Thanks to the rise of hip hop, the turntable transcended its status as an electronic device, emerged as the instrument of our time — and gained a whole lotta respect in the process. Recently an exhibit titled “Art Mix” paid homage to the turntable as another art form: A blank canvas.
For the show, 12 well-known artist- and DJ-types, including Steve Aoki, Tommy Lee and BMX guru Bob Haro, transformed a turntable into an object d' art. The results ranged from acrylic paint polka-dots to pimped out low-rider chrome to glow-in-the-dark hieroglyphics.
The customized turntables were displayed in a one-day pop-up gallery outside of MOCA's graffiti blowout “Art in the Streets.” Inside the tent, the atmosphere was a mix between a rock concert and an Apple store with plenty of glowing equipment, thumping beats and video footage of dancing crowds.
The only catch? The turntables were actually Pioneer CDJ-2000 or, in layman's terms, a CD player for DJs and there was no avoiding this fact. “Art Mix” was part good deed (the artworks will be auctioned off with all proceeds going to charity) and part marketing campaign (there was no shortage of Pioneer signage).
For his contribution, Los Angeles-based graffiti artist Man One went old school. His CD player is covered in pink and blue spray paint with splattered gold highlights. In the device's display window, he etched lyrics from the Malcolm McLaren song 'Buffalo Gals': “All that scratchin' is making me itch!”
“I've painted on a lot of different surfaces, but never on a turntable per se,” Man One said. “As a graffiti artist that's one of the things that you kinda master. You paint on stuff that isn't necessarily flat. You paint on window grates or bridges or whatever the hell you learn to paint on.”
Not all of the artists were working with a turntable-as-canvas for the first time. Jesse Graves (aka Jesse Dean) customizes audio equipment for a living. His CD player was enhanced with an external audio cut toggle for solo scratching — and entirely covered in red and black Legos complete with movable mini-figurines — a cop, an astronaut, a nuclear power plant worker, etc.
“I modify and customize turntables to DJ specs that work and perform better than original equipment. It's custom, like hot rods,” he explained. “I tried to make the best of all worlds in one spot. I'm big on functioning art — art that can be used — and used all of the time.”
On the day of the pop-up, kids, fresh from the graffiti show, jammed inside the tent to test out several sets of turntables. They also customized a mock turntable with colorful Sharpie markers.
While the folks behind the event may have hoped for messages of art or charity or at least CD players, what they got was more of the tagging variety:
“Deelicious,” “Jihad 2011” and “Alex wuz here.”
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