Television, electronic music, computers and the video camera figure as subject matter for the four artists featured in Human Interest, a selection of works on view in the Video Gallery (Gallery 179) of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from January 22 through May 28, 2002.
The works by John Neff (Jan. 22-Feb. 10), João Onofre (Feb. 26-March 17), Rebecca Bournigault (April 2-21) and Bill Viola (May 7-28) question the changing boundaries between individuals and the technology that surrounds us. The four artists each create situations that enable them to document distinguishing characteristics of their subjects, including individual gestures, appearances and voices.
The earliest piece in the program is Bill Viola’s Reverse Television, 1984, commissioned by the public television station of Boston (WGBH) and first presented as part of a series of works entitled “New Television.” Placing his camera in the position of the television set in different living rooms, Viola (American, born 1951) documented individuals in the act of looking, and captured something about the relationship between them and what was perhaps the mostly widely shared technology of the day. These thirtysecond portraits were then broadcast throughout the day on public television, thereby “reversing television” when the images of people staring at the TV stared out into other contexts.
For Instrumental Version, 2001, João Onofre (Portuguese, born 1976) revisits a classic piece of electronic music “The Robots,” (1978) recorded by the German group Kraftwerk. Onofre modified this piece of music into a score that could be sung by a chorus. The interpretation transforms the original machine-made sounds into a beautiful, thought-provoking and also humorous performance.
Rebecca Bournigault (French, born 1970) similarly explores the portrait relationship, subjecting different individuals to the same camera situation. In Je t’aime (I love you), 1999, she asks people to recite this sentence for the camera, and the results suggest the varying means of human expression embodied in a seemingly universal phrase. Her Portraits: Clothes, 1996, inspires people to tell stories by asking them to examine and describe (in whatever detail they choose) exactly what they are wearing. The results convey the different narratives and life events that can be literally embodied in a worn pair of shoes or a borrowed t-shirt.
John Neff (American, born 1975) performs in his untitled video, 1999, reciting the final monologue that was spoken by the computer HAL in the 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey written by Arthur C. Clarke and directed by Stanley Kubrick. Representing in a nearly monotone voice, the text that was spoken by the fictional computer character when it was at its most humanly vulnerable, Neff asks us to consider what our images of machines have come to mean, and how they should be represented now.