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Visiting Artist Jillian Mcdonald
May 8, 2007, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Write Ups

Jillian Mcdonald is a Canadian performing and media artist currently based out of New York. Her best-known piece titled “Me and Billy Bob” explores America’s extreme celebrity-obsessed culture in a light and humorous manner. In the video section of the project, Mcdonald inserts footage of herself into a variety movie scenes involving Billy Bob to create the saga of a dramatic, fantasy relationship that eventually runs its course. Initially, she intended to end the video with a romantic kiss, but she opted for the alternative ending after developing a real crush on Billy Bob.

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This fascinated me because I recently heard that the human brain might actually be hardwired for gossip. The theory based on evolutionary psychology holds that the brain, for the most part, developed when humans lived in small tribes, so all recognizable faces were inevitably an acquaintance. At this time peoples’ actions had a direct impact on everyone else in the tribe. Consequently, gossip was functional. However, as tribes grew and then technology allowed us to “know” people outside of our respective tribes, gossip lost its functionality and eventually fed the celebrity obsession of today.

I thought it was great to hear her talk about “Me and Billy Bob” because I was honestly a little concerned when I perused her site. I was definitely interested, but at the same time, I was creeped out. It was reassuring to know that she is normal. Not only is she not obsessed with celebrities, she is prone to the same pitfalls that we all are. In other words, she is not crazy, and she is not judgmental. I think this is what makes the piece work so well. Also, I thought that rough quality of the video, while unintentional, worked well. It visually illustrated how fake celebrity crushes really are.

I was not all that interested in her new works that involve the subject of zombies. The question of why some people are attracted to horror movies does not hold the same social significance and seems very meaningless after viewing “Me and Billy Bob”. However, while the project idea as a whole lacks significant content, some of the individual pieces hold potential. For example, putting make-up on in the subway begins to address issue of beauty and personal space.   Also, her video of screams begins to address how women are typically portrayed as weak and helpless. It was really annoying to watch, though.



“The Yes Men” Review
April 2, 2007, 3:56 am
Filed under: Write Ups

The Yes Men are activists that practice a particular form of culture jamming known as “identity correction”. Culture jamming utilizes or manipulates traditional forms of mass media such as advertising in an attempt to comment on the often vicious negative impact that excessive commercialization has on society. In other words, culture jams regularly expose the true environmental or human cost of corporate practices. The specific concept of “identity correction” involves otherwise honest people impersonating government and corporate leaders in an attempt bring to light how these “truly evil” organizations harm the public.

The two main members of The Yes Men go by a number of different aliases; in the film they are Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum. In real life Mike Bonanno is Igor Vamos, an assistant professor of media arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York while Andy Bichlbaum, really Jacques Servin, is best known as the designer who programmed unauthorized images of men kissing into the computer game SimCopter.

One of their very first pranks was the 1999 satirical website GWBush.com, which they deliberately designed to resemble Bush’s official website GeorgeWBush.com in order to call attention to the many hypocrisies found there. Their most famous prank, which they made into a documentary film, began when they set up the website GATT.org to spoof the World Trade Organization. This fake website began to receive e-mails from various groups wishing to have WTO representatives speak at their conferences. At a conference in Finland The Yes Men proposed that CEOs of large corporations should implant themselves and their remote employees with electrodes, so bosses could watch their workers at all times. To make the speech as ludicrous as possible Andy Bichlbaum donned a garish, gold, skin-tight suit fully equipped with a large, inflatable phallus. At the end of this phallus a hands-free screen allowed CEOs to watch their employees wherever they pleased. Since the movie release, The Yes Men have continued with their pranks. Most recently, they impersonated HUD in New Orleans.

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I am somewhat conflicted about the methods that The Yes Men use. I really enjoy their satirical websites because they say a lot about society. We have a tendency to take things at face value without adequate questioning. It surprised me that so many people unwittingly invited imposters to speak at their conferences. However, as far as I can tell The Yes Men never informed anyone at these conferences at any point in time that they are not actually legitimate representatives of the WTO. I have to wonder if their point actually gets across if they never let other people in on the joke? They claim that they do these pranks for the articles written afterwards, which in theory reach far more people, but I have never read one of these articles. Furthermore, I would argue that articles hardly ever truly impact people while most people remember odd, quirky events.

The predominant problem with the prank is that their main message warns against the possible dangers of globalization, yet they rely heavily on the Internet and news articles circulated through mass media, which epitomize globalization. While I realize that this dichotomy is intentional, at times it takes humanity out of their pranks and makes me think that they are not fully aware of their intended or potential message. They do not use the Internet as fully and responsibly as possible. Instead of using connections made through the Internet as springboards for new, productive, global relationships, they exploit peoples’ ignorance. However, change does have to start somewhere, and the Internet is a great place to reach people across the globe. So while The Yes Men may still be catering soley to likeminded artists, they are reaching far more of them than they otherwise would. I am definitely more knowledgeable about the WTO and its practices because of their work.



Visiting Artist Stephen Vitiello
February 12, 2007, 7:47 am
Filed under: Write Ups

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Stephen Vitiello is a sound artist who experiments with the everyday sounds that surround us. He explores how sound, visuals, and space work together. Unfortunately, I could not go see him talk, so I read his on-line interview. However, it was almost imposible to imagine the full experience based soley on the reading. I listened to some samples of his work on his website to try and get a better idea of what his works are like in person, but I feel that I am missing a crucial part of the experience because they were rather boring and dull. Well, they were interesting enough at first, but it got old quickly. When he describes his pieces, it sounds like they could/should be very interesting. I feel like the space is a probably a very important aspect, so listening to his work outside of the intended space is not as powerful. Moreover, I think that his work is more about the process than the final outcome. For example, I was intrigued by the fact that he could actually take light frequencies and turn them into sound. However, when I listened to the track, I was not as interested. The pieces that I liked the most were the paintings made from the vibrations of speakers. While these paintings are also predominantly about the process, I was more interested in these visual outcomes.

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