press release

JAVERT. Compulsion, Obsession, and Coercion

Because the "Black Heva" threatened the nation and because they controlled time and because they were cannibals, Russell Eugene Weston Jr., stormed the U.S. Capitol Building and killed two police officers, shooting them at close range. Weston was convinced they were blocking his access to the RUBY SATELLITE hidden in the basement of the Senate and knew this to be the only device capable of destroying the "Black Heva", spread by the rotting half-eaten corpses abandoned by the cannibals. Although clearly deranged, Weston was convinced in the supreme authority of the imaginary Ruby Satellite and was willing to do anything to reach it and thereby save the world. This was not an isolated incident, anyone paying attention would have realized that Weston Jr., was having some trouble when during a previous CIA interview he had asserted that President Clinton was a Russian clone, planning a communist insurrection. The CIA agent who recorded the Clinton incident dismissed Weston as harmless.

RUBY SATELLITE explores the complex drives and magnetism of compulsion; devotion to implacable authority; and the obsessive and often perverse behavior resulting from adherence to one's own beliefs. As seen in the Weston case, obsession creates a logic all its own and the conclusion is often dangerous and capricious. John Hinckley was certain that killing President Reagan would win the heart of actress Jodie Foster. David Berkowitz believed his dog, Sam, commanded him to commit murder. The obsession with authority has also been explored in fiction and cinema, as seen in Edward Dmytryk's nautical drama The Caine Mutiny (1954) featuring Humphrey Bogart as Captain Queeg. While becoming increasingly fearful of his loss of authority over his crew, Queeg becomes obsessed with policing his can of strawberries, which have become symbolic of his command. Convinced someone is stealing them, he allows a neurotic obsession to undermine his already disintegrating mental state and the safety of his crew. Mathew Wilson's Surrender Office series (2004)-photographs depicting the artist surrendering other people's confessions (recorded from willing participants in a make-shift office) to random sites around Chicago while holding a fifteen-foot white flag. Although an entirely arbitrary object, the confessors convinced of the potentially cathartic power of the apparently absurd act, relinquished complete control to Wilson, who like a priest interceded on their behalf by surrendered their fears, desires and wishes.

The relationship between power, submission, and fetish is explored by Swedish artist Annika Larsson in Poliise (2001), a floor-to-ceiling video projection presented in a custom-built interrogation room. Three policemen dressed in riot gear play suggestively with their accoutrements-gloves, batons, handcuffs, and masks-while standing over a fourth man in plain clothes. Through cropping, slow camera movement, and detailed close-ups, Larson stages ambiguous psychosexual dramas, but the dominant sadomasochist theme is thwarted by the repetitive and largely upbeat electronica soundtrack composed by Larsson's longtime collaborator Tobias Bernstrup. Christine Tarkowski continues the power/domination theme in Exposed Stud, Nuclear Sub, (1998). In her large photo-collage, an overtly phallic, half-submerged nuclear submarine is shrouded with femininely pinkish 2x4 framing ready for sheetrock. Her large Czech Hedgehogs-World War II anti-tank obstacles-made entirely from cardboard are freed from their military connotations. Instead, the six-pointed minimal forms resemble super-sized versions of 'Jacks', the little girls' game of collection and loss. In Yoshua Okon's large-scale projection Oreillese a la Orilla (Money Will Make the Dog Dance) (1999-2000), corruption, and its frequently attendant vulgarity, is observed in portraits of police and security guards in Mexico City. Bribed by Okon to dance for the camera, they reveal themselves in different ways. Some joke or engage in lewd macho posturing, while others simply run off with the money. Nicoline van Harskamp presents Orwellian portraits of cities in a large wall-paper work. This quieter piece explores the symbolic power of the uniform with repeated images of private and public security uniforms worn in London, Amsterdam, and Berlin.

