Automatic Update: When Life Goes Pop - MoMA


lars_laumann.jpgAutomatic Update, MoMA, NYC

"The art of our era is not art, but technology. Today Rembrandt is painting automobiles; Shakespeare is writing research reports; Michelangelo is designing more efficient bank lobbies," notes oft-quoted Howard Sparks.

Well, the sensible Barbara London, Associate Curator, Department of Media, The Museum of Art (MOMA), might just have forced Mr. Sparks to augment his theory an iota. With her entertaining new exhibit, Automatic Update, which runs until September 10th, London clearly showcases the reverse process, with five contemporary artists extracting art from technology.

All devised since 2000, the efforts utilize such fundamentals as computers, LCD screens, DVD players, digital video, and user-activated components. The results, several trekking from the humorous to the beguiling, make for a pleasurable, brief stopover at The Yoshiko and Akio Morita Galley on MOMA's second floor.

Upon entering the space, you'll first encounter Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's "33 Questions Per Minute," which is comprised of twenty-one tiny LCD screens spaced out upon one wall.

What occurs here is that the viewers (us) are bombarded by 33 questions a minute that the computer has been programmed to randomly concoct out of the English language employing our numerous grammatical rules. No question is ever asked twice.

Examples: "Will we let ourselves harvest that blood?"

"Did no one service him expectantly?"

"Is it unkind to detach the crucifixion?"

There is a possibility here to create 55 billion random interrogatories with the capability of attendees keyboarding in their own, which then become part of the program's database.

Supposedly, according to the exhibition wall text, this installation makes one rethink the question, "Could a chimpanzee pecking randomly at a typewriter reproduce Hamlet?". . . Now the question needs an update, because today if a savvy chimp hits the right key, a computer could simulate the rest of its random typing.

An ambitious simian scribe might start a successful writing career with Lozano-Hemmer's grammatical software program." Yes, Lindsay Lohan now has the potential to become our next Saul Bellow. Around the corner, Jean-Luc Godard fans can gleefully wallow in a tribute to Weekend's notorious car-crash scene. Yes, the autobiographically-inspired artists Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, whose work chronicles their own lives, saw the film on one of their early romantic outings, and "Our Second Date" is the result.

This tabletop installation employs six miniature camera, a computer, an LCD monitor, one projection projector, plus hundreds of little "plastic" people, autos, cows, sheep, trees, and nuns. With the table constantly spinning, the computer arbitrarily selects aspects of the panorama, which are then projected upon a wall, deliciously recreating Godard's famous tracking shot of modern society at a total standstill. Interspersed in this traffic nightmare are shots of a "plastic" man and woman watching the film in a theater. There are also close-ups of their frozen faces accompanied by the never-ending cacophony of honking horns taken straight from the film's soundtrack.

At the time of its release back in 1968, Pauline Kael opined, "Weekend is Godard's vision of Hell." And the McCoys' take is sort of a Romper Room version. No burning cars. No corpses. No smashed fenders. It's a satirical PG-version that suits the times. The most interactive installation and consequently the most pleasurable is Xu Bing's "Book from the Ground," which is comprised of a computer, software, two desks, and a Plexiglas panel with text on Mylar.

Inspired by icons at airports that say so much, Xu has embraced those "ubiquitous symbols providing information without words, [those] antidotes to misunderstanding in the enveloping sphere of word languages in the global network." His aim: a pictorial Esperanto.

What you do here is sit down at a computer, type in a sentence, and watch your words become symbols. Simplistic sentences ("The man saw the elephant") and more moderately complex concepts can be perfectly transformed into symbol-ese. But the following would prove more problematic: "The first physician whom he consulted for his ejaculatio praecox treated him locally with injections of masculin, and massaged his prostate" (William Stekel, Impotence in the Male (1927)).

Traipsing on, Cory Arcangel's rather dreary "Two Keystoned Projectors (one upside down)" utilizes a VCR and two projectors to create a static, tri-colored rectangle with the numbers 5 on it. Possibly more of conceptional interest, visually it's a naught.

And finally, Paul Pfeiffer tries to add significance to a basketball passing back forth (the footage supposedly edited from thousands of games) by adding a Biblical reference. The title: "John 3:16." The exhibit note explains the proposed connection but it doesn't bear repeating.

In addition to the above, London, along with her intern Hanne Mugaas, has curated a fascinating film and video series, including Darren Aronofsky's Pi, David Cronenberg's Crash, Iara Lee's Synthetic Pleasures, Michael Bell-Smith's "Chapters 1-12 of R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet Synced and Played Simultaneously," and Lars Laumann's Morrissey Foretelling the Death of Diana."

Her worthy goal here, which she readily achieves, is to manifest how "what at one time was Pop Art has now become Pop Life." - Brandon Judell

MoMA, The Yoshiko and Akio Morita Media Gallery, second floor brandon.jpgMr. Judell, who's currently teaching "Contemporary Israeli/Palestinian Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.