Curated by Yaelle Amir.
How to make a man fall? The disembodied digits of your elders? As data at bunk? These are just some of the complicated results obtained by the artists in Quote, Unquote after subjecting pre-existing textual material to the machinations of their artistic processes. Texts and speeches from an assortment of social and political sources – newscasts, popular literature, military records, and newspapers – are appropriated, molded, and re-contextualized to form new, often alarming and always revealing results. By re-sampling text with social significance, and introducing a new interpretation into its rigid structure-the artists of Quote Unquote provide a window to new understandings of our social construct.
Rather than rearranging the original language to the point of abstraction, these artists have strived to subvert its context while keeping its source evident. In so doing, they expose the manipulative tactics that are routinely employed via language by the media, politicians, military personnel, and cultural entrepreneurs. With a diligent methodical approach, humor, metaphor, and irony, they raise awareness to the underlying structure of the language that sculpts and embodies the essence of our very own collective identity.
Featured in the exhibition are seven artists: Mike Arcega, A.J. Bocchino, Mike Estabrook, Kathleen Kranack, Jason Lujan, Carlos Motta and Julia Page.
In his video Anthem (2001/2007), Mike Arcega, an artist of Philippine heritage, typed out the Philippines’ national anthem in Microsoft Word, put it through the English Spell Check, and accepted all the suggested changes. The result is a witty video that reflects on cultural immersion and appropriation.
A.J. Bocchino creates prints of newspaper headlines culled from a process of archiving. In State of the Union (1878-2006) (2007) he collected every headline that was published in the Washington Post the day following the State of the Union address between the years 1878 and 2006. He then proceeded to color-code them according to the subject of the headline, consequently mapping the main governmental concerns over the past 128 years.
Mike Estabrook’s video yllierO lliB (2005) showcases an excerpt from the right-wing Bill O’reilly talk show played back in reverse, while perverse insinuations roll across the bottom of the screen. This manipulation points to the Christian fundamentalists’ uproar against the supposed back-masking of satanic messages in today’s music.
Kathleen Kranack explores gender stereotypes manifested within self-help literature. In her interventionist work, (Mal)Contents (2000/2007), she produces new book covers for self-help paperbacks. The resulting covers are virtually identical to the original, save for the new title she created by rearranging the words in order to best express the manipulative content of the book. As a final step, she stealthily places copies of the “new” books onto shelves at various public libraries and bookstores so as to correct their original erroneous reflection.
In Selections from the Native American Activist Handbook (2005), Jason Lujan re-worked pages from US Army training manuals by changing their language to read that the ‘good guys’ are the Native Americans and the ‘enemy’ is the US government. It thus becomes a training manual for Native Americans, who are struggling with the consequences of colonization and the loss of their homeland.
Carlos Motta’s SOA: Black and White Pain-tings I (2005-6) is an audio book comprised of manipulated press images and a speech given by the head of the School of the Americas – a US military training school for Latin American soldiers. He altered the speech by switching around pronouns-making it appear as if the speaker is renouncing his own declarations.
Julia Page’s Waiting for ( ) (2006) combines the script from the final act of Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot,” in which two vagrants sit by a skeletal tree talking, eating, arguing, making up, sleeping, and contemplating suicide, as they await the elusive Godot. In the final act, they decide to leave, yet neither one takes action. In her video, Page constructs the final sentences of the play from C-Span coverage of senate debates on the war in Iraq. Through this juxtaposition, she alludes to the futility of these debates, and the politicians’ lack of initiative to resolve the Iraqi predicament.