provides insights to art education as it empha-
explain our application in interpreting a street sizes "the deployments of the specific ways the
performance by Aram Bartholl. meanings of an image are produced through

Studies in Art Education I Volume 5 1 , No. 1 25

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Figures 2 and 3. Aram Bartholl's WOW Project

26 Lee and Chung / Postmodern Street Performance

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that particular image thus focusing on the social by the process of digitization wherein one might
effects of meaning" (Rose, 2001 , p. 70). ask questions such as, 'Shall I say this visually or
It is important to specify here that we are inter- verbally?'which beg still other questions that focus
ested in "social" semiotics to distinguish it from the more on "the semiotic rather than the technical

traditional (Saussurean) semiotics. According to element, the question of how this technical possi-
Jewitt and Oyama (2001), Saussurean semiotics bility can be made to work semiotically" (Kress &
focuses on 'code' as a set of rules for connecting van Leewen, 2001, p. 2). Clearly, social semiotics
signs and meanings. The source (or resources) is not an end in itself but a tool for use in critical

of the codes and the actual use (realization) of research.

the rules, however, were not the main focus of

Critical Discourse Analysis
the Saussurean semioticians. On the other hand,
Discourse analysis adds another level to social
social semioticians, influenced by Charles Peirce,
are interested in how different kinds of rules are
semiotics because it is possible to study the
sign relations within (discourse semantics) and
applied and utilized in different contexts. The
between (intertextuality) linguistic texts in great
use of social semiotics provides "a method that
detail (Lemke, 1998). Jensen (2002) define the
can help [the viewers] penetrate the apparent
term discourse as follows:
autonomy and reality of adverts, in order to reveal
their ideological status" and show how meanings [A] knowledge which is (1) a knowledge

change and are changed in use (Rose, 2001, of practices, of how things are or must be

p. 71). Such a perspective takes as a given that done . . . together with specific evaluations

every system of signs is the product of semiotic and legitimations of and purposes for these
processes that documents the history of its own practices (2) a knowledge which is linked

constitution (Hodge & Kress, 1988). Referencing to and activated in the context of specific

Ebert's (1991) notion of resistance postmod- communicative practices. This means

ernism, a sign is always an arena where material that people may at different times draw
on different discourses about the same
conflicts and competing social relationships occur
(Kincheloe & McLaren, 2000). In effect, we should practice or practices, choosing the one they
rethink a signifier as an ideological dynamic that see as most adequate to their own interests
is always related to a contextually afforded set of in the given context, (p. 1 14)

signifieds. Others define discourse more succinctly. For

Using social semiotics, a key question in under- instance, Hodge and Kress (1 988) refer to discourse
standing postmodern street art relates to how as "the site where social forms of organization
people use aesthetic modes and media in actual, engage with systems of signs in the production
concrete, interactive instances of communicative of texts, thus reproducing or changing the sets
practices. Although the notion of semiotics initially of meanings and values which make up a culture"
focused on the mode of verbal language system, (p. 6). 'Discourse' is used in a general sense for
advancements in technology have expanded the language (as well as, for instance, visual imagery)
parameter of this discipline to the various multi- as an element of social life which is dialectically
modal texts. Kress and van Leewen (2001) empha- related to other elements. Different discourses

sized "a view of multimodality in which common are different ways of representing aspects of the
semiotic principles operate in and across different world. Referencing Raymond Williams (1997),
modes, and in which it is therefore quite possible Fairclough (2003) points out that critical discourse
for music to encode action, or images to encode analysis is based upon a view of semiosis as an
emotion" (p. 2). Multimodality is made possible irreducible element of all material social processes.

