Michael Jackson

Slave to the Rhythm, performed at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards



This posthumous ‘live’ performance of a track Jackson had started working on before he died employed new technologies of video projection to create the illusion of ‘presence’, with Jackson even managing complex interactions with an ensemble of dancers in the sort of song and dance and pyrotechnics spectacle which we might rightly have expected to be HIStory. Of course this sort of posthumous video performance finds a precursor of sorts in Brandon Lee’s performance in The Crow (1994), and Hatsune Miku, a popular anime hologram popstar (produced by Sega and the comically sinister sounding Crypton Future Media), has being drawing enthusiastic crowds to ‘live’ performances in Japan for years. Perhaps due to the fame (and later infamy) that Jackson enjoyed during his lifetime his performance seems to go furthest in playing with expectations of ‘authenticity’, even hollowing out the necessity of ‘life’ from the spectacle of live entertainment. Yet, curiously these new video projection technologies are employed in other contexts precisely to provide a sense of ‘authentic presence’, where none would otherwise be available. For example, when on the election campaign trail, the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Indian People’s party (BJP) used hologramic ‘live’ performances to travel the country, speaking directly to the billion-strong electorate. The disputes that emerged around Jackson’s estate in the wake of his death seems to suggest that some interesting issues around intellectual property and the ‘image’ rights of dead artists might emerge in the not so distant future. I am going long on Marina Abramović installing a permanent digital ‘presence’ in her private museumoleum.