‘Simpson Verdict’ brings juice to opening night
ASPEN The 1991 beating of Rodney King brought forth issues of race relations, police practices and our view of criminals. The 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy raised such political topics as government conspiracy and Communism (and, if Oliver Stone’s “JFK” is to be believed, Cuba, Vietnam, homosexuality, the Mafia and so much more). And the 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson put issues of race and the trial-by-jury system under the spotlight.But in “The Simpson Verdict,” a four-minute video by Kota Ezawa, the politics behind Simpson’s acquittal is not the point. The German-born, San Francisco-based Ezawa is far more interested in the images that become the lasting memento from such momentous events as assassinations and police beatings.”The Simpson Verdict,” a 2002 work, kicks off the Aspen Art Museum’s Four Thursday Nights: Minus series tonight, at 6 p.m., with Ezawa present to introduce the video. The series will present three additional videos over the next three weeks. Each video will debut on a Thursday evening, and will continue to be exhibited throughout the week.
“It’s so much more looking at us as viewers, what our relationship is to images in the case of these spectacularized media events,” said Matthew Thompson, the museum’s assistant curator, and co-curator, with museum executive director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, of Four Thursday Nights. “The Zapruder film” – that captured the shooting of Kennedy – “the Rodney King video – those things end up being played over and over again, and become a stand-in for the real event. For me, what’s real about the Simpson verdict is watching it on TV. Not with what happened, necessarily. When you think of the Kennedy assassination, you think of the Zapruder film – not what actually happened.”In that spirit, Ezawa has deconstructed the final moments of Simpson’s criminal trial, to ensure that viewers focus on the viewing experience. “The Simpson Verdict” is a more-or-less an exact representation of perhaps the most-watched moment in history – though in animated form. The bare-bones animation draws out the bare essentials: Simpson’s shifting eyes, defense attorney Johnnie Cochran putting a hand on his client’s shoulder. Thompson calls its a “‘South Park’-y, stilted feel.” The use of the original soundtrack of the court’s orders to the jury adds a semi-comic tone to the video, and heightens the self-awareness that the viewer is watching a representation, and is not engaged in an actual event.”The idea of critiquing or attacking the authority of the photograph – it’s not a particularly new idea,” noted Thompson. “But Ezawa goes beyond that, to say that this mediated presentation isn’t reality. He looks at the subtleties of our relationship with recorded media.”On another level, Ezawa engages in a process of stripping down the details of the media event. “It’s reduced to this flat animation, its barest elements” said Thompson. “There’s no background; it cuts out all the distractions. You start to focus on what I call the human element in what’s going on in the footage. You see the body language.
“So in a funny way, he’s both reduced an element of the original footage, but amplified another.”It is the visual reduction that makes “The Simpson Verdict” fit in with the “Minus” theme of the Four Thursday Nights series. Each piece is, in some way, an exercise in subtraction.”Once in the XX Century,” by Lithuanian Deimantas Narkevicius (opening May 3), also deals with sociopolitics. The 2004 piece shows footage of the toppling of a statue of Lenin, in a public square in Vilnius. However, in Narkevicius’ work, the footage has been reversed, to make it seem as if the statue were being erected in front of the cheering crowd. The relation to the demolition of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, which turned out to be a staged event, calls into question the truthfulness of video images. Unlike Ezawa, Narkevicius seems to have politics on his mind as well.
“You see these images on CNN, and it means ‘regime change,'” said Thompson. “I think Narkevicius is pointing out the symbolic danger of these events, the promise and reality of it in post-Soviet culture.””Firehole,” a side-by-side, two-channel work by Polish artist Pawel Wojtasik (opening May 10), looks at the life cycle of a drag-race car, from its height as a racing machine, to its demolition. Thompson notes that “Firehole” reflects the artist’s continuing interest in waste; Wojtasik has also featured landfills, water-waste treatment facilities and pig farms in his work.”Phat Free” (opening May 17) by American David Hammons begins as a still image, with sound substituted for movement. Only toward the end of the piece is the source of the sound revealed.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
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