From August 30, 2003, through February 8, 2004, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present Reprocessing Information, an exhibition of artworks that employ information as both primary subject and medium. Organized by Benjamin Weil, SFMOMA curator of media arts, the presentation will feature works by Ant Farm, Anthony Discenza and Pierre Huyghe. Their video pieces explore the pervasiveness of the mass media in contemporary life and the ways in which mediated information influences what we perceive as “the real.”
Ant Farm, Media Burn, 1975
Formed in 1968 and most active between 1973 and 1977, Ant Farm (Chip Lord, Hudson B. Marquez and Doug Michels) was an influential Bay Area collective that explored the experimental fringe of architecture, design and media arts. Their work combined irreverent pop humor with cultural and political critique and a keen understanding of the public’s (and the media’s) hunger for spectacle. One of their best-known works was Cadillac Ranch, 1974, a group of 10 Cadillacs buried fins-up in a field off Route 66 in Texas.
Media Burn includes video footage of a legendary Ant Farm performance that took place on July 4, 1975, at San Francisco’s Cow Palace arena. The work is a parody of television news programs—a spectacular, humorous, and critical commentary about the mass media’s impact on American culture. The artists demonstrate this impact through the literal collision of two mega-icons: the automobile and the television. As the event opens, Doug Hall is introduced and assumes the role of an artist/president, delivering an introductory speech. Then two members of the group proceed to drive the “Phantom Dream Car” (actually a modified 1959 Cadillac Eldorado) through a pyramid of burning TV sets. The event was heavily featured in the local news, and Media Burn opens and closes with excerpts from this coverage; the media’s somewhat condescending tone ironically underlines the message of the piece. Media Burn is part of SFMOMA’s media arts collection.
Anthony Discenza, November, 2002
Bay Area artist Anthony Discenza uses compressed television footage to produce his audio/video installations. His finished works are so radically sped up and compacted that his original sources are barely recognizable, let alone classifiable as news, sitcoms or commercials. Via this high-speed info-overload, the artist seeks to lull spectators into a kind of suspended and blurred reality, or what he calls “a dreamlike space in which the complexity of real-life events and situations becomes subordinated to the narrative logic of the ‘spectacle.’” Simultaneously seductive and schizophrenic, his work calls attention to the intensively constructed nature of our mass media—its speed, constant repetition and staggering volume.
The featured work, November (on loan courtesy of Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco), is a double projection that runs in a continuous loop. To create it, Discenza culled imagery and audio from pre-recount television news coverage of the November 2000 presidential campaign.
Pierre Huyghe, The Third Memory, 1999
The Third Memory (part of SFMOMA’s media arts collection) exemplifies Pierre Huyghe’s interest in the convergence of reality and fiction, memory and history. The installation retraces John Wojtowicz’s famous bank robbery of August 22, 1972, which inspired the classic film Dog Day Afternoon. Wojtowicz was an ordinary citizen who, driven by an improbable motivation (to pay for his lover’s gender-reassignment surgery), elicited the first-ever real-time broadcast of a crime. The broadcast interrupted network coverage of Richard Nixon’s speech at the Republican National Convention.
The central component of The Third Memory is a split-screen video projection that combines footage from Dog Day Afternoon with synchronized commentary by Wojtowicz, who reenacts the robbery and comments on the feature film’s veracity. The installation also includes newspaper clippings and a segment from a January 1978 episode of The Jeanne Parr Show in which the host interviews Wojtowicz (in prison) and his lover. Huyghe’s strategic juxtapositions enable him to deconstruct the ways in which subsequent news and Hollywood coverage have reshaped even the original participants’ recollections of “actual” events. On one occasion, for instance, Wojtowicz makes a revealing slip of the tongue by referring to something that happened “in the real movie.”
Huyghe was recently featured at SFMOMA as one of the primary artists responsible for No Ghost Just a Shell, a major multimedia project that brought to “life” a generic manga character named Annlee. Huyghe won the Hugo Boss Prize in 2002 and has produced an extensive body of work that ranges from film to photography, video, sound, computer animation, sculpture, design and architecture. He lives and works in Paris.
SFMOMA’s Education Department and The Seventh Art film series will present a variety of programs and public lectures to further enhance visitors’ experience of this exhibition. Additional program information will be provided in a separate press release and on the Museum’s Web site at www.sfmoma.org.