KRVIA ELECTIVE | Pop Culture and Semiotics: Multi-Disciplinary Discourse

Faculty: Manoj Parmar

We live in a world in which aspects of post-modernity are in constant tension with aspects of modernity and pre-modern existence. A world that is both industrial and postindustrial, in which many of the qualities that characterized modernity i: e the speeding up of time and compression of space that resulted in part from urbanization, industrialization, and automation, have become a question of conflict in post-modernity alongside and in relation to virtual technologies and the flows of capital, information, and media in the era of globalization.

The postmodern is distinguished by the idea that there is not one but many truths and that the notions of truth are culturally and historically relative constructions. In a postmodern world where old uncertainties are undermined and identities are fragmented, the way forward for those working with popular culture has become less clear. In such condition, the KRVIA elective tries to locate the pop culture tendencies in our everyday life and identifies its influences in our built environment.

Chair | Text Credit: Shreya Sai Iyer

The chair which has been performing a major function of allowing a space to sit has been a part of pop culture for a long time. It makes a random appearance and seamlessly fades into the background in an instant. Different kinds of chairs have been famous in pop culture through their ownership or usages.

The iron throne from the famous drama series game of thrones has been iconic since its debut. There are various copies and installations of the throne which are placed to use it as a promotion tactic for the series or an event following the series as a theme. Similarly other chairs such as the square captain’s chair from star trek or the egg chair used in MIB can be recognized without any context around it and are hence used as marketing schemes in the form of pop arts for photo ops.

An object of all seriousness such as an electric chair can be used as a form of pop art and be circulated free for all to consume. Andy Warhol’s Electric chair is one such example.

Image Credit: Author

This machine used for the cruelest death penalties is transformed into pop art which can be seen in houses of various people or as phone wallpapers open for all to consume and to interpret it in their own ways. The chair dome by pop artist Tadashi Kawamata is another pop installation made up of different chairs that is consumed by people in a way different from the object’s original function.

The installation is used as a scenic backdrop and as a pavilion-like structure by the people around. It seems interesting and appalling to people as the shape of the structure is that of a dome but it is made out of materials which one wouldn’t generally see a dome constructed of making it an element of surprise. Shelter by LIKE architects is another such project in which a group of chairs have been put together to form a pavilion which looks like a shelter.

The pavilion provides a shelter from the sun for kids to play around. It also peaks the interest of people due to its unique configuration and the shadows it gives when the sun shines on it. The Urchin pavilion by CODA is another such pavilion which peaks the viewers attention and also provides a public space for gathering and interactions.

Through pop culture objects as mundane as a chair become sensational or trendy. They lose their initial meaning but transform into something much more eye-catching and give back to the society.

Lens  | Text & Image Credit: Suprangya Singh


Image Credit: Author

A physically and metaphorically transparent object, present anywhere from spectacles to our phones and laptops to telescopes to our own eye, lenses are a part of our every visual experience. Its pellucid nature fails to camouflage in the space set up by pop artists, presented at a farfetched scale to repeating more than usual, it exists synonymously yet dissimilar with the inspired. Its configuration is changed to fit in a new space, play a queer function, bear a strange meaning and at the same time appear as a symbol.

Image Credit: Author

Image Credit: Author

Folks all the around the globe are seeking lens as an art or an engineering tool, customizing its movement. Through the artistic lens, lenses are seen as an interruptive entity as in interacting in a non-existing way. ILLUSION LENS centered at the rooftop of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower sitting in the Japanese city of Tokyo, was envisioned by a French artist Vincent Leroy to strip the watchers away from the noise and activity of the bustling city and introduce a fragmented vision of the city through a geodesic ball bringing the feeling of contemplation.    

From the reflections of the ever-changing peaceful sky to the dooms of what lies within it, let’s just say it is or was not all sunshine and wine for the commercial building 20 Fenchurch Street situated in London. Preaching for the sky while possessing a concave shape on one side, the building has melted cars, burned the sidewalks and has gotten very low reflexive response from the public. Handling the wrath of the environment is hard for every element on this planet but this structural poetry has launching fatal rays straight towards the locals and their assets leaving no other choice to the commonwealth and getting tagged as the “ugliest British building”.

Bringing the graph up from an unfortunate drop, it is now the engineering and space sector demonstrating how to catch the incoming and make use of it. Concave elements have been a significant part of space aeronautics for almost as long as we have stayed curious about our solar system, from rockets to satellites to telescopes all possess this tool. The gigantic Aperture spherical telescope in proprietorship of the Chinese is signal catching device which helps its space station garner informative and educational figures on what is beyond us to explore.

The reoccurrence of this shape, function, purpose has evolved and reinvented from sectors to sectors in the society, at the same time finding meaning with the context has only become harder. On one hand we are progressing as a community in the art and technology sector but exceptions like the British building shows a completely distant perspective to usage of the existing. Is finding the meaning in every little thing a thing of the past or are we just being judgmental towards the new ironies in the growing age? If the function of the same object to be repeated everywhere it is in existence? The answer foes not remain a simple yes or no, it is asking us how much freedom are we ready to give to the newer meanings to be bread and birthed.

