Danny Goodwinby Benjamin La Rocco
Jack the Pelican
"Where did he buy these?" was my first thought on seeing "Counterintelligence," Danny Goodwin’s live aerial feeds of the residences of George W. Bush and three members of his cabinet. In a row of four, just to the left of the door at Jack the Pelican, the small monitors screening the feeds are quite convincing.
"Is that legal?" was my second though. Indeed, Goodwin’s recent work dealing with intelligence gathering and espionage has provoked the attention of the Presidential Secret Service. I’m told Goodwin’s online Central Intelligence Museum has had quite a few hits from the government.
This all becomes more interesting when you realize Goodwin’s "live aerial feeds" are pure illusion. In the rear room of Jack the Pelican, Goodwin allows the viewer a peak into his creative process and, in doing so, answers both of my questions.
Hanging from trios of gray helium balloons are four awkwardly constructed models of the four homesteads pictured on the video monitors near the door. Weighted with ballasts for altitude control, each model has its own homemade surveillance camera, the origin of the aerial feeds, suspended directly over its center. These contraptions are ingeniously built, the product of Goodwin’s extended research in espionage devices. They manage to deepen a now rote comment on American surveillance society by mingling it with insights on the artifice of art.
By comparison, Goodwin’s inkjet prints, which line the walls in Jack the Pelican’s front gallery, seem one dimensional. They depict, with the cold eye of an aerial camera, the daily doings of Goodwin’s family and friends. In these images, innocuous activities are recorded with the same solemnity as the training of terrorists in bin Laden’s paramilitary camps. The focus of these images lies in the tension between subject matter and representation, but their somber air clashes with the humorous invention of the aerial feed pieces.
What is real and what is illusion? How do we know when to trust what we see? How are we to understand how we are seen? Goodwin’s work provokes all of these questions. In the "live aerial feeds," the wit and sculptural finesse that accompany his statement make the work a pleasure to contemplate. Goodwin identifies a political conundrum in contemporary society by reversing it: he turns the tools that observe and "protect" us back on the operators of those tools. The question remains for Goodwin of how to address such political concerns without adopting the language of the political operators at the expense of his own aesthetic vocabulary. His quirky sculpture tends toward an answer to this question of which the inkjet photos fall short.
ContributorBenjamin La Rocco