Postproduction is a term that entered the visual art lexicon in 2002 with the publication of Postproduction: Culture as Screenplay, a book by French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud that has since become a reference point in the contemporary art world and beyond.
As is easy to deduce, Bourriaud borrowed the word “postproduction” directly from the world of television and film. In fact, in that context, post-production refers to all actions that take place after the film itself has been shot (from editing scenes to adding the soundtrack and special effects, subtitles, etc.).
Thus, for the French art curator and critic, postproduction is the ideal metaphor with which to describe the work of an entire lineup of contemporary artists, especially from Europe and the United States, who actively make the recycling, transformation and reuse of pre-existing materials their creative strategy (their materials are “post-produced”).
In short, postproduction refers to the work of all artists who appropriate the vast repertoire of extant images and use them, selecting, modifying, recombining and remixing them in order to alter their original meaning and build new narratives through them.
Appropriation is effectively the first stage of postproduction: the question artists ask themselves is no longer “what can I make that is new?” but rather “what can I do with what already exists?” It is no longer a matter of creating a form or shape from raw materials, like a sculptor would with clay, but one of working with objects that are already circulating in the cultural market.
Indeed, in a universe full of signs, symbols, images and sounds of all types and kinds, it makes little sense to continue to create new ones at all costs, shedding the very ideology behind much of modernism. Instead, it is much better to try to make compositions that are as new and original as possible, not unlike a DJ might create a remix from sampled tracks.
A few of the artists that Bourriaud mentions in his book are: Mike Kelley, Jeff Koons, John Armleder, Douglas Gordon, Pierre Huyghe and Maurizio Cattelan.