John Kessler, ONE HOUR PHOTO, 2004, mixed media, lights, motors, cameras, and monitors


It was not a few days after 9/11 that some friends of mine were hanging out together and began to deploy the media tagline, “ . . . in the wake of September 11th,” as a sort of all-purpose absurdist suffix, generally coupled with some phrase describing a banal action. Examples of these spontaneous drunken Madlibs may have included: “getting a beer from the fridge . . . IN THE WAKE OF SEPTEMBER 11,” or “changing the channel . . . IN THE WAKE OF SEPTEMBER 11.” While some people may find this humor obscene or (at the very least) tasteless, I think that it's clear that the targets of our mockery were not the victims or heroes of 9/11, but the speed with which the news media was able to start packaging or marketing their coverage of the tragedy. For about 24 hours after the occurrence, the TV news coverage was powerful and totally mesmerizing-who wasn't glued to their television-for the principle reason that the media itself was in a state of upheaval and shock itself, and unable to package anything; it was pure reaction. In retrospect, I'm at a loss to say which was more surprising: the shocking subjectivity of that early coverage or the relative speed with which the media was able to reacquire its distance.

I suspect that Jon Kessler might have had some of these same issues on his mind, as evidenced by his new show of kinetic video sculpture, aptly titled, “Global Village Idiot” which draws parallels between internet porn and the media spectacle that followed 9/11 (both of which evoke similar processes of desensitization to images of phenomena-generally speaking, sex and death-that remain very real). Like many New Yorkers, I suspect, I witnessed the spectacle in person, in some of them I'm in the cockpit of a plane hurtling toward imminent demise. The thrill of “Global Village Idiot” is how successfully it hits both marks: ruthless satire of the media's distortions and the fact that the actual content of this endless series of images is a source of real emotion. His most succinct representation of this idea is a conveyor belt that carries a long sequence of WTC postcards, each of which in turn rushes toward a surveillance camera to dissolve into a blur.

In another piece we can watch a video camera weave its way through and above a shoddy cityscape, ominously toward a monolithic white façade. It's a little comical and pathetic, but also evokes a certain sense of dread. It's echoed by another sequence where a camera moves inexorably toward a fake plastic molded vagina; it goes through the labia, occasioning a burst of white light followed by a scene of deadpan reality: the other sculptures in the installation behind the marital aid. It's a fairly apt metaphor for masturbation: concentration, ecstasy, and the fairly rapid return to reality, which simultaneously sends up the myopic gynecological viewpoint of Internet porn and questions our communal fixations or, rather, the media's treatment of archetypal forms and ideas: sex, death, and God.

Despite the preoccupation with media imagery, what this work seems to revel in is our right to unmediated reality-specifically our experience of the handmade, jury-rigged, or clatter-trap. The vocabulary of materials is broad and hilarious: video surveillance, postcards, dolls, a glass vase, clip lights, fashion ads, foam core, iMac boxes, and all manner of handmade mechanical arms and whirligigs. One piece, depicting a plane crash from inside a cockpit, even attains, by virtue of its apparently tenuous functionality, an almost anthropomorphic quality-reminiscent of the cuddly 'bots in Spielberg's Batteries Not Included (remember them?). By remaking familiar scenes and motifs, he's turned images back into objects, and therefore experiences-renouncing the media's power to describe or shape reality, and giving us back a part of the world.

Elwyn Palmerton
New York, New York