Through the manipulation of historical imagery, JOSH AZZARELLA creates stills and videos which radically alter the contexts and meanings of images ingrained in the public conscience. How individual and collective memories form, the possibilities of confusing memories with realities or creating memories where none previously existed are all key to his oeuvre.
In his still photographs, AZZARELLA erases important features of iconic images to create an alternate history. Untitled #39 (265) takes as its source John Filo’s Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of the 1970 Kent State shootings. Instead of Mary Anne Vecchio screaming as she kneels over the slain body of Jeffery Miller, the viewer is presented with an image of students walking through the university campus as if nothing has happened. Untitled #23 (Lynndied) shows cigarette-clenching U.S. Army reservist Lynndie England in an empty hallway finger-gun pointing and giving the “thumbs up” sign. Missing are the naked, hooded Abu Ghraib prisoners she humiliated and was later convicted of maltreating.
AZZARELLA assiduously modifies video and film footage frame-by-frame to rewrite history. Untitled #9 (W.T.P.1) uses the well-known Jules Naudet video footage from 9/11 of American Airlines Flight 11. Rather than crashing into the North tower of the World Trade Center, the plane flies harmlessly past the buildings. The artist not only erases the impact of the aircraft, but he also reconstructs the towers and allows the flight to continue. Using an altogether different technique, AZZARELLA’s abstract videos transform painful footage into something more quiet, subtle and hopeful. Rather than re-creating history, AZZARELLA successively layers each individual frame, causing the scene to unfold slowly and obfuscating what transpires. Untitled #8, one of his most harrowing works to date, shows a dark object in the center of an azure field. The shape slowly morphs and changes but always remains at the center of the screen, seeming to endlessly float. The image is in fact that of a person jumping from one of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.