In the video above, Rashaad Newsome talks about his captivating video installation The Conductor (Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi) (2008), currently on view at MoMA PS1 as part of the the Greater New York 2010 exhibition. In this work (the first in a six-part series), Newsome combines clips culled from rap music videos with selections from the composer Carl Orff’s classical masterpiece Carmina Burana, a piece of music that has itself been widely sampled in pop culture. The music-video footage has been edited to isolate and remix shots of the rap artists’ hand gestures so they appear to be conducting Orff’s orchestra, a juxtaposition that allows Newsome to playfully break down boundaries between seemingly opposed cultural forms.
In Newsome’s videos, collages, and performances, distinctions between and expectations about high and low culture are upended and reconfigured. Using what he calls “the equalizing force of sampling”—a process borrowed from hip-hop—Newsome adopts the role of composer in his work, appropriating and reframing imagery, sounds, and gestures from a variety of pop-cultural sources associated with predominately black subcultures, such as vogueing, so-called “ghetto” expressions, “bling” jewelry, and rap music videos.