God Only Knows Who the Audience Is, Exhibition at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art

Reinterpretations, remakes, and contemporary works are strategically placed throughout God Only Knows Who the Audience IsPerformance, 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 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 play 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.


 

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.

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 inGod 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.

Originally posted to Shotgun Reviews, please click here to view

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Author: Dorothy R. Santos

Dorothy R. Santos (b. 1978) is a Filipina-American writer, editor, curator, and educator whose research interests include new media and digital art, activism, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco, and received her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. She serves as one of the editors-in-chief for Hyphen magazine. Her work appears in art21, Art Practical, Daily Serving, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, and SF MOMA's Open Space. She has lectured at the De Young museum, Stanford University, School of Visual Arts, and more. Her essay “Materiality to Machines: Manufacturing the Organic and Hypotheses for Future Imaginings,” was published in The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture (2016). She is currently a Yerba Buena Center for the Arts fellow researching the concept of citizenship. She also serves as executive staff for the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism and board member for the SOMArts Cultural Center.

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