Digital, in caps, without punctuation, expressed in emojis; the bigger and bolder, the better. Not only our communication, everything around us is becoming increasingly hyperbolic.  It’s clear, maximalism is back and is being celebrated everywhere: on the street, online and in fashion magazines, in contemporary art and design, and naturally in films and related media. Today’s pop culture is more eclectic and louder than ever before.


The emoji is a Japanese invention from the late 1990s and has grown to become the quintessential modern language: global, visual, digital, colourful and playful. This was also the opinion of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which in 2016 acquired the emoji set for its permanent collection.

Much of today’s pop culture is rooted in the 1990s, and it’s no coincidence that this blossomed at that time, as especially in the West, this was a decade of progress and economic growth. The advent of the internet as a mass medium and the influence of commercial television caused a real revolution in popular culture and the way in which we experience this. In Maximum Overdrive, this is clearly reflected in the work of artists who grew up in the 1990s. The period often functions as a concept, reference or point of departure in their work, while the style and the pace match our present digital era completely. The result? A contemporary maximalist mash-up.


Take The Eyeslicer, a reference (or even a homage) to Liquid Television, an MTV-show from the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade, MTV started producing non-musical programmes and reality series, now an important part of our pop culture. At the time, MTV went global, with MTV Japan in 1992 and MTV Asia in 1999. This meant that a whole new generation grew up with a 24-hour music channel: constant streams of images juxtaposed with an infinite number of commercial blocks. Music videos became more cutting edge and cinematic and launched the careers of now highly regarded filmmakers such as Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. Back then, this was still regarded as successful cross-over; now, the music video is a mature part of our official language. MTV has made an unmistakable impression on the way we experience and judge images, and The Eyeslicer celebrates the overload with a 535-minute bombardment of these images. It is, however, the opposite of randomness: the images have been meticulously and strictly selected to create a new context for the whole picture. Not only MTV, but television in general turned out to be a formative factor in the vocabulary of the image makers in Maximum Overdrive. The influence of commercials on our viewing behaviour is not only tackled in The Eyeslicer, but also in films such as Great Choice.


The themes that were brought up in the 1990s, such as identity, diversity and globalisation, are still topical today. These subjects are also addressed in the programme, but in a subtler way than in the nineties. In the films Swedish Candy, Some Violence and a Bit of Cat and Team Hurricane, they are not even subjects of debate anymore, but constant factors. Nothing here is static and everything is fluid. The same can be said of the style of the films: performance art, video art and commercials are all equally important, without any value judgement.

This interdisciplinary approach and accompanying interactivity became increasingly important in the 1990s: the borders between high and low culture became vaguer and technology became increasingly part of all kinds of disciplines. Internet art and were introduced, games became more popular than ever and artist-created events and interactive experiences replaced static works. In the performance Totes Adorbs Hurricaneby Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker, interactivity is the most important element. In an explosion of pop culture, the audience is an active part of the set, that also includes 20 performers surrounded by video projections. This playful approach to culture is more literally emphasised in films such as The Goose or in the installation The Eyeslicer 90s Hangout, where playful elements also comprise a dash of nostalgia. The beloved arcade games entered their latter glory days in the 1990s thanks to more affordable personal computer games. The Goose, in which journeys are made by fax machine, is an ode to the arcade (and to neon), while The Eyeslicer 90s Hangoutgoes completely old skool, with vintage pinball machines and 1990s board games.


But is it all about form? The communication is bolder, the visual style is overwhelming, but how do we determine meaning in this overload of images and styles? They may appear random, the hallucinogenic and multiple animation styles in Night Is Short, Walk On Girl, but the film clearly has a philosophical message. Also the film Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone looks at first sight to be a sequence of sketches in an over-the-top mix of television, film and performance formats. But it is precisely this form that allows it to provide criticism of the dominant morality. By putting issues outside of their context with a great sense of self-mockery (for instance the girl-band routine), the work acquires a new meaning and significance.


All these different factors have turned present-day pop culture into an eclectic mix within which our new ways of communicating, the overload of images and commercial blocks and a wide range of disciplines are all equally important Alongside eclectic, it is colourful, overwhelming, fast-paced and above all very maximal. It contrasts starkly with the minimalist trend that dominated the noughties. The last maximalist cycle, during the 1990s and early 2000s, was visually exaggerated and extremely loud. Is it a coincidence that we are now seeing a revival of precisely this maximalism in many aspects of popular culture? Maybe not, because the present started in the 1990s.