Channon Goodwin artist / artsworker

2011, Jul–

Resistance is futile: Electus Charisma and the art of hype

‘Electus Charisma’ is an enterprise that knows no bounds. Its mission is to change our conception of art as object-bound and show instead the endless possibilities of art socially conceived and experienced. It seeks to move art beyond objecthood to fulfill its potential as a concept that is lived by many at any one time. Presented by Co_Lab, ‘Electus Charisma’ encourages hype, hysteria and frenzy as art experience and dispels ideas of the static art object on display for solitary contemplation. In a blinding flash of fuss, it rolls out a campaign for art for the social greater good, positioning itself at the forefront of art consumption as ideas to be shared and experienced by people. More than an exhibition, it exists not within the gallery walls, but in the social experience that occurs over the period of the event. Through word-of-mouth, video testimonials and a suite of promotional material, the art presented here is less concerned with representation and more with the real world of the popularised and sensationalised. This art has no shape or form and exists only through the attitudes, values, emotional responses and ideological beliefs of its creators-cum-consumers. It is art as social phenomena.

While hype today is achieved on a large-scale through mass media, it is in itself not a new concept. Dating back to the seventeenth century, hype existed in the form of the spectacle, an event or public display of remarkable or impressive nature, often associated with theatrical productions and extravaganzas. Situationist and Marxist theorist, Guy Debord described the spectacle in great detail: it “…obfuscates the past, imploding it with the future into an undifferentiated mass, a type of never ending present”. (1) For Debord, such an approach to art results in a “…lack of authenticity, degradation of knowledge and the hindering of critical thought”. (2) To counteract the spectacle effect, Debord and other situationists performed interventions or constructions of situations that would stir up a bout of self-consciousness in the spectator seduced by spectacular media and culture. In sharp contrast, ‘Electus Charisma’ embraces the effects of the spectacle and highlights the significant role that promotion and marketing has, and continues, to play in the presentation and experience of art.

The group of artists known as the Young British Artists or YBA rose to prominence on a conflagration of hype, marketing and popular media. This new wave of artists, who exploded onto the global scene in the 1990s, owe their popularity to contemporary art collector and advertising mogul Charles Saatchi, co-founder of the London advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi. Through intense media coverage, including television profiles of the artists in prime-time slots, the YBA, whose alumni include Damian Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin, were made instant art stars and epitomise the hype machine in action. While ‘Electus Charisma’ models itself on the Saatchi effect, it also looks to minimize the physical manifestations of their operation almost entirely. Rather than promoting a product or celebrity brand, ‘Electus Charisma’ presents us with a frustrating opaque entity, drawing attention to our reliance on the art object as an anchor point.

‘Electus Charisma’ also uses unpredictability, spontaneity and fabrication as potent tools for the creation of hype. The recent documentary Exit through the Gift Shop ("the world's first street art disaster movie”), demonstrates the capricious nature of fame and popularity. The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival with a stealth marketing approach and generated considerable attention from speculation on its veracity and authenticity. Questions were raised as to whether is was a real documentary on Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles obsessed with street art, or simply a hoax by British street-art provocateur Banksy, whose real identity is also unknown. The widespread speculation of the film only adds to its fascination, and similarly, ‘Electus Charisma’ leaves us with many unanswered questions and wanting more. We are also reminded that many artists today are likely to find themselves in the position of creating their own marketing hype, much like Banksy, and with online technologies readily available, this task is becoming easier. Faced with an ever-increasing capitalist emphasis on advertising, promotion, endorsement and success, it is also common for such issues to become the form and subject of art practice. With younger generations of artists confronted by a constant barrage of hype from popular culture, it is opportune time to test its limits in an art context. Taking up this mission to explore this strange world in the age of hype is ‘Electus Charisma’. We look forward to their report.

  1. Guy Debord, 1968, The Society of the Spectacle, Rebel Press, London, p. 26-27.
  2. Ibid., p.25.


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