June 25, 2005
Momenta Art May 12–June 12, 2006
In the wake of the hubbub surrounding John McCain’s controversial commencement speech at the New School this past weekend, my stray thoughts were already preoccupied by the state of America’s divisive culture wars. They were the subject of heated discussion on public radio and had me thinking hard about the nature of my own viewpoints and, more generally, how such ideological divisions coalesce into reference groups that inevitably continue to reinforce themselves from within.
These thoughts were still lingering when I set out for Momenta Art, Brooklyn, where, right on cue, as if it were reading my mind, Glen Fogel’s video entitled June 25, 2005 provoked me to think about ideological divisions from another angle.
Fogel’s video begins in innocuous enough fashion with a foreground of concertgoers cheering toward a stage of musicians. It’s a scene nearly everyone has witnessed. The perspective is from the shoulder of a presumed fan in the bleachers between the backs and heads of the surrounding fans.
Fogel supplements the subject matter with an interesting technical application where he superimposes two projections of the same scene on top of each other, only slightly shifting the overlay. The effect is a hazy double image that obscures the details of the spectacle. More to this effect are the absence of sound and the reduced speed of the action. Initially, the video has a dramatized feel similar to that of a sensationalized crime scene reenactment on a pseudo-news magazine.
But things get fishy fast. The individuals in the foreground reach to the sky with open palms. They bounce on their feet and gaze occasionally upward as if in ecstasy. On the video monitor that dominates the background of the stage, the face of the lead singer appears. Although not uncommon at arena concerts, the blurry visage seems strangely iconic and unusually impassioned.
And then, “Eureka,” the truth becomes clear: this is a Christian rock concert, and, as it turns out, one that was held in cooperation Billy Graham’s nationwide crusade in 2005. This particular footage is from the Flushing Meadows leg of the tour.
When it comes to contemporary art, our collective expectations are generally ready for anything. So one doesn’t feel misled by this video when the realization hits that this isn’t quite what you thought it was. Despite my own resignation, I couldn’t help but relate the experience to a more disorienting one I’ve had on several occasions: while searching for a radio station on a cross-country drive, scanning fruitlessly for clear voices in some remote area, I settle on a channel playing music that sounds vaguely familiar. After a few moments I gather, even without any explicit indicators, that what is playing is religious in nature.
The quandary preferred by Fogel’s video is one with profound topical significance; is it close-minded to remain dispassionately engaged with something of this sort only until recognizing the signifiers of a culture that one doesn’t subscribe to? It’s a difficult question to wrestle with and one that testifies to the success of the video.
It seems that what inspires disfavor of such self-reinforcing subcultures has something to do with the fact that they contain conventionalized components, indeed ideas, that allow them to be recognized before any kind and outright declaration of purpose. In the end, what a video like Fogel’s does is to make you look deep into your own critical assumptions about the world to consider whether they too could be so easily categorized.