The following were printed in a catalog for Projections: intermission images that went with the images of the work reproduced on two ViewMaster Reels, complete with the ViewMaster Viewer.
Project Organizer’s Statement
“Agencies for the spread of information via the mass mediums, and for the
instigation of social activities, will become the new channels to insight and
communication; not substituting for the classic ‘art experience’….but offering
former artists compellingways of participating in structured processes that can
reveal new values, including the value of fun.”
Allan Kaprow: The Education of the Un-Artist
Projecting slides as an integral part of an art project has been a frequent occurrence since the mid-1960s. Situated outside the mainstream of gallery art, these works have ranged from multiple projections of a particular word, to montages created by projecting images on monuments, buildings, objects, or people.One of the earliest collaborative shows using slides was presented by the Ad Hoc Women Artists’ Committee, in New York in 1970. Organized as a protest against the exclusion of women artists from the Whitney Museum’s Annual Exhibition, this show consisted of forged invitations, a sit-in, and women artists’ slides projected on the outside walls of the museum.
Staged in non-traditional sites, these performances and temporary exhibitions have helped illuminate some issues concerning artists involved in producing public art, such as permanence, access, and viewer participation. Being temporal and portable, this common and inexpensive medium does not convey the aura or monumentality often accompanying other art works such as the grand sculptures and murals generally considered to be “public art.”
Karen Atkinson first proposed projecting slides in theaters in the late 1980s. This was an outgrowth of the work being done by the Projected Light Collective (an organization of artists interested in showing slide art started by Atkinson and Carol Hobson in 1987). Due to lack of funding, the earlier theater projects were never realized.
This current project, “Projections: Intermission Images,” presents the work in slide format of ten artists in two theaters. We rented this advertisement space through a national distributor. The distributor had a nine-page list of design and content requirements with which the artists had to comply. As the organizers, we also asked the artists to consider both the contexts of a movie theater space and the random placement of their slides among movie trivia and advertisement slides. The slides project on screen for 8 seconds. Every carousel rotates completely around three times during the intermission. With this presentation we are asking for just 80 seconds of your viewing time. The artists wish to project an image, express an opinion, and possibly interrupt your expectations for a moment. Once the show is over and the lights come up, the slide images exist only as memories, what you project is up to you.
Organizers Karen Atkinson and Sylvia Bowyer
Andrea Liss: A Space of Infinite Provocations
The space of the movie theater is a world of circumscribed enchantments. The festive air of an outing and the goodies that beckon at the refreshment counter simulate the sensations of excitement that accompany travel. Going to the movies — the promise of a journey outside of time, a psychic space where the self is suspended through the projection of other selves playing out their desires. The wondrous lure of classic films from the 1930s and `40s has since then been transformed into a set of traps. The cinema is not only a place of innocence, but also a space where the psychic and the social collude; where the self is not only suspended but is actively influenced by the highly acculturated images that often project gender and ethnic limitations, if not violences.
Feminist theory in the 1970s linked the (male) cinematic viewer as voyeur with Sigmund Freud’s writings on scopophilia, in essence suggesting that the film viewer inevitably assumes the controlling and surveying gaze. But feminist theory and practice as well as innovative forms of public art in the 1990s grant film viewers as well as culture consumers at large a more ambitious, diverse, and active stance. Forms of psychic and social identification are more complicated and open-ended than the notion that a limiting, unidirectional gaze suggests.Of course, the possibilities for formulating active social relationships between viewers and cultural products and for resisting racism, sexism and other forms of hate, greed, and fear disguised as institutions of supremacy and corporate standards depend on the kinds of images generated for a receptive public audience.
Projections: Intermission Images insinuates itself into the fascinating space of the movie theater and invites the audience to desire differently. Morgan Fisher’s Movies are Better than Ever resuscitates a 1950′s studio marketing campaign that was designed to bolster the movie-going attendance. The artist gives new life to this enticement remembered from childhood through the slogan’s insistent proclamation. It is transformed into a contemporary challenge, betting and hoping on the word “BETTER” that aims outward at the viewer from its highly-charged red ground. This desire is met by the gaiety of Jo Ann Callis’s tableaux, where candy, chocolate, and popcorn stand in rows waiting amidst the backdrop of the Hollywood sign on curtained hills against a red-hot sunset sky. These delicious treats standing at the concession counter ironically double as movie-goers; they concede their anticipation and are ready to yield to the ensuing narrative.
Next, an image of cut-out male faces without eyes, ears, or noses, designed by Connie Hatch floats menacingly over a pleasant pink ground. This sign of a suspension of self and loss of identity warns the viewer before crossing the threshold. Once safely lured inside the psychic space of the theater, viewers are faced with Karen Atkinson’s image, Point of Viewer, which depicts a group of movie viewers in various positions of absorption ranging from amusement to skepticism. Her image implicitly asks viewers to reposition themselves from passive consumers to active agents who might realize that their/our presence and diversity contain the potential to reframe the content and strategies of private and public space.
