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Exhibition examines 'performance and surveillance' in video art

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor


movie set showing head/torso rear view of a man and a woman and reflections of their faces
Click photo to enlarge
Video still, Jordan Crandall, Homefront, 2005

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — To observers of cultural phenomena, the dawn of the 21st century may not necessarily be the best or worst of times. But it could be among the most culturally confused and conflicted eras to emerge in recent history, considering society’s mass-fascination with reality TV programs and Web cams, on one hand; and, on the other, its ever-present obsession with security, fueled by global fears of terrorism.

These dichotomies will be revealed and examined in a timely new exhibition, “Balance and Power: Performance and Surveillance in Video Art,” which opens Oct. 22 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign. In addition to the main exhibition at the museum, a corresponding, satellite installation also is on view at the campus’s Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science, 201 N. Goodwin Ave., Urbana. Both shows run through Dec. 31.

“This exhibition examines both the pioneer days of video art and current practices in an attempt to understand the complex relationship between intentional acting for the camera and our involuntary relinquishing of privacy to the cameras of power systems that have an interest in the movement of citizens,” said guest curator Michael Rush.
“In the earliest days of video art in the mid-1960s, artists engaged the question of when surveillance becomes performance and vice versa. This issue remains central to the work of many video artists today, said Rush, a writer, curator, critic and former director of the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art in Lake Worth, Fla.

The exhibition references and features work by a diverse group of artists, from early video pioneers such as Andy Warhol, Vito Acconci and Bruce Naumann to emerging practitioners such as Jill Magid and U. of I. art and design professor Kevin Hamilton.

Other participating artists are Antenna, Sophie Calle, Jim Campbell, Peter Campus, Jordan Crandall, Shelley Eshkar, Harun Farocki, Subodh Gupta, Tiffany Holmes, Tim Hyde, Paul Kaiser, Kristin Lucas, Steve Mann, Jenny Marketou, Jonas Mekas, Muntadas and Marshall Reese, Martha Rosler, Julia Scher, Kiki Seror and Gregory Shephard.

Included in the exhibition are large-scale installations, single-channel tapes, newly commissioned work and the premiere of Crandall’s new film “Homefront.”

Kathleen Harleman, the director of the Krannert Art Museum, described the collective body of work as “brilliant, beguiling, mesmerizing and disturbing.” She said that the exhibition is important for a number of reasons.

“First, its subject matter – balance and power, performance and surveillance – is of great concern to me and many people, particularly now. Michael Rush is helping us – in his own words – ‘to spotlight the uneasy alliance between posing and surveillance, performing and being spied upon’ and to confront what it means to ‘aestheticize’ these issues.”

Another primary motivation for organizing “Balance and Power” at the U. of I. museum was the director’s desire to present a show that exclusively featured video art.
“It is important to have more exposure to new media on this campus,” Harleman said.

She hopes to expose the work to an even broader audience in time. Though no definite touring schedule has been set, plans are under way to make the exhibition available for travel to other venues in the future.

The Krannert Art Museum is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; and 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free, with a $3 donation suggested.