17 January 2007

Still locked up?

In The New York Times today we find a review of a new video projection on the outer walls of the new MoMA made by Doug Aiken in collaboration with a "public art organization" called Creative Time. The title is "Sleepwalkers" and according to The Times it is meant to "portray urban workers of various classes making their way through the night hours."

All images in this post © Nicole Bengiveno/New York Times

Perhaps it is admirable for the museum, the artist and the organization to want to depict matters of class and work but I have to say that The Times, surely unintentionally, makes the entire enterprise seem quite dubious. In the first place, the video is cast with celebrities of various sorts - Donald Sutherland, Tilda Swinton, Chan Marshall, Seu Jorge, Ryan Donowho - playing, respectively, "a captain of industry," "an office worker," "a postal worker," "a hardhat," and "a bicycle messenger." As the reviewer says: "The actors are themselves emblems of glamour and hip." And the characters they play each are captured in various "moments of private reverie." So what are we make of this? Well, the likely conclusion is that the projection is not really about class and work at all, but quite self-consciously about "art" and the "artist" and the institutions and organizations he and his work inhabit. As the review suggests:

"Many of the piece’s best moments come when the big, bold shapes and flat colors align in near abstraction. White arrows on red fuse into a continuous band. Flashing black, white and gray
rectangles form a dancing patchwork. Red stoplights grow into immense circles. Mondrian’s scaffoldings, Josef Albers’s squares and Ellsworth Kelly’s looming geometries all come to mind."

What comes most immediately to my mind are the stories and images I mentioned in my post yesterday from Los Piñeros: Men of the Pines” where we see actual workers and the daily dangers and other difficulties they face. While those real workers surely have dreams, they hardly have the luxury of much in the way of private reverie. But since this project apparently is about art and artists and not workers and work, I will recall remarks by Martha Rosler that I incorprated into an earlier post [1]. Rosler comments on the demise of "video, whose expansively utopian and activist potential has been depoliticized, as "video art," ... was removed from wide public address by its incarceration in museum mausoleums and collectors’ cabinets." Unfortunately, this collaborative projection did not quite escape incarceration. I suspect it never was intended to do so.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sure was good of ol' MOMA to show this particular piece on the street- few workers in NYC can afford the price of their admission.

18 January, 2007 14:26  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Stan, Now that is a terrific point - the sort I wish I'd thought of! Thanks. Jim

18 January, 2007 15:24  

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