Yoon Soon Min’s image, Affirmative Colors, with its caption, “Colorblind Meritocracy,” also repositions the game of social targeting from above and directs the viewers’ attention to the false notion of rule by inherent merit. Those who are colorblind to red and green — the colors that compose the triangle in her image and its hierarchal eye, mimicking dollar currencies — are found only in individuals belonging to the group of white males. Rather than accepting that legacy of vision, the wording in her image further asserts that “Colorblindness is a congenital defect not a social cure.”
Ulysses Jenkins’ image, American Apartheid, specifies an antidote to overcoded vision by color and offers another narrative for social transformation. His slide pictures a Native American man moving into the commercial territory made bankrupt by his white colonizer: thus the map of North American Realty would assume its proper ownership. Then segue to Mitchell Syrop’s image, possibly of abuse and false optimism, but with a less sure direction toward transformation. Revealed through the cut-out letters “SECOND NATURE” are two glimpses of a young girl’s face: one allows a view of her teethy smile, the other affords a view of what might be her swollen eye. Clots of blood (or chocolate) trail below.
The mother/son team of Martha Rosler and Josh Neufeld, working together for the first time, offers a less ambiguous indictment of this government’s treatment of children and young adults. In their satirical image, The Lesson for Today, captioned “Incarceration: A Growth Industry,” bricks from an educational institution are taken by little anonymous men to build the structure of a prison. The text informs us: “Seismic Shift — California budget for prisons now exceeds budget for higher education.” The artists coyly and powerfully ask, without any question mark, “maybe it would be cheaper just to change the names.”
Switching to Pat Ward Williams’s arresting images and text that enigmatically project messages of self reliance. In Mother Wit: Caution, an African-American woman’s hand motions a gesture that signals both admonishment and good luck. She wears bracelets from which dangles the charm inscribed “Mother Wit.” The caption states: “No one tests the depth of a river… with both feet.” In the other image, Mother Wit: Self-Destruction, which doesn’t necessarily follow the first one, an African-American man’s hand points in the other direction with its index finger. The ironic wording states: “Copying everybody else all the time, one day the monkey cut his own throat.” The charm’s insignia dangles at the end of the sentence, as if posthumously realized: “Mother Wit.”
This Brechtian panoply of screen images — suits of armor with magnificent power — are taken in by the blink of an eye. They promise to insinuate themselves beyond the sheer surface of reflections through the surreal, disruptive, and montage-like encounters they invite. As the project’s subtitle Intermission Images suggests, it is the mission of Projections to intervene in accepted cultural meanings and to send messages between parties. All this, through the few seconds of the blink of an eye that both winks and remains alert.
1. The relevant text is Laura Mulvey’s then groundbreaking essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, which first appeared in Screen 16 (Autumn 1975), pp.6-18.2. To Desire Differently is, in fact, the title of a book by Sandy Flitterman-Lewis about feminism and French cinema (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990).
Paul Von Blum: Art in the Movie House
Millions of Americans have little contact with the art world. They perceive art as something remote and mysterious, confined to museums and galleries that do not provide a viewer-friendly atmosphere. Many people have childhood memories of museum visits which made them uncomfortable and reluctant to return. They recall buildings that resembled places of worship, where conversation was discouraged, food and drink were prohibited, guards hovered nearby, and guides and docents delivered boring monologues about paintings and sculpture with no clear connection to their own lives and experiences. They may also recall that working class people and ethnic and racial minorities seldom visited museums.
Although some art museums have taken steps to reach out to historically underrepresented populations, the reality is that traditional institutions still often discourage many people from experiencing a satisfying encounter with visual art. Catering to affluent audiences, museums promote elitist attitudes and practices that counter the egalitarian ideals of American history and society. Most distressingly, they cultivate a widespread public indifference to art, a fact with regrettable implications in the economically constricted, politically conservative atmosphere of the mid-1990s.
For many years, several artists have been unhappy with this restricted artistic universe. Committed to bringing their works to wide public attention, these artists have sought alternatives to the traditional forms of artistic creation and dissemination. Not satisfied with merely exhibiting and selling their artworks to wealthy patrons, they have instead applied their abilities to communicate their messages to ordinary people in the environment of their daily lives. The present exhibition, “Projections: Intermission Images,” is an extension of this objective, updated and responsive to the realities of contemporary American urban life at the end of the 20th century.
A brief historical perspective about this alternative tradition of public art provides a framework to understand the deeper social and educational purposes of the exhibition. The poster, for example, has been one of the major examples of public art for many centuries. Combining a work of art with a message to the public, the poster is intended for wide distribution. Often aggressive and direct in its commercial or political objectives, the poster typically combines text with striking visual stimuli. Most important, this inexpensive method of mass reproduction allows many people to see poster art on walls, telephone poles, fences, and other structures. The opportunity to respond to these works of public art is as important as the reaction to the specific poster messages. By promoting thought and reflection (and occasionally provoking anger and action), posters advance the democratic ideal of wide-spread public involvement in the political and commercial life of the times.