The Balloon | Text Credit: Ananya Joshi Iyer

The first balloons were made by Michael Faraday in 1824, to use in his laboratory. Rubber and foil balloons grew increasingly popular in the 20th century for celebrations in the United States, and even in East Asia as sky lanterns during festivals. The balloon has predominantly been recognized as an icon for celebration, for joyful occasions. However, its recent transformation by artists breaks down this notion and makes one question not only the act of celebration, but what it is that we are celebrating, that we are protecting.

Made in 1988, one of Jeff Koons’ earliest works, Rabbit, is a sculpture that at first glance, seems to evoke a sense of nostalgia and childlike innocence, referencing Disney or even Lewis Caroll’s works. But when one continues to observe its facelessness, its shiny steel appearance, it almost radiates a sinister side to it, and we start thinking of alien life, the Playboy bunny or even some of Marcel Duchamp’s works. What appears to be a carrot in its mouth even seems like a politician holding a microphone.

Then in 2008, when Koons placed his infamous balloon sculptures inside the historical Palace of Versailles, many argued that he contaminated the history of the site. But was the existing history really one to be celebrated? Must we celebrate Louis XIV who impoverished his nation to build this establishment? Must we celebrate the notorious Marie Antoinette?

Koons mocks this institution and what it stands for. The decision to place these whimsical objects in such a historically significant site could be seen as a casual gesture, but the way it makes viewers question not only its placement, but also the importance of the context itself, is where I feel Koons succeeded.

As part of Kurt Perschke’s RedBall Project that began in 2001, viewers all over the world witness a large red inflatable balloon awkwardly placed at landmarks across their cities. Perschke used the object to create such encounters in their everyday spaces, and aimed to create not only a sense of curiosity about the art itself, but also made viewers a part of the installation when it led them to wonder where else it would ‘fit in’, creating multiple identities for the object.

I interpreted the RedBall Project in two ways; one, that Perschke draws public attention to existing landmarks, giving them a new identity, perhaps even reiterating their existence to viewers. Alternatively, he could be mocking their importance, like Koons, by awkwardly inserting an alien object that almost overpowers the existing structure and becomes the center of attention. Also, the very fact that this mere ball travels all over the world and inserts itself into these attractions makes us believe that it is more powerful than these stationary, unchanged so-called landmarks.

2007, Hans Hemmert created German

As part of the Art Festival, TRACK, in Belgium in 2012, a floating balloon with the city’s public arts center complex atop a huge boulder, was created by Ahmet Ogüt, titled, ‘Castle of Vooruit’.  It was an ode to an artwork by surrealist painter Rene Magritte. At first glance, we feel that the balloon has been used to blur the boundaries between logic (the real) and the illogical (the fictional). But the decision to use the art center instead of the castle makes a statement about the accessibility of such spaces to the public. He successfully creates a tension between the past and the present by questioning their celebrated history.

Thus the balloon, that we often regard simply as a childish, whimsical object used for frivolous celebrations detaches from stereotypes and questions the authenticity of the new contexts that it latches into. Artists have successfully created works that have made viewers an important part of their works, who with their own history and imagination, can discover as well as fracture the many meanings.

Spork in the art

Forks and spoons, mundane everyday objects no one bats an eye to, found on every person’s dinner table. They have been linked with food since the early days of cutlery. Earlier seen as items used by the nobles to eat food in an orderly and clean manner. Now they have spread all across the globe. Cutlery in the old times was highly decorated with intricate carvings and ornamentation. During the modern era artists interpreted cutlery as more of an utility item than a luxury item. They designed cutlery to be as functional and cheap as possible, coming up with the sleek metal design to also look futuristic. Cutlery was also used by pop culture in various ways.

Andy Warhol famously took the idea of modern utility to the extreme by combining all the different utensils into one design to create the “Warhol Cutlery”. By removing anything unnecessary, the utensils are presented more like tools to be used. In this piece cutlery is looked upon as a tool to eat food and not a standard of eating.

Claes Oldenburg who was known for playing with scales and proportions of an object also used cutlery as a subject. The spoonbridge in Minneapolis is a sculpture of a giant spoon laying over a stream with a cherry on its head. This plays with the relation between the art and the viewer where the art is present as a larger than life object changing the perspective of the viewer. The cherry is related to the vegetation in the park it sits in. The spoon has become a staple icon in the city. A similar piece was erected of a fork called the ‘Leaning Fork with Meatball and Spaghetti II’. A large fork leans against a wall with a meatball with spaghetti on it. There’s a stark difference in how these two sculptures are presented. The spoon gently sits on the ground almost blending in with the nearby landscape and holding a cherry, while the fork is upright with a meatball stuck to it which sticks out like a sore thumb. The spoon is seen as a harmless, gentle object, while the fork is viewed as a more dangerous object.

Artists also explored cutlery as a material. Matt Bartik bends spoons and forks to create sculptures. He created a cutlery stand made up of forks and spoons as satire to show the various ways of using different materials. Edible cutlery was also explored by some artist flipping the narrative on its head, when the tools used to eat are eaten themselves. The role of cutlery on the dinner tale has not changed but its meaning has been explored and challenged by pop culture over the years to create new ways of viewing and eating.

Image Credit: Manoj Parmar Architects