As part of the upcoming conference, “Music and Censorship in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Historical, Political and Social Context” hosted by Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini, I will be airing my ongoing research into Russian hip-hop censorship. As part of my research, I will present a theory (read: named concept) which I argue is more accurate in its reflection of how censorship is instigated and part of a larger network. The relationship between the Trigger and the Response is central to the study of censorship. One cannot come without the other, and yet there is no prediction that the size of the trigger will match the response nor vice versa. Therefore, diligence must be taken in rationally articulating why a response is the size it is and the reasons for the decision by those holding the power to censor. However, there is another element of the theory, that of those who are watching the process unfold and who (consciously or unconsciously) hold power to change the course of the actions.
The Observer may hold significant power in shaping the outcome that the trigger will normally engender. This is not a solitary position but rather a more flexible name for those human (and non-human tools). A trigger and a reaction do not take place in isolation to their surroundings. Thus, those who are viewers of the trigger may instigate their own trigger and response which may or may not influence the first trigger’s response given the severity of the trigger. As the model above may not demonstrate, this change reaction of trigger/observer/response is not a finite one. Rather it cannot be predicted how many different types of observers there are to any given situation. Any number of people (or platforms, governments, researchers, laymen) may be observing, and all will have their own influence. For example, a song about female sexuality may instigate a conservative government to censor the song from airwaves. However, in between the trigger (sexual song) and the reaction (censorship from airwaves) lies the observer(s). Given our digital age, this may include antonymous online users of internet platforms of communication (i.e., the phenomena of “cancelling” is a good example of what could be called the Observer influence potential). If theOIP is high, then the reaction may change as a result. An example of this is the resulting benefit concert “I Will Sing My Song” following the rapper Husky’s arrest in the fall of 2018. This is a classical example of how the Observer can hijack the reaction.
At the heart of this theory is a point I want to take the time to stress. The trigger/observer/response relationship is not finite nor a one-off occurrence but rather a looping system that has no rational end. Despite the model’s rudimentary nature, the point the arrows are making is that while the observer has power over the original loop, their influence begins another round of trigger/observer/response. Therefore, there is no one event that prompts a response nor one response to a trigger. Rather, there is a whole network going on simultaneously, both on their own timelines and in concert with the original timeline that they entered. Yet, more meta is the awareness that said timeline is a tangent to another timeline, and so the process keeps going. The ironic nature of musical censorship is that the censoring of music is but one element in a larger network of events. Therefore, to accurately understand why a piece of music is censored, one cannot simply look at the semiotics and individual components of the song (text, theme, aesthetics, narrative, etc.) but the contexts by which the song has come into being and the ecosystem in which the song inhabits. Further benefit is gained if one peers into an ecosystem’s history. Another example would be the mass censorship campaign against Russian hip-hop in the fall of 2018. In the months leading up, there were two domestic terror attacks by young citizens. This logically caused fear of modernity and the influence it has over the minds of young adults. Here, censorship could be seen as a response to wholly non-musical circumstances. Yet, without putting the period into context, much is lost regarding why the period happened.
This study takes inspiration from Edward Thorndike‘s “stimulus-response theory.” However, it digresses when dealing with the proportionality of the relationship, as censorship cannot be called proportionate in many cases.
The Trigger/Observer/Response Theory argues that there are three parties involved in dictating the nature of any case of censorship. However, when one T/O/R cycle is occurring, there are countless others also happening at the same time, both small and large in form. These interact and influence each other and all take place simultaneously.
The Observer is directly involved in coloring the outcome of the trigger, although by their involvement they instigate their own T/O/R cycle.
If the Observer Influence Potential [OIP], then the Response is likely to be effected as a result. If it is low, then the Response may not change. However, the sheer act of involvement in one cycle of T/O/R instigates the creation of a separate T/O/R cycle by default.
Notes and References
 I am referring to Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory and the relationship between human and non-human “actors.” Specifically, the ways in which they interact with each other and make complex webs of power relations which then interact with other, already formed networks.
Perhaps one of the most controversial rapper within the Russian hip-hop mainstream, Timati is a thoroughly Slavophile rapper whose affinity for state politics and homogenous aesthetic characteristics cast him in a very…particular light. However, it’s wrong to assume that there are no more dimensions to his personality nor his interests as an artist (yes, an artist). Thus, when the article, “What Timati’s contemporary art collection looks like“, I realized that this was an opportune time to look at the aesthetic preferences of Timati from a much different perspective than before. Rather than look at him as a hedonist rapper mogul, whose sole interest in life is to create capital for himself and live a life of affluency, one can see Timati as a strategic musician whose cultivated a very particular type of aesthetic taste, one that is just as valid as other, more nuanced individuals and intellectual personalities. In this post, I am going to explore the article above, and take a closer look at Timati’s aesthetic tastes and art preferences through the lens of Dalhaus’ writings on music aesthetics, applicable in the determination of what someone’s aesthetic opinions says about them and their mindset.
