Elizabeth LeCompte is the director of the Wooster Group, an experimental theater company that operates out of its own theater, the Performing Garage, in New York City. The group’s working process begins with "source" texts which are quoted, reworked, and juxtaposed with fragments of popular, cultural and social history, and combined with personal and collective experiences of the group. The resulting productions reflect a continuing refinement of a non-linear, abstract aesthetic that at once subverts and pays homage to modern theatrical "realism."
Rosler uses the format of a cooking demonstration (as in Semiotics of the Kitchen) to address cultural transaction--the meeting of Eastern and Western cultures. Reading directly from a West Bend Electric Wok instruction booklet, Rosler wryly comments upon the Oriental mystique conjured by the West Bend manufacturers, a mystique evoked and then "improved" upon through Western technology--i.e. non-stick surfaces and electric power.
This European flavored melodrama depicts a fictional country of refined manners and debased desires that explode into chaos, sending its prodigal son into the pit of 20th Century technology. That technology externalizes his hidden beauty just as he tries to hide the heritage of horror which was the curse of his lineage. That curse now threatens the already damned.
A reverse striptease, non-stop comedic monologue about shopping for clothes, while eating corn nuts. Dressing Up was inspired by the artist’s mother’s penchant for bargain hunting. Mogul produced Dressing Up as a student in the feminist art program at the California Institute of the Arts in 1973. This now classic video was shown in Southland Video Anthology in 1975 at the Long Beach Museum of Art. Curated by David Ross, it was one of the first museum surveys of video art in the United States.
The performers are seated around a pink octagonal table on pink, violet, and silver cinder blocks. One performer (Robert Stearns) stands up, recites the credits for the piece, and then says, “Do you believe in water? Robert Stearns.” He claps and turns to the next performer who asks the same question and gives his name. Next the players split up into pairs and attempt to relate to each other—playing tug-of-war, making love, arguing over who has the most integrity, and fighting for possession of the props.
Like all of Smith’s videotapes, Down in the Rec Room is based on a performance that finds Mike once again all dressed up with nowhere to go. Smith mimes along with a children’s “let’s play make believe” record, and then repeats the action—this time disco dancing along with Donny and Marie on the TV set. Down in the Rec Room continues Smith’s critique of American fantasy culture by depicting the sorry life of the average guy.
Based on Robert Heinlein’s 1941 story “Universe,” Double Lunar Dogs presents a vision of post-apocalyptic survival aboard a “spacecraft,” travelling aimlessly through the universe, whose passengers have forgotten the purpose of their mission. As a metaphor for the nature and purpose of memory, the two main characters (portrayed by Jonas and Spalding Gray) play games with images of their past; but their efforts to restore their collective memories are futile, and they are reprimanded by the “Authority” for their attempts to recapture their past on a now-destroyed planet Earth.
Rosler calls Domination and the Everyday, with its fragmented sounds, images, and crawling text, an artist-mother's "This Is Your Life." Throughout this work, we hear--but do not see--a mother and small child at dinner and bedtime while a radio airs an interview with a gallerist about California art of the 1960s. The soundtrack moves into overdrive with feedback, a passing train, barking dogs, and a bedtime story. The visuals, all still images, are drawn from television, movies, advertising, and the family album.
With Benglis standing in front of a photograph of herself, which is then affixed to a monitor bearing her image, the notion of "original" is complicated—making the viewer acutely aware of the layers of self-images and layers of "self" that are simultaneously presented. Like Martha Rosler's Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained, Benglis presents the viewer with a "document" of questionable veracity. It is a document attesting not to the "real" Benglis, but to the impossibility of discerning one real identity.
Jonas uses reflections on a lake as a mirror to displace reality, creating a disruption and the illusion of presence.
“Disturbances begins with a Symbolist-like image of two women, dressed in white, seen only as reflections in water.… Throughout the tape the water fills the monitor, creating layers of images. The reflections on the surface of the water are superimposed on the activities that take place underneath the surface.”
This structurally simple video, shot through Benglis's apartment window, contains a, "distinct disjuncture between the visual and aural components of the work. The viewer, initially presented with a contemplative view of nature, is frequently distracted by the chatter of a radio. As the camera zooms in and out, it establishes a dichotomy: indoors and outdoors, the man-made and the natural.
Susan Mogul's fantasies of success have always a comic, congenial twist, as in Dear Dennis, a video letter to Dennis Hopper inspired by her discovery that they share the same dentist. The central irony of this witty piece is that, despite Hopper's popular persona as an innovative, sub-cultural filmmaker and performer, the actual distance between his so-called independent" films and Mogul's experimental, non-commercial videos prevents Susan from finding any common ground from which to address Hopper other than the subject of dental work.
Danny Tisdale is a performance artist from New York City. His performances challenge prevailing ideas of race, assimilation, appropriation and success by offering passers-by the chance to racially change their appearance as a means to achieve greater financial success. The mimicry of museological practices of cataloguing and preservation, display and presentation provides one of a range of rhetorical frameworks upon which Danny Tisdale hangs his practice of social critique.