Studies in Art Education I Volume 51 , No. 1 27

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Critical discourse analysis, therefore, focuses on to art institutions, enjoyed mostly by an elite few
the dialectical relationships between discourse who could afford time, money, and, in most cases,
and other elements of social practices. education and experience needed for the full
Fairclough (2003) talks about three ways that appreciation of art. Postmodern street artists and
discourse figures in social practices: (1) as a part of their works, however, suggest and operate under
the social activity within a practice, (2) in represen- a different framework of references. They provide
tation, and (3) in the constitution of identities. We us with a flexible and democratic way of looking at,
are interested in the second aspect, the discourse's defining, and interpreting art. The artists commu-
configuration in representation, which is a process nicate through images and performances; it is, thus,
of social construction of practice. Representation important to understand the kind of discourse in
includes self-construction where representations which these artists engage.
enter and shape social processes and practices As mentioned in the previous section of this
(Fairclough, 2003). In other words, we are inter- article, postmodern street artists seek to challenge
ested in how discourse as a particular form of the traditional notion of art as high, original, and
language manifests the workings of its own rules static products created mainly for the consumption
and conventions in its production and circulation. of the privileged few. They do so by shaking the
Citing Nead's (1988) work, Rose (2001) points "readers"out of their comfort zones and by encour-
out that art, as a specialized form of knowledge, aging them to expand their horizon about their
should also be considered discourse. In the insti- conceptions of art and life. This is similar to Bertolt
tutionalized artworld, 'art' becomes "not a certainBrecht's notion of 'Verfremdungseffekt," which
kind of visual images but the knowledges, insti-can be roughly translated as "alienation-effect" or
tutions, subjects and practices which work to"distantation-effect." It is a dramatic effect aimed
define certain images as art and others not as art"at encouraging an attitude of crucial detachment
(Rose, 2001, p.1 36). Postmodern discourse theory in the audience instead of passive submission to
regards all social phenomena as being structuredrealistic illusion (Baldick, 2004). It is assuming the
semiotically by rules and codes (Schwandt, 2001). object of which one is to be made aware, to which
In other words, meaning is never jusf'given" but is one's attention is to be drawn, from something
always socially constructed. In this sense, under- ordinary, familiar, immediately accessible, into
standing art means interpreting the discourse something particular, striking and unexpected"
within which the work is situated, with the under-
(Brecht & Willett, 2001, p.1 43). In this sense, the
standing of intertexuality as "the way that the
Brechtian audience was encouraged to remain
meanings of any one discursive image or textconscious of the distance between the actors and
depend not only on that one text or image, but
the characters they present.
also on the meanings carried by other images
and texts" (Rose, 2001, p.1 36). Cultural studiesThe Discourse of Street Performance
also have taught us to look closely at the rela- by Aram Bartholl
tionship of cultural production, interpretation, Although Bartholl's art may not be seen as an
and consumption to social processes and institu-example for strong social activism, both activist
tions (Jensen, 2002). street art and Bartholl's work are rooted in the

The working of discourse "disciplines subjects same postmodern street art culture and mentality
into certain ways of thinking and acting" (Rose,in that they use creative methods and strategies
2001 , p.1 37). In the traditional discourse of art andsuch as guerrilla communications, public distur-
art criticism, we the subjects have been disciplinedbance, and street performance to raise important
to think of art as aesthetic constructs belonging issues pertaining to contemporary life and partic-

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¡pate in street politics that engages the public in chosen outfit, race, and capabilities. The WOW
critical discourses. Like activist street art, Bartholl's game player gives the character a nickname, which
work serves to problematize our ta ken-for-g ranted is then displayed on a uniform sign constantly
experiences and to confront, disturb, challenge, floating above the player's head to show other
and enlighten the public about our everyday players that person's identity (see Figure 1).
living conditions. In this game environment, each virtual char-
In his book, Performing Pedagogy: Toward an Art acter represents a sign, a signifier, and an ideo-
of Politics, Garoian (1999) poses questions about logical dynamic. The meanings of the character/
the definition of performance art, its function as sign can be varied through its endless interpré-
pedagogy, and its implications for teaching in tants (produced by the relationship between
the visual arts classroom. Garoian points out that the sign and its representation) generated by the
the genre of performance art in recent times players unless the players share a social knowledge
has become a choice for artists of marginalized community in which the certain signifieds would
cultures as an useful strategy to "aestheticize issues allow them to successfully identify the role, gender,
surrounding ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and capability of the character based on prevailing
race, and class distinctions" (pp. 18-1 9). The perfor- visual characteristics. The role of the character

