Shotgun Review

God Only Knows Who the Audience Is

By Dorothy Santos May 31, 2011

Reinterpretations, remakes, and contemporary works are strategically placed throughout God Only Knows Who the Audience Is: Performance, Video, and Television Through the Lens of La Mamelle, engaging viewers in what is almost an infinite loop of observation that changes with every go-around. Douglas Davis’s The Last Nine Minutes (1977) welcomes viewers to the second floor of the exhibition. The video piece involves Davis walking around a space that simulates a dark cave. Viewers’ anticipation bubbles to the surface as they wait for him to acknowledge his audience. Within the uncharted territory of television as a means of engagement with a spectator, Davis’s gestures and acting serve as a metaphor and barrier between the artist and viewer. The onus falls on the viewer to acknowledge the artist.

In Mario Garcia Torres’s All That Color is Making Me Blind (2008), a lone black screen with scrolling green type reminiscent of a teleprompter provides context for the grid of televisions displayed across from it. The scrolling text imparts the language associated with the visual information received by the grid. The multiscreen artwork displays television spots artists have bought to disseminate art to the masses—a startling reminder of television’s osmotic effect on its viewers. Both Davis’s and Torres’s works require a curious and engaged audience. Yet, as the name of the exhibition suggests, the nature of questioning and understanding in performative and video-based art is inherently cyclical.

Pitch-black walls on the second level simulate a hermetic box, in which videos playing performative acts are the only stimulation. The works both insulate and isolate: much like the onscreen subjects, viewers become inaccessible once they are enveloped by the onscreen work. Although each artwork has been set up to replicate a living space, creating an atoll of

Mario Garcia Torres. All The Color Is Making Me Blind (Notes on the Beginning of the End of Video Art), 2008; nine-channel video installation. Courtesy of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo: Dorothy Santos.

viewing islets, there is an unrelenting cacophony from the other televisions. With the multitude of sounds and experiences working in tandem, viewers are forced to pay close attention and actively search for understanding or resonance. As a result, they concentrate on particular aspects of the video performances that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Active watching and viewer engagement are paramount in the works of the art collective La Mamelle/ART COM. The act of watching as a primary mode of experiencing the exhibition serves as the foundation for dialogue and conversation, which is imperative in the discussion of how arts and technology work together to explore the role of spectator. The work in God Only Knows Who the Audience Is demonstrates the creative and investigative processes of performance, video, and television, and the ways contemporaneous study is imperative in examining the evolution of performance art and spectatorship.

 

God Only Knows Who the Audience Is: Performance, Video, and Television Through the Lens of La Mamelle is on view at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, in San Francisco, through July 2, 2011.

 

Dorothy Santos is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. She holds a BA in both philosophy and psychology from the University of San Francisco.

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