The 20th century has been especially significant in the development of public art. Perhaps the most systematic attempt to integrate visual art into the lives of ordinary people occurred in Mexico following the consolidation of the Revolution in the early 1920s. Encouraged by the visionary Education Minister José Vasconcelos, noted Mexican artists including Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros painted monumental murals on the interior and exterior walls of public buildings throughout the country. Drawing intentionally upon the venerable mural traditions of the Aztec, Mayan, and Toltec civilizations, these artists and their contemporaries brought their personal visions of history and social criticism to the Mexican people. In a remarkable departure from the conventions of Western art, truly great visual works became accessible to people who could contemplate the meaning and significance of these works as they went about their daily routines.
The enormous impact of the Mexican mural renaissance in fostering a more populist artistic vision soon moved northward. Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros, and others traveled and painted public murals in the United States, encouraging American artists to emulate the Mexican public artistic commitment. During the Depression, the U.S. government supported a large-scale mural program under the sponsorship of the Works Progress Administration. As a result, thousands of murals were produced, ranging from purely decorative efforts to powerful works of social criticism. These paintings appeared in post offices and other public buildings, once again enabling ordinary people to see and experience art outside the inaccessible and threatening context of art museums and galleries.
The social ferment of the 1960s again stimulated public art that appealed to wide audiences. Groups of muralists, often led by Chicano, African American, and Asian American artists excluded from the artistic mainstream, painted walls throughout the country, often focusing thematically on the complex social and political problems of modern life. These murals also provide alternative visions of history, presenting the struggles and accomplishments of marginalized communities typically ignored in the media and educational institutions. Enduring to the present, this artistic development emerges from and responds to deeply felt needs of all people. Its public character has also catalyzed a major public interest in art that communicates ideas and feelings about real human concerns.
Since the 1980s, newer forms of public art have appeared, further inviting nontraditional audiences to experience and assess the educational power of the visual arts. Some artists, for example, have used billboards to offer their visual commentaries about life and society. Others have created participatory installations, where audiences take an active role as they wander through the various projects.
Most relevant to the present exhibition are public projections of artworks in a wide variety of settings. Like posters and murals, projections deliberately seek audience engagement and involvement, inviting the viewer to think about how art can connect to his or her life in intriguing ways. A fairly recent innovation, this public art form catapulted into prominence during the 1980s. A key figure was Polish-born artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, who projected various images onto public monuments throughout Europe and North America. The unusual imagery he projected onto those monuments caused viewers to do a “double take,” encouraging them to critique the stultifying official public art of the Western world. Wodiczko’s strategy of “slide warfare” persuaded other artists to make further imaginative use of public projection art.
Karen Atkinson, one of the organizers of “Projections: Intermission Images,” has effectively advanced this approach to public art. Since 1987, she and her artistic collaborators have presented “Projections in Public” in order to communicate directly with people outside the constraints of traditional art institutions. Her projects have enabled artists and audiences to work together in a fusion of mutual creativity and energy–a deliberate rejection of the hierarchical and elitist values and practices of European and American art history.
The imagery in these projects consists of original works by artists in slide format, shown from a rear projection screen in various nontraditional venues. Each project is site specific, with carefully selected themes appropriate to the particular setting. Over the years, Atkinson and her fellow public artists have shown their works throughout the United States and Canada, in such unusual window front spaces as furniture stores, warehouses, flower shops, and architectural offices. People passing these sites in the normal course of their lives can stop and see the artworks projected onto screens, enabling them to become active participants in the entire artistic process.
The move to movie houses logically extends this activity. Since the basic aim is to engage people who normally avoid museums and galleries, entertainment settings are especially appropriate to expand the public art domain. Because art can stimulate serious personal reflection and higher human consciousness, it belongs everywhere that people congregate, especially when they exhibit the positive frame of mind ordinarily found in recreational environments like movie theaters, sports arenas, and amusement parks. Despite the widely perceived view that people seek to escape when they go to the movies and similar activities, the reality is that many people respond positively to educational stimuli that respect and validate their intelligence and judgment. Public art, including the present project, assumes a fuller audience potential and greater human curiosity than ordinarily communicated by the dominant forces of social life.
Movie house projections, in using existing space to provide engaging and provocative visual content, simultaneously educate and entertain. The specific form of these projections, in fact, is especially suitable to its context. Like the movie images themselves, the slide projections move swiftly on the screen, taking natural advantage of the audience’s visual perspective of the moment. To viewers accustomed to movie trailers, film trivia questions, and concession advertisements, art projections provide a natural addition, one with immense potential to add genuine meaning to their intellectual and emotional lives.
Movie house projections continue the long tradition of using art to address the deeper needs and aspirations of the human population. They reflect the democratic spirit proclaimed routinely in theory but avoided regularly in practice. A democratic society requires a knowledgeable populace committed to active public citizenship. The visual arts can play a significant role in facilitating that arrangement. Art in the movie house strides effectively and imaginatively in that direction.