mance artists have questioned the assumptions created by one player would make sense to other
of traditional art and culture and provided oppor- players only within the social context shared by
tunities for critical thinking. Performance art has the game players.
"enabled artists to critique traditional aesthetics, Bartholl's WOW project appropriates game
to challenge and blur the boundaries that exist scenes from the virtual environment of the
between the arts and other disciplines and those game, World of Warcraft, and transforms them
that separate art and life" (Garoian, 1999, p.19). into a series of street performances that features
Referring to the earlier works of Jameson (1984), common people (volunteers) doing their routine
Foster (1 985), and Auslander (1 992), Garoian argues activities such as shopping in a store, getting a
that the repositioning of the body in postmodern cup of coffee at a deli, or talking on a cell phone
culture is the pedagogical function of perfor- on the street. As each performer goes on with his/
mance art. In this sense, Bartholl's work shows an her activities walking around in the street, another
example of appropriation where artists manip- person follows right behind the performer, holding
ulate language and context which in turn makes a signage of the performer's name so that it looks
rearrangements of the schema within which our as if floating above his/her head. This makes a site/
experiences and interpretations are organized.1 sight of reality life look like a virtual game (see
Through a series of street performances that Figure 2).
question how the digital data embody themselves Such recontexutalizing of the virtual game envi-
in our everyday life or transform themselves from ronment into the physical world quickly generates
cyberspace into physical space, Bartholl's art poses a series of interesting and thought-provoking
the question: 'How do digital innovations control questions to ponder; e.g., What is reality? What
our everyday interactions?' Inspired by a popular is the function of art? When is one an artist? Can

online computer game called World of Warcraft humans unknowingly become art? Does the
(WOW), Bartholl transforms the cyberspace game street art refer to the game or does the game
environment into the reality world in his series of refer to the street art? How are the meanings from
street performances titled "The WOW Project." In this art experienced differently by gamers and
the online environment of the game WOW, each non-gamers? Bartholl's series of highly innovative
player is able to create a virtual character with a and expressive street performances are signs in

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full operation, namely semiosis. Because many street performers, in effect, attempt to develop
variables (i.e., signifieds generated by the viewer) visual discourses that challenge our conventional
come into play during semiosis, Bartholl's work notion of separation between the world of "reality"
(or any postmodern street performance) is likely and the "virtual" and draw to light the mergence
to evoke meanings and interpretations vastly or interconnectedness of the two worlds and the
different from more common, familiar interpreta- extent to which the both environments influence
tions. Therefore, the bystander (audience) may our perception of reality.
understand, misunderstand, or be confused by In one performance of Bartholl's WOW Project
his street performances since meanings are recon- (see Figure 3), Djino Claeys, the person, is the
structed by the social context in the vernacular of
signified and "Djino Claeys," the name on the sign,
the viewer.
is the signifier. There is nothing inherent about
Semiotically, Bartholl's street performances can why Djino should be called "Djino.'The relationship
only be fully understood by the viewers whose between the signified and the signifier is arbitrary.
gaming knowledge is linked to and activated And in this work, the arbitrariness of the rela-
in the context of Bartholl's street performance. tionship is explicitly manifested by the actual sign
Although each interpretation will be unique, of his name above his head. It can be concluded
gaming savvy viewers have experienced or are that there are several layers of meaning in the
familiar with the virtual gaming and know the
reading of this performance. The fact that people
rules and codes associated with the game. Some
are not what they are called is expressed explicitly
street viewers, while familiar with the virtual
through the distance between Djino Claeys the
gaming procedures, codes, and signifiers of WOW,
person and "Djino Claeys" the sign. The name itself
may still be confused with Bartholl's performance
serves the function of appellation - it exists so
partly because the virtual context has been
another person can refer to him as Djino. The fact
replaced with the physical context. In the WOW
that the location of the name (as a display) is stra-
cyberspace, game players are used to this type
tegically placed so as to be seen by others while
of signage floating above each character's head,
much less accessible to the subject (since it is
which is also necessary for all players to engage
above his head) also points to the name's function
proper social interactions. However, it is not so on
asan appellation.
the city streets of the physical world. Consequently,
as the virtual merges into the physical, any acts,
Because Bartholl's work operates within the

however routine virtually, may disorient even the discourse of game world and cyberspace, only
most dedicated WOW players who are, albeit for the audience who is familiar with the game (and

