Rappers have been doing it for years. Marvel has been doing it for years. Sitcoms has been doing it forever. You take an artist that people like, pair him or her up with another artists that people like and, boom, you’ve got yourself an audience. Call it a guest verse, call it a “Universe,” call it a guest appearance: It’s cultural multiplication masquerading as addition. But can it work for high culture?
Well, we’re going to find out. A new ballet based on a book by literary wunderkind turned literary wunderadult Jonathan Safran Foer, scored by suddenly beloved musician Jamie xx, and art directed by modern art juggernaut Olafur Eliasson is coming to New York.
What the hell is Tree of Codes? Well, it’s a bold experiment in cross promotion.
The original Tree of Codes is actually not quite by Safran Foer, who created it by cutting words out of his favorite story collection, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, to create a cohesive narrative. The book was praised when it was published but never reached a massive audience because the only publisher willing and capable of printing the thing was Germany’s die Keure. When it came out, in 2010, Eliasson was receiving critical hosannahs for his color and light installations, which were cropping up the world over and Jamie xx was transition from being part of the xx to remixing Gil Scott-Heron.
The three artist’s trajectories are all similar in that they’ve gone up and up and up. These guys garner so much respect that they’re (paradoxically) hard not to like. It should be noted, however, that they play to different crowds. The art crowd is not the music crowd is not the literary crowd. If Tree of Codes, which would naturally appeal to a ballet crowd, can draw in members of those pre-built audiences, it will likely pave the way for more arthouse collaborations.
What’s good for the middlebrow goose might just be good for the highbrow gander. We don’t know yet, but Tree of Codes will help us find out.