Several artists explore the authority of the spoken and written word, creeds, and doctrines such as Chinese artist Wei Guangqing who questions the didacticism of his native country in the Extended Virtuous Words (Red Wall series) (1998-1999). Consisting of six silk-screen prints, the work references popular children's books from the Ming Dynasty that were designed as moral and ethical instruction manuals. In Lennon, Sontag, Beuys (2004), German artist Kota Ezawa takes archival footage from these three iconic cultural superstars, looping extracts from seminal lectures and interviews filmed during the 1970s. Transforming the footage into simplified cartoon animations, Ezawa diminishes their star status and warns against hero worship. German artist Mathilde ter Heijne tackles a highly emotive subject in Small Things End, Great Things Endure (2002), a single-channel video projection that explores the complicated issue of German collective guilt and self-sacrifice. Based on a film version of Uwe Johnson's novel of the same name, Small Things End, Great Things Endure pictures a woman repeatedly bursting into flames. The Party is Over (2004), a droll work by Dutch artist Marc Bijl, highlights our society's current obsession with fear in a text work made from plastic inflatable letters that spell out 'terror.' Decorated with streamers and confetti, Bijl's poignant work recalls Barry Glassner's The Culture of Fear (1999)-a series of essays discussing fear as a controlling device manipulated by those in power to keep us quiet and obedient. Hysteria over (African) 'killer bees' and 'super predator" teen-agers are just a few examples. Democracy, a similarly witty sculptural text work by the artist collective Industry of the Ordinary-Adam Brooks and Matthew Wilson-presents knee high stacks of blue posters with "vote for me" written in Arabic script. The fly bill format and Arabic text suggests an overtly political read that immediately dissolves upon translation into a humanist plea.

The implicit authority and unquestioned power assumed by certain groups allows them to use questionable methods to obtain their ends. In Now Let us Now Praise American Leftists (2004), Paul Chan employs FACES(tm)-the software program developed by the FBI to generate criminal stereotypes for wanted posters-to create his own visual database of left-wing activists including anarchists, Black Panthers, and Yiddish activists to reveal similar type-casting by leftist groups. The powerful influence of extreme ideologies is explored in a series of extraordinary portraits of Taliban members taken in downtown Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2002, by Studio's "Shah Zadah" and "Nazir Photographer." Resembling the work of the French artist team Pierre et Gilles-eyeliner, powered cheeks, and absurdly kitsch backgrounds-the negatives, retouched to present a more flattering image of the revolutionary, were sold to Magnum photographer Thomas Dworzak, who was documenting the fall of the Taliban. These portraits blatantly contradict the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islamic law that prohibits the depiction of any living creature. Equally bizarre is Adam McEwen's appropriation and re-situation of Christian Schiefer's infamous photograph from 1945 of the public execution, in front of a gas station in a small Milan square, of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci. The image, cropped, enlarged, and turned upside down, presents a radically different read from the original and succeeds in transforming a brutal public hanging into a delirious private moment. The desire that many of us have at some time or another to defeat faceless corporations is cleverly dealt with by Janice Kerbel in Bank Job (1999), comprising exhaustive plans of how to rob a fortified bank in the City of London, one of the world's most surveilled centers of capital. Posing as an architecture student, Kerbel monitored the bank for eighteen months. The resulting work takes the form of surveillance photographs, extensive maps, and a detailed get-a-way plan. As if this were not enough, Kerbel has published her results, directions and plans in a book entitled "15 Lombard Street," giving everyone access to her findings.

The powerful photographic, video, and sculptural installations in RUBY SATELLITE explore some of the different meanings and forms that compulsion may assume. Through wit, determination, and manias of their own, these artists succeed in transforming an overly dense and complicated subject matter into a memorable visual spree. While frustrating obvious assumptions and providing space to re-imagine our relationship to anonymous authorities and power structures, the works provoke reaction without denying the fascination, thrall, and the seductiveness of the compulsive urge.

Ciara Ennis Curator of Exhibitions, UCR/CMP October, 2006


only in german

Ruby Satellite
Kurator: Ciara Ennis

mit Marc Bijl, Paul Chan, Thomas Dworzak, Kota Ezawa, Wei Guanquin, Nicoline van Harskamp, Mathilde ter Heijne, Janice Kerbel, Annika Larsson, Adam McEwen, Yoshua Okon, Christine Tarkowski, Mathew Wilson ...