a moment, metaphorically reliving the virtual its signage system) can fully understand the
game environment in their everyday lives. As this various levels of communication implicit in this
occurs, Bartholl's street performances force such performance. Such forms of street art commu-
viewers to re-perceive their taken-for-granted nication are clearly intended for audiences who
sense of reality. The WOW project makes unfa- understand the discourses of games and virtual
miliar the common notion of what we consider or cyber worlds as well as their associated symbol
the reality as well as the virtual by creatingsystems.
a Like viewers of institutionalized art who
semiotic space where these two merge. Barthollneed theory and knowledge of art in order to
and his colleagues brilliantly take the symbols fully
out participate in art discourse, one may have
trouble taking part in the construction and the
of original online game environments and recon-
textualize them into the "physical," face-to-face
consumption of Bartholl's work if one is unfamiliar
context, thereby defamiliarizing the objects. Such
with signs used in the virtual gaming. Therefore, it

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may be difficult and perhaps frustrating for some (for "Find business" locations) and places it on an
to attempt to understand Bartholl's art. actual street. In stretching into still other media for
As we become more wired and technology- his artistic expressions, he later posted his project
dependent in various aspects of our lives, the on YouTube, which displayed the making of this
boundary between the real and virtual is continu- innovative street art as well as the reaction of the

ously being crossed over and blurred by myriad people passing by. The project is also an example
new technologies. Jean Baudrillard (1988) stipu- of the intentional disruption between the "real/
lates that it is virtually impossible to distinguish physical" and the virtual. In Google Maps, the
the real from the imaginary in the electronic symbol acts as a referent for locating the particular
media-saturated arena. Baudrillard argues that business location (e.g., Pizza Hut, Office Max, etc.)
the postmodern culture we are living in contains similar to the store signs on real world city streets.
signs that have been equated with realities. The This is highly interesting as well as significant since
confusion over signs versus realities signals the the very symbol used in a Google Map is a way
end of authenticity and the emergence of hyper- of referring to the "real" physical world. In contrast
reality. In the current age of information tech- to his artistic expressions in the WOW project
nology, Baudrillard views the postmodern world where the virtual maps were laid over to the real
as filled with simulations of realities transmitted world, the virtual symbols in this project stand
through the mass media and virtual technology. in as secondary referents to those in the "real"
In effect, a virtual sign or an image no longer world. At the same time, the symbol serves as a
serves as a representation of an object because clear referent in the world of Google Map users.
it replaces the thing it represents, and eventually For the people who are familiar with the discourse
possesses more power than the object itself. The of virtual map quests, this project and Bartholl's
sign, therefore, takes on an extra-reality, which various performances - real and virtual - provide
Baudrillard defines as "hyperreality." He argues that an opportunity to reexamine our fixed notion of
what people believe to be real is actually a simu- division between the real and the virtual. Such

lation of the real - in his terminology, a hyperreal ingenious performances also subvert our notion
construct. of hierarchy between the real and the virtual from
"rea I/virtual "to "virtual/real."
Bartholl's appropriation of virtual game scenes
and recontextualization of them into the physical
As illustrated in the example here, the platform
world serves as an example of discourse forofthe
Bartholl's performance is clearly not limited to
digital generation to examine their notions
streets. As a creative performer attuned to
reality and the effect of their previous experiences
the technologies of the 21st century, Bartholl also
uses different computer-mediated communica-
in a virtual reality system or game on their percep-
tions of the world. With the online and offlinetions
so not only as a channel of communication but
tightly intertwined, it might no longer be ofalso
anyas an additional arena of performance. While
significance for educators to ask digital genera-
his performances take place on the street, he also
tions to distinguish the two spaces and evaluate
shares videos of his work before and during such
them separately. Educators need to recognize
performances via the Web. One can easily find
the extent to which digital technologies affect
his work on YouTube and read his postings in the
students' and teachers' ways of thinkingdiscussion
and board. In other words, both his contents
constructing meaning and reality. and his format are centered on the notion of inter-
action between the "real" and the "virtual." This is
Another work of Barinoli, titled "Map" (2006)
also makes a similar point. In this project, he
distinctively different from other common Web
resources of art exhibitions wherein online mate-
builds a physical sign of the Google Maps symbol