The article begins by echoing a sentiment that will be clear as this post unravels and Timati’s collected art is identified. Namely, Timati notes his taste in contemporary art as, “a classic taste of a Tokyo hype beast“, and this refers to a person whose aspirations include acquiring fashionable and trendy clothing items and other material items deemed valuable due to their sought-after (and usually rare) nature and general allure as fixed by its price, popularity, and aesthetic draw. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the term as “a person who is devoted to acquiring fashionable items, especially clothing and shoes“, although the term has evolved to encapsulate more than clothing items and refers to one who collects all manners of accessories, art, and other exclusive items that hold high aesthetic appeal and social interest.
Timati’s Art Collection
However, the “Tokyo” element comes in after he talked with his friend about his trip to “Toy Tokyo store” in New York (owned by Lev Levarek). After this, he began making his first purchases at Sotherby’s, and eventually began to create his own taste modeled around this initial peak of curiosity. However, as he notes in the Telegram article, his “hypebeast” aesthetic taste is not widely accepted, and instead is relatively looked down upon. He expresses doubts as to his collection’s popularity not connected to Timati’s name but rather as a genuine collection of artistic pieces:
“In our country, it is shared by a few, it is specific. Therefore, I see no reason to exhibit my collection anywhere – who will be really interested in seeing it, not just because Timati collected it? [Italics my own] If I had Russian impressionism or a serious classic, for example, it would be another matter. Louis Vuitton asked for my collection of chests for the exhibition, I have rare ones with color monograms, but they were also refused.”
Overall, his aesthetic preferences for art seem rooted in pop-art, whimsical cartoons, and other forms of highly exaggerated and comic-based modalities, evidenced by the pictures of his collected works. Pieces like an Invader Pixel Mosaic, and art work by Guzman and Murakami, along with a large collection of Karimoku “Bearbrick” figures, demonstrate his tastes stem from a place of childlike whimsy and sincere enjoyment of aesthetic ‘fun’. Other pieces include a Kanye West stained glass window created by Misha Libertee, a life-sized statue of Mario by artist Ron English, an abstract expressionist triptych by Russian contemporary graffiti artist Misha Most, as well as more conventionally and recognizably ‘luxury’ items like Louie Vuitton suitcases, Supreme handkerchiefs, and collectable Hermes bags. But he expressed his interest in acquiring a painting from graffiti artist-turned international icon Jean-Michel Basquiat, the eminent 20th century African-American figure whose regarded as the main instigator of graffiti art’s rise in social prominence in the American 1970s in conjunction with hip-hop’s development. Basquiat was excoriated by critics then and still today for being nothing more than the product of “hype” and commercial greed.
Having briefly introduced Timati’s eclectic aesthetic preference, I will now interpret such a dichotomous view through the perspective of Dalhaus.
The Aesthetic, Functional, and Historical
Dalhaus specifies that there are three kinds of aesthetic tastes, the aesthetic, the functional, and the historical. However, the teleology that he lays out is applicable here to the understanding of how Timati is understanding and conceptualizing his aesthetic tastes. A brief understanding of each step is key before applying the teleology to Timati’s aesthetic tastes itself.
When Dalhaus refers to “aesthetic judgement”he is specifically talking about the ability of art (music here) to produce a pleasant experience through the observation of the object, akin to Eduard Hanslick’s concept of music’s true state as being one of ‘beauty’. Via this judgement, the quality of an object retains its aesthetic validity as it continues to hold its value in the unshakability of its aesthetic pleasure, however this is in large part determined not by the observer themselves but the gradual cementing of aesthetic fundamentals as created and substantiated throughout time. However, by the 20th century the idea of long-lasting aesthetic norms was being fazed out for instantaneousness, leading to inherited aesthetic judgments being less sought after for the embracement of the ‘modern’.
