Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jonah Brucker-Cohen

Jonah Brucker-Cohen's artist lecture raised some interesting points about how ridiculous political art is. What I think his work truly interrogated was the origin of this ridiculousness. One could quickly dismiss his work as vapid or a waste of time; it would be easy for one to characterize the majority of his work as silly games. Police cars dancing in concert to wireless signals; a jackhammer, turned on every time a website gets a hit; these substantiations of immaterial flows of information really don't say anything.

The police cars dance unintelligibly. They spin in circles until they're stuck in corners or up against walls. Interference keeps them from actually moving in concert. Furthermore, what keeps these machines moving is a very mechanical search. "Police State" is animated by searching packages for words related to terrorism, and then sending them off in circles. How can this randomness really say anything about the political? There is no real message here about what the "Police State" is actually using their power to search to accomplish, or any possible escape from their control. If anything, it seems a simple parody. A little giggle at how incompetent the police state actually is.

Similarly, his jackhammer pecks away at a building, the whole while laughing at how the material building matters less and less every time the building's online double gets a hit. Can we see herein any use or hope for the material building? It is effectively reduced to a joke.

The political aspects that these works obscure with their triviality were equally invisible to the public before the works. The public isn't generally concerned with the information they send and receive. They give it freely, whether it's to make toy police cars or real police cars move. That Brucker-Cohen can transform these surveillance technologies into the operating mechanisms of art pieces without actually combating the systems using them to watch or to even offer any criticism of these technologies really seems to be his weak point.

I found a sort of dadaist pleasure in the uselessness of his work. It made his more political pieces like the "Wi-Fi Hog" seem genuinely scary. Brucker-Cohen's work, at its best points to both the stability of these immaterial networks, while also showing how untouchable and unchangeable they are. It is in the face of these sorts of systems that Brucker-Cohen produces his silly games and toys. His more terrifying creations can actually transform the networks around them--creating or limiting access. But when it comes to bigger social structures or absolute materiality verses virtuality, Brucker-Cohen can only make jokes.

No comments: