On Thursday evening, a group of artists will gather at Anish Kapoor‘s studio in London to shoot a parody of Psy’s monster hit Gangnam Style, in support of Ai Weiwei. This follows Ai’s own version last month, which featured the original video interspersed with clips of Ai and friends doing the dance. The video swept the internet, mainly thanks to the comic appeal of the eminent artist clowning around to K-pop; but the Chinese authorities scented subversion and banned it. Ai’s video was titled Grass Mud Horse Style, a reference to a Chinese profanity banned on social networking sites by the government, and at one point he is seen wearing handcuffs – presumably a reference to his detention earlier this year: he is prohibited from leaving the country. Kapoor’s hope is that his version, co-directed by the choreographer Akram Khan, and featuring dancers, actors and musicians, as well as artists, will have the same reach.
It’s not the first time a huge pop hit has been reworked to make an artistic and political statement. Since the 1960s, when Andy Warhol acted as impressario to the Velvet Underground, and when John Lennon brought Yoko Ono into the heart of the world’s biggest band, artists have attempted to hijack the mainstream and enter the rough-and-tumble arena of the charts. Thanks to their friendships with musicians, a natural desire to try their hand at other media, and an often shared art-school background, artists from Dieter Roth to Theaster Gates have added gigs and records to their oeuvres – with varying results.