To many, the idea of a meme has become synonymous with the inanity of Internet culture, dismissed as a tool for trolls and shitposting, but this belies the meme’s potential for deeper meaning and impact. With his latest art show By Any Memes Necessary, Kash Jordan / @ka5sh seeks to unearth the power of the meme by highlighting their deliberate nature in a world where memes are seen as often inconsequential.
Not all of us are so far behind the curve when it comes to understanding the implications of memetic digital content, though. Media scholar Limor Shifman has long professed the value of memes, calling on people “to jettison some of the excess baggage that the term has accumulated throughout the years, and to look at memes as cultural building blocks that are articulated and diffused by active human agents. This does not mean that people do not live in social and cultural worlds that constraint them – of course they do. Yet what drives processes of cultural diffusion is not the ‘mysterious’ power of memes but the webs of meanings and structures people build around them. ”
Indeed, meme artists like @ka5sh and @versace_tamagotchi have pushed the boundaries of the meme by using those presupposed meanings as a template for subversion, retaking the art form and unlocking its hidden power to disseminate their feelings and messages. The societal skepticism that comes with a groundbreaking art show like this (“you’re going to an art show about memes?”) can be ironically alleviated by attending the show, seeing the pieces, and understanding what’s happening.
When asked why he did his art show, Kash told NEST, “It started off as a joke, where I was just like, ‘I consider what I do to be art, and I want everyone else to consider what me and my friends do art and take us more seriously.’ And then, I really thought about it, and realized, ‘wait, we should be considered artists, like what we do is art. So then, I took it more seriously than I started off doing.”
Still, some will continue to insist that memes can’t be art, and it’s not worth arguing over. Those who keep their heads in sand will not suddenly feel the energy and emotion of these art pieces; rather, they will continue to live in the days of dinosaurs and VHS. I guess, if you get it, you get it.