The first viewing of Push Pull by Purity Ring is reminiscent of a figurative interpretation of the abstract minimalist aesthetic that has defined much of the iOS7 and later mobile vernacular. Complete with slow moving hair as reference to the parallax scroll on the iPhone, stark gradient background that is a signature of designer Jony Ive, and the floating figure object excepted to the laws of physics (suggesting that of App Icons on phone home screens), this video is a true testament to the slick and clean contemporary digital viewing patois. This visual language, effective on its own, points to the inevitable and essential elevation of the music video as a work of fine art. However, upon closer inspection, it is easy to observe a multitude of art historical references.
The first reference that comes to mind is The Swing, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, for its lightness, pastels, and natural ornamentation. The stylistic features in Fragonard’s work match Push Pull not only in color, but also composition, implied movement, and reference to romance.
Sir John Everett Millias Ophelia (1851-2), a painting inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, depicts Ophelia singing just before her death. Like much of the Pre-Raphaelite formal qualities, both Push Pull and Ophelia share similar characteristics, specifically the vibrancy of color palate and attention to detail. The flowers in Ophelia reference the text as symbols from the play’s plot, which highlight ideas of childishness, forsaken love, pain, innocence, youth, death, and futility. The figure (Megan James) in Push Pull suggests these same concepts and emotions in its representation. The figure wears white, rests immune to gravity (seemingly mimicking ascension to heaven or floating in water) as the lyrics reference the pain, fear, and the uncertainty of love. Sharing similar qualities to the character of Ophelia, both women represent an eternal virtuousness, but also represent an awareness of masculine manipulation in a space of struggling female agency. Though each woman resides in her predicament for different reasons and different structures of power (internal vs external), both works reference female fear as a result of the loss of male validation.
Photographer Lola Álvarez Bravo’s Ruth Rivera Marin employs the surrealist concepts of dream and the subconscious to create a portrait that challenges the viewer’s perception of space through extreme foreshortening. Though she is most well known for her photographic portraiture of painter Frida Kahlo, this work stands out in reference to Push Pull in its centered composition and emphasis on movement of the figure’s hair. Ridding itself of context, the figure seems to float in a supine position similar to that of many other classical representations of female posture in art.
The usage of GIF as an artistic medium has become more and more prolific since its resurgence in the mid 2000’s. In Miley Cyrus’s We Can’t Stop, directed by Diane Martel, each scene is slow and thus deliberate; created with the intent to be broken up into GIFs and distributed by the viewer-user on social media. This method of media viewing has become increasingly popular. Push Pull utilizes this concept as well thorough its simple, repeated, limited use of frame. The dreamlike scape and color palate is indicative of current formal aesthetics in popular culture. Elements of vaporware and pastel web culture aesthetics reign heavy as defining elements of current media artists including the works of Rafael Rozendaal and Director X.
Reclining female figures are no stranger to art history. This theme is common and has driven much of the consumption and sale of art for centuries. What comes new with Push Pull in the context of viewing this specific genre of imagery is Purity Ring’s signature slow moving, etherial aesthetic, which utilizes simple time remapping, repetition, exquisitely clean mise en scene, and usage of pastel or chiaroscuro (ie: bodyache, Fineshrine, and elements of Lofticries) with an unmistakable signature mauve that appears in almost all of their videos. These elements are suggestive of romantic ephemerality and shifting time displayed through the lens of silky smooth digital terrain. Each of the elements aids in creating a patina of a dream-like emotional space atop a foundation of hyper reality that never quite reveals itself as real or imagined. This particular video for Push Pull (there are two) comes directly from the artwork for their 2015 album Another Eternity–no doubt referencing the element of time that is present in the sounds and visuals.
Purity Ring’s music videos, including Push Pull and much of their recent live performances, harnesses vibrant, plastic-like pastels as a device to reference a kind of familiar, yet unfamiliar, digitally coated emotional space. This particular visual aesthetic is present in much of contemporary art today, including The Museum of Feelings in New York City (on view until December 15, 2015). Through interactivity, it serves as an example of digitally rendered emotional space and even proclaims itself to be the “mood ring of the city.” By way of an interactive photo and sound based process the project “assigns” emotion and color based on input data created by the viewer-user. Locative data then uses the portraits of emotion created by individuals to construct a larger portrait of the “mood” of whole cities.
The notion of mood rings, airy visuals, the portrayal of emotion represented almost solely through color, and presence of a willful classically posed female body all suggest the idea of feminine authenticity. Push Pull represents a synthy, #D3B1B2 palate that is aware of its own medium and history. It dares to let authentic vulnerability be the visual focus in a world of high definition rendering.
Nia Burks is an American artist working with the mediums of video, performance and sound. Her work incorporates popular culture, found footage, social media and pole dance elements. She investigates new media theory and gender theory.