However, the usage of the term “Functional judgment” instead refers to the reduction of an object to the utilitarian nature of its being, and the practical aspects of its structural makeup. He specifically references the forms of Umgangsmusik (colloquial music) and Gebrauchmusik (music for use) as examples of musical forms created not as a way to induce aesthetic pleasure but as a means to serve a greater, more civic purpose. However, this type of judgement is also didactic as it provides an instructive model for clearer comprehension of an object’s purpose. By the 20th century, Dalhaus noted how the idea of function was detached from music, where music was rendered “scientific” [i.e., serialism] and criticism reliant on history not aesthetics. However, as early as the 18th century with the separation of “ars” (creative art) from “craft” (technical craft), the reduction of aesthetics to pragmatic tools was begun.
The third term introduced by Dalhaus is the “historic judgment”, and while axiomatic it must be noted that the latter two are formed from the influence of this tenant upon them. Essentially, Dalhaus argues that this type of judgement relies upon the epoch of the observer, and the many ways in which the past developments of aesthetic tastes have contributed to the present decisions being made. He alludes very strongly to Adorno concept of “stimmig” from his posthumous work “The Aesthetic Theory”. In this, the dialectic between art’s autonomic existence and its tie to the social reality of its creation as it was born of human labor and yet function as its own aesthetic unit, unreliant on anything other than itself. Art, in Adorno’s eyes, is not tied to the social fabric by way of theme but way of structure, and more specifically the structures that are used by the creator. Thus, Dalhaus echoes these sentiments by stating that judgments via the lens of history are colored by the imbricated and complex network of standardized frameworks.
Phew, that was a lot. But how does that actually relate to Timati you ask?
Timati’s Art Through The Dalhusian Lens
It’s clear from the article that Timati demonstrates a like for contemporary art that is aesthetically bold, structurally balanced, easily understood, and which hold considerable historical, contextual, and monetary significance.
These points are seminal in figuring out the true nature of Timati’s aesthetic preferences, and holds prominence in the deeper understanding of his musical aesthetics as well. His choice of art that is confrontational in color, texture, and timbre, as well as pieces that provide an immediate aesthetic response to the viewer, indicates that he is using the “aesthetic judgment” as a primary mode of epistemic choice when it comes to his collecting. However, it’s far too easy to argue that Timati is a recreational art collector with little to no actual knowledge of the art world nor the history of artists and the importance of the pieces which he collects. Rather, I profess it’s actually the opposite. Timati straddles two worlds without occupying one or the other.
By highlighting his interest in the works of Basquiat (seminal in the evolution of hip-hop), Libertee (Armenian-Russian artist), and Most (seminal in the realm of Russian hip-hop), Timati is connecting with deeper aesthetic principles and chronologies of taste, history, and culture. He is actively coalescing the ‘low brow’ with the ‘high brow’ by destabilizing the notion of the “popular” and the “contemporary” in the realm of art as something commodity-driven and inherently devoid of genuine artistic validity. He takes contemporary art and raises its aesthetic importance by not only utilizing his social position but bringing attention not to the ‘hype’ nature of the work but the genuine artistic achievement the work exhibits.
Further, there is a split in his aesthetic taste. On one end, he has his affinity for ‘art’ pieces that are created to be art pieces, while on the other end he has the drive to collect luxury items made to be used but have since been taken out from their functional premises and rendered ‘art’ by nature of their presentation by Timati. What are we to make of this if we consider Dalhaus’ ‘functional’ and ‘aesthetic’ judgment’s criteria? “Functionally” speaking, he is showing his appreciation of the craftsmanship that the item was rendered by, while “aesthetically” speaking the outward appearance of the item draws him in and provides the euphoria of aesthetic pressure that is desired in the collection process itself. Thus, there is this tension between his intrinsic respect for the item as a previously functioning, well-constructed item, and a luxury good made to impress viewers, enriching the lust for materiality.
Timati is an odd figure, as from the surface he seems completely empty of intellectual sophistication and hellbent of pleasure and hedonism. YET, deeper under the surface and one realizes how erudite and nuanced his views on art, culture, politics, and aesthetics really are. His love of art of various contemporary kinds and rare luxury goods positions the rapper as a connoisseur of the “low-turned-high” brow and the genuine “high” brow. However, despite his tastes for immediacy and luxury he is not ignorant of historical flows and deeper-level aesthetic responses. By collecting a wide range of art pieces in various mediums, and espousing his appreciation of seminal domestic and foreign artists, he demonstrates how he is positing himself as an artistic cosmopolitan. Traversing the waters of national and international art markets, his collection forms a network of collaborating pieces that both challenges the notion of isolated, artistic geographies, and corroborates the contemporary requirement of a public figure to be a part of other aspects of the cultural mainstream from which one receives his fame.