Studies in Art Education I Volume 51, No. 1 31

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rials serve as a copy (or catalog) of the artwork. The With this new conceptualization of art - which
continuous interaction between the artist and the is being stretched and made more salient with
audience in itself becomes a part of the project. emerging online technologies and audiences -
The process is the product - the continuous erup- arises the need for different methods of interpre-
tions in the dividing line between the real/physical tation and analysis.
and the virtual. As with the younger generations The application of social semiotics and
today who seem to move effortlessly between the discourse analysis to decoding postmodern street
physical and virtual worlds and from one tech- performance yields critical insights into how
nology to another, it is fascinating to observe how meaning is socially constructed, generated, and
in this new age, artists like Bartholl can innovatively utilized in a particular context of discourse. In this
move between the offline and virtual platforms for regard, art educators should pay attention to the
artistic performances and communication. specific context and the social effects of meaning
Conclusion construction when guiding students to examine
Unlike institutionalized art housed in an art a postmodern street work of art and approach
it as a site of ideological struggle where shared,
museum permeating with the formalist art aura,
conflicting, and competing meanings co-exist. In
postmodern street art is circulated through the
order for students to understand how the post-
streets to actively engage the public in civic dialog
modern art form serves as a visual discourse that
and action. Postmodern street art operates under a
communicates to its audience, it is important for
new set of references, which requires art educators
them to investigate the kinds of rules and conven-
and researchers to adopt alternative analytical
tions within specific contexts that are used to
frameworks in order to understand its meanings.
define and interpret art. Understanding art requires
In this article, we have given an overview of
participation in the discourse within which the
social semiotics and critical discourse analysis as
applicable to postmodern street performances. work is situated, generated, and disseminated. Of
course, as new forms of expression and commu-
In addition, we provided examples of analysis of
Aram Bartholl's work to show the relevance of nication emerge, both physical-world and virtual,

these analyses to postmodern street art interpre-viewer understanding can be simultaneously

tation. By doing so, we aimed to respond to the limited by such previous experiences, exposure,
growing need for research on how networked and participation.

digital technologies contribute to new forms of Another insight garnered from semiotic
perspectives on Bartholl's work is the notion of
creation and critique in art education (Sweeney,
recontextualization and defamiliarization brought
2004). We believe that the employment of social
semiotics and discourse analysis can provide
to light in the space between the real/physical and
more reflexive ways for understanding street artthe virtual. This conceptual space is where new
knowledge and understanding takes form. For
practices that use "non-traditional" representation
those observing educational ramifications of this
formats. Unlike his counterparts in the traditional
art world, Aram Bartholl can be seen as a media-movement, it is likely that students would draw
hybrid collagist who illuminates questions andon a familiar knowledge/discourse to engage in
artistic practices or solve problems in the given
issues related to forms of reality through a series
of process-oriented performances. As an exampleart room. The defamiliarization of such discourse is
necessary for students to expand their knowledge
of 'dialogic art' (Alexander, 2004), Bartholl's works
show the unconventional methods of appropri- horizons in understanding postmodern art and
visual culture. Bartholl's recontextualization of
ation, pubic intervention, and guerrilla commu-
nication to stimulate a civic dialogue and action.
virtual game scenes into the physical world serves

32 Lee and Chung / Postmodern Street Performance

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as an example where the digital generation audi- to take a closer look. When street artists use public
ences are asked to revisit their notions of the reality spaces as their artistic platforms, how do we as
as well as of the virtual. art educators differentiate between public distur-
As this occurs, myriad questions and issues bance and artistic practice? How would street art
surface. For instance, what knowledge of art and maintain its discourse without utilizing a public
visual culture is generated from such a recontextu- space or forum? Will online street performances
alized practice? More specifically, how will virtual be more or less disturbing or provocative than that
street art become instantiated, evolve, and be inter- witnessed in physical streets? These will be among
preted? The issue of legitimacy, public disturbance the key topics of our future research.
vs. art, is a related topic that requires art educators


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1 See Garoian (1 999) for more discussion on McEvilley's definition of appropriation.

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