FotoFest Exhibitions

Medianation: Performing for the Screen

Curated by Gilbert Vicario


Kalup Linzy, Sweetberry Sonnet (Remixed), 2008
Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix and Taxter and Spengemann Gallery, New York

Emilio Chapela
Sandra Valenzuela
Laurel Nakadate
Kalup Linzy
Leslie Hall
Susanne Jirkuff
Adria Julia
Daniel Joseph Martinez

Curatorial statement excerpted from the FotoFest 2010 Biennial Catalogue

Medianation: Performing for the Screen explores the interrelationship between the digital image and the flows of information that shape contemporary art discourse and specifically performance art. Taking the media as a starting point and as an undeniable (though not unique) American phenomenon, the artists in Medianation explore political, sexual, and cultural issues in a moment when the mutation of “traditional” forms of communication—radio, television, film, and photography—are giving way to an explosion of digitally based forms of social interaction. The work in Medianation is informed, but not limited by, this ongoing technological shift.

Recent developments in social networking have given artists new possibilities for exploring how performance art can reside in the collective imagination. No longer bound by the traditional limitations of the single-channel video camera that served to “document” an action, nor by prescribed institutional spaces such as galleries or theatrical stages, artists have taken to exploring the new avenues of distribution and contextualization made available through the Internet or through other more commercially viable platforms.

The historical roots of this technology date back to the mid-1960s with the advent of the Sony portable video recorder known as the Portapak. Nam June Paik is generally regarded as the pioneer of this medium through his groundbreaking video work where he collaborated with the classical cellist Charlotte Moorman, among others. The ability to be relatively mobile with video recording equipment meant that artists could record extemporaneously in a variety of conditions or contexts, effectively moving toward the idea of real-time interaction. Artist-made videos challenged the preponderant stranglehold of the transmitted television signal by fighting against its easily digestible narrative conventions.

This challenge manifested itself formally by dramatically digressing from the time-segmented structure of the programming and advertisements of commercial television. Now it seems it is those very structural limitations of television and the internet that are of increasing interest to contemporary artists along with a healthy disinterest in the formal attributes of new technologies. A self-conscious willingness to contend or compete with the lowest common denominator, television, remains an appealing and perhaps intellectually unexpected strategy that many artists employ and embrace. A perhaps more radical tactic that some artists use is the approach offered by the return to the analog, as in the case of Daniel Joseph Martinez and the question of whether this tactic enables one to arrive at an essential truth in the construction of images.

What may seem as innocuous as a musical performance, or as controversial as a video capturing the World Trade Center burning to the ground, the artists in Medianation, merely act as morally neutral mirrors, reflecting a society seduced and corrupted by the power of the media in all of its manifestations. While the work reflects the instability of the digitally generated image; it is through this instability that artists are beginning to navigate their way around the inherent difficulties of presenting performance-based work via new modes of digital communication. As Allan Kaprow has reminded us all along, keeping that line fluid and indistinct can perhaps yield the most interesting and unexpected results thereby suggesting that the most interesting performance may be happening whether we know it or not. Photography and its biological offspring may have a hard time keeping up.

Gilbert Vicario
Curator, Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa

This exhibition made possible by FotoFest 2010 Biennial Sponsors, New World Museum and Armando Palacios, Art League Houston and Sarah Schellenberg, and Isabella Court and Kerry Inman. FotoFest also thanks the individual lenders of art works: Roy and Mary Cullen (Emilio Chapela); Bernard and Mary Arocha (Susanne Jirkuff and Adria Julia)