It might be a stretch to compare the curation of a group exhibition of 15 young artists to the formation of the Wu-tang Clan in 1992. It’s 9 members where brought together from previously unaffiliated gangs, who where in some cases rivals, and unified to bring about what is generally agreed to be the most influential hip hop group of the 20th century. I think it is an interesting comparison to make, given Wu-tang’s recent decision to release a new album as a work of collectable fine art that is carefully protected from becoming public.
In music as well as fine art presenting the work of members of a group has been a way for individuals to shine through and take the glory as solo artists. Wu-tang is the only group where each of it’s 9 members has had a solo album at the same time as releasing albums together. There could then be a comparison here between the artist collective and the group show. Recently it seems more common for groups of artists to be treated as a singular production team, for example Bernadette Corporation and Bruce High Quality Foundation. Regarding the latter art group Bob Colacello was quoted as saying ‘Everyone is famous now, as Andy predicted. So maybe anonymity becomes the new kind of glamour.’
This idea of anonymity also relates to the Wu-Tang clan, where each of it’s members has a bold alter ego and name that acts as a badge of respect and creates a specific kind of aura. In their videos and performances they often have their faces obscured, which unifies the gang’s members and makes them only distinguishable by their individual rapping styles.
There is also a relationship between anonymity, power and accountability. In the documentary ‘Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan’ Poppa Wu tells a tragic story of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, an eccentric man living by his own rules in a world of drugs, alcohol and exceptional creativity, who ends up getting caught out. The argument is made that any other celebrity at the time would have been sent to rehab while ODB ended up in prison, an environment that was so unbearable to him that he set himself on fire to get transferred to the psychiatric unit. However according to another source he did spend time in a court-mandated drug treatment facility before going to prison.
In the context of his arrest Ol’ Dirty Bastard became Russel Jones, like a superhero unmasked. Sentenced to 2- 4 years at the height of his fame for driving without a license and for being a convicted felon wearing a bulletproof vest (the first person arrested for this offense under a new California law). He died in 2004 after he was released, caused by an overdose of cocaine and tramadol. Before his death he is quoted as saying to a close friend ‘I’m waiting to die, because when I die you mother fuckers is gon’ wake up.’
The Wu-tang symbol has recently been used by Luc Fuller in a series of paintings, apparently it was not intended as a reference to the clan itself or their music but rather an example of how a symbol can flood the collective memory. The Wu-tang symbol exists as pure meaning in the same way as a member’s unique name, there is no other ODB, no other Wu-tang symbol, and yet Russel Jone’s brilliant mind belonged to a physical body and a socially implicated name.
The art object acts as a symbol or an alias, it is the production of an iconic substitute, and can be created to represent an individual or collective identity.