Dara Birnbaum (VS)
Tapestry for Donna: Elegy
2005, in coproduction met Contour Mechelen vzw
°1946, New York
lives in New York
“The mind is like a richly woven tapestry in which the colors are distilled from the experiences of the senses, and the design drawn from the convolutions of the intellect.”|
- Carson McCullers, Amerikaanse schrijfster (February 19, 1917 – September 29, 1967)
On her first visit to Belgium, having just arrived in her hotel room in Mechelen, Dara Birnbaum immediately switched on the television. Not because she was jetlagged and had nothing better to do, but she was curious: what kind of television do they make here, then I will know what kind of country this is. It’s the middle of the morning, and contrary to the soaps or games she expects, she sees, to her surprise, that there is radio on the television. It’s Radio Donna and presenter Yasmine, with the large headphones, talking into the microphone while a music video plays in the background. For an American artist, who has analyzed deceiving television techniques for years, it is quite an amazing experience. Later that day, she sees Yasmine again, this time as a hostess for The Red Carpet, a television programme that brings news from the entertainment business. News, what news? What is actually presented here to the spectator? What is the impact of these images? These are the starting points of her new video installation.
In the late seventies Dara Birnbaum started making videos and installations based on television footage, following a trail of artists such as Robert Longo, Jack Goldstein and Nam June Paik, who had already played along with the mass medium of television. In doing so Longo came to relief painting, Goldstein to painted forms, Paik to collages and constructions made of images derived from television. But Birnbaum wanted something totally different: “For me, though, these artists were always translating the medium, and I wanted to use the medium itself.” She appropriates the television images and works with them in a subversive way. After all, it is her explicit intention too show its superficiality and to unmask its manipulative methods. Her motive is a very solid distrust of the so-called authority of the mass medium.
She leaves the images themselves intact, but brings them out of their context, repeats or rearranges them, separates sound and image, adds subtitles, etc. To her these are just means to make hidden codes visible, to bring the meaningful poses and shreds of text, that usually get lost in the speed of things, to our attention. “For it is the speed at which issues are absorbed and consumed through the medium of video/television, without examination and self-questioning, that remains astonishing.” News, documentaries, shows, commercials, she uses them all and breaks them up into small pieces. This is called deconstruction among Baudrillard and Lacan, philosophers she has studied.
In her analyses she often runs into political influence and sexism. She often shows us how television puts certain bigwigs in the spotlights. She sees it as her duty to “talk back to the media”, to respond to the media, to bring their sense of reality in doubt, to undermine their power, in the hope that viewers, or at least some of them, will question the things they see everyday. She senses that by her critical way of working, she is able to bring a few corrections to the mass image and practices a modest form of actual historiography: “I want to leave behind pieces of the history in this crazy industrialized telecommunication that affects all of us.”