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Affecting the Audience Anthony Discenza, Aurélien Froment, and Dora García
The artist’s domain is to make real things, originals. A remake typically doesn’t come close to the original—or so we think. In the realm of media art and its constant mediation of what is left of the thing, these clear-cut distinctions have long lost their use-value. Museums now speak of reconfiguring and re-installing a work. “Dimensions variable“ takes on a new meaning when a slide projection dramatically changes in size, when an online work needs to be translated curatorially into a gallery presentation, and when a participatory work is interpreted anew by local performers. But each presentation in a new context and under variable technical or spatial conditions affects and enhances our understanding of what constitutes the work. Pointedly said, in media art the call is to do it “again and again” but differently each time.
As a curator working for an institution undergoing an expansion and a period of closure, it is thus a welcome opportunity to bring works from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s collection to a different context and audience. The three media art exhibitions at UMMA, proposed as a dialogue between the dedicated New Media Gallery and adjacent public spaces and galleries, all address a time-based experience of art with a focus on the relationship to space. From the 19th century ambience of the Apse to the contemporary architecture of the Frankel Family Wing, all three exhibitions explore the process of perception over time, translations from one medium into another, and the performative aspect in art.
The format of presentation is clearly shaped here by the specifics of UMMA’s building, but also the visitors‘ experience in a museum is a carefully orchestrated and constructed effect, determined by artistic, curatorial, and institutional acts of framing and staging. Artists have addressed these acts openly and critically in the past. Today, they also embrace temporality, theatricality, and affective strategies to directly engage the viewers with all their senses. Anthony Discenza, Aurélien Froment, and Dora García, who contribute three distinct voices to Affecting the Audience, use time-based media and spoken or written texts to foreground this formatting of our experience and the complex and often fraught processes of description, narration, translation, and communication.
Aurélien Froment’s film Pulmo Marina consists of a single shot of a jellyfish in an aquarium, with a voiceover that draws attention to the conditions of display. The narrator borrows lines from zoological guides, mythologies, high-definition flat-screen advertising, and interviews conducted with staff at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The setting in UMMA‘s lobby corresponds to Froment‘s interest in probing different display contexts from cinema and museums to commercial or even private settings. His work exists in three formats: as a 35mm film print, a high definition video, and a file for online viewings. Just as the jellyfish constantly changes form, Pulmo Marina eludes any notion of a fixed format.
Anthony Discenza (pictured left) immerses the visitor in another seductive environment. His sound installation A Viewing (The Effect) compiles a series of fragments of text found online through a Google search, all of which include the specific phrase “and the effect is,“ into a single narration read aloud by a professional speaker. No sources or referents are revealed, and the seemingly coherent text advances without getting anywhere in its argument—a speech act as sound effect that becomes more disconcerting the longer one listens to this seemingly infinite loop.
In Dora García’s Instant Narrative (pictured right), visitors encounter a complex situation of feedback and surveillance in public space. A projected text on a wall manifests an ongoing narrative that attracts their attention as readers. This work is on view during Museum hours and performed live by a series of local writers who each interpret the given situation differently, allowing different narratives to become manifest,“instantly“ including the public as unwitting, complicit, and at times actively engaged actors in the production of this continuous narrative.
The construction and perception of images through language is a fundamental experience of exhibiting in the public domain. Affecting the Audience emphasizes, however, the futility, precariousness, and affective ambivalence of this process. Whether we are charmed, lured, or even frustrated, we as viewers can‘t help but be affected by the sensible presence that these works produce over time. This includes our own presence as part of the artistic situation.
The third season of UMMA's new media exhibitions is guest curated by Rudolf Frieling, Curator of Media Arts at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Affecting the Audience is the second of three exhibitions in this series that will focus on the notion of performativity in contemporary art. Most of the work on view is from SFMOMA’s outstanding collection.
Lead support for this exhibition is provided by the Herbert W. and Susan L. Johe Endowment and the University of Michigan Office of the Provost.