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Like all shows at alt space Junior High, By Any Memes Necessary hangs behind a shop stocked with mostly pink, girly-in-a-rebel-way merchandise: pink power suit coats, t-shirts that say “no more white girl feelings.” The environment’s optimistic, sassy energy sets the tone for the show, also optimistic in suggesting that the meme can be so provocatively self-aware.
The artists in the show go by their handles: curator @ka5sh with @versace_tamagotchi, @tequilafunrise, @sensualmemes, et al. On the wall are mounted printouts of Instagram posts, glossy but not otherwise slicked up. @sensualmemes offers relationship analysis: a flimsy, felt Kermit the Frog in bed hugging his knees below a long caption (“hey, girl” these are not). It reads “after y’all break up and u don’t know how to utilize ur space time b/c by redirecting ur energy toward self-care […] u still don’t find the same sense of fulfillment bc ur happiness directly correlates with romantic relationships.” @bunnymemes, who photographs her paintings of melancholy women, also gives her captions plenty of space.
All these meme-makers tend toward the long-winded, their mini-monologues demanding attention. But their preoccupation with content has not apparently curtailed their online following (they have between 12.7K and 126K followers each). These memes still rely on mainstream familiarity with standard fonts and hooks, even if they’re not about quick laughs or ah-has.
You can be master of a form and not a slave to its inanities. Maybe we knew that, but we’ve recently had Richard Prince’s Instagram-lurking fiascos, cynically stereotypically and reliant for importance on his (high) art world access. At Junior High, refreshingly, the high-low divide is beside the point, since the meme’s formal limits become tools for experimenting with trodden, sometimes angsty narratives, pulling them into bigger conversations without alienating or leaning too heavily on cliche. Dexterity, pop-culture savvy, and catchy-but-sprawling commentary are all directed toward understanding how to be powerful in a world that’s given you so much baggage.
By Any Memes Necessary is currently on view at Junior High (5656 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028).