A Challenge Is Made

‘Transfixed’ is difficult but rewarding

People-watching at the Orange Lounge just got fun, and for that you can thank "Transfixed: New Media and the Body," frying synapses like bacon. As shows go, this one doesn't offer much help to the uninitiated: the pieces that don't actively taunt the viewer focus upon the suffering of artists for their art.

Alan Rath, for instance, has based Watcher II (1999) upon a simple, if obvious, idea: a piece that looks back at the viewer. The eyes are human ones, displayed on a pair of orange cathode ray tubes jutting out from an aluminum base, which seem at first to follow the viewer's motion. This could be unsettling to some, while others may think of Number 5, the existential robot star of Short Circuit. Tony Oursler's Come to Me (1996) involves a misshapen face projected onto some sort of fiberglass potato. It badgers you with its greasy voice to lean in ("Come a little closer, no one's watching"), just before moaning and groaning as if passing a pomegranate seed. This is remarkably easy to fall for, at least until the point where the video loops.

In Come Mute (2004), a short film by Cheryl Dunn, our protagonist's daily commute from house to cubicle is dark and solitary, not to mention soul-crushing. And then there's the job itself, a meaningless drudgery that has her fetal and quivering under her desk. Dunn first speaks of our personal isolation from others even while sardined together on the train but then deftly moves on to the ultimate aphorism for our turbulent times: dance like no one is watching. Followed up quickly by: accost people in the street and force them to dance with you like no one is watching.

Decades before the cast of Jackass did a bunch of stupid shit so you and your buddies wouldn't have to, Chris Burden was busy getting shot in the arm with a rifle and rolling around naked in broken glass, all on film. His disarmingly earnest commentary throughout Documentation of Selected Works (1971-1975) reveals his intense devotion to his work, even if spending 22 days in bed doesn't sound exactly like work. Meanwhile, a contemporary of Burden's was living in a gallery space with a blanket, a cane and a live coyote. Coyoteria (2003) is Yoshua Okon's disturbingly funny homage, presented here as a "video installation with objects." In the video, Okon is wrapped in a blanket and brandishes a nightstick, but he has replaced the actual coyote with a "coyote," a person paid to smuggle Mexican immigrants into the United States. This coyote, a man in a sleazy suit who growls and otherwise acts like his namesake, mostly chews on the baton and tears up magazines strewn on the floor while barking at Okon. As it continues, the objects on a nearby rack become recognizable as props in the video, with the implication they are the props themselves—the suit plus shoes and watch, the blanket, the nightstick, pages of shredded magazines. Okon, born in Mexico City, means to raise issues concerning class and man's exploitation of man. I also see the piece as illustrative of an artist's plight in the marketplace, of wanting to survive or even flourish artistically, although beset by predators who, it turns out, might not have his best interests at heart. Predators in coyote suits would pee on his magazines spitefully. Oh, so spitefully.



"TRANSFIXED: NEW MEDIA AND THE BODY," OCMA'S ORANGE LOUNGE, SOUTH COAST PLAZA, 3333 BEAR ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 759-1122, EXT. 272; WWW.OCMA.NET/ORANGELOUNGE. MON.-FRI., 10 A.M.-9 P.M.; SAT., 10 A.M.-8 P.M.; SUN., 11 A.M.-6:30 P.M. THROUGH JAN. 15.

 
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