MTAA's Our Political Work

by Cody Trepte

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      Still from Our Political Work (2007-2008)
      Dual channel digital video with software
      Commissioned by LX 2.0 Project, Lisboa 20 Arte Contemporânea
      Courtesy the artists

      With the end of President George W. Bush’s second term and the next election rapidly approaching, a pervasive feeling of anxiety is palpable. MTAA’s Our Political Work (2007-2008) gives form to this collective angst as a guttural performance of endurance.

      MTAA (M.River & T.Whid Art Associates) is the Brooklyn based collaborative art duo of Michael Sarff and Tim Whidden. Our Political Work is the latest in a series of computer-generated self-portraits. It is a web-based video diptych driven by a database of 141 video clips. Custom software randomly combines these short clips of the artists filmed against a silver backdrop into an endless video stream – clips of M.River on the left side and T.Whid on the right. Both artists are performing similar actions of screaming and laughing. At times, the howls begin to harmonize, punctuated with laughs and the occasional “Fuck.” At other moments, both M.River and T.Whid stare at the camera in synch as if waiting for something to happen. Then again, due to the random nature of the piece, the chorus of screaming and laughing resumes and the infinite loop of outbursts continues.

      Our Political Work exists in a space outside of language where communication approaches a pre-linguistic state. The variety of screams is impressive: anger, growling, howling, laughing, sobbing, expletive, horror, and shock make the work feel like an assignment from an acting class. After watching for a while, the video becomes comical – the screams seem more exaggerated and the laughs more contrived. MTAA’s satirical use of screaming links this work to the performances of Mieskuoro Huutajat, the Finnish screaming choir known for their renditions of popular songs by a group of 30 shouting men. In their performance of The Star Spangled Banner, Mieskuoro Huutajat literally screams in a four-part chorus the melody of the classic American song. Like MTAA’s work, language begins to fail but the potential for emotional and political communication perseveres.

      While Our Political Work has the appearance of the familiar two channel video installation, it is far more complex. Driven by custom software, each viewer sees a unique combination of small performances of hysteria. This work exists in a space between the server and the computer. MTAA’s Simple Net Art Diagram (1997) provides context; in that piece, a lightning icon with the words “The art happens here” appears on a line connecting two computers. As in much of their work, the Internet is used not only as a system for distribution, but also as a material. The computer code, fiber optic cable, your computer and mine all become the substance of their work.

      During a time in which political discourse occurs online as often as it does through the television or print media, web-based art has become an increasingly effective means of reflection. Our Political Work shares virtual space with political blogs, Youtube’s debate coverage and Myspace’s staged political dialogs as well as the websites of news networks such as CNN and MSNBC which provide a continuous stream of up to the minute poll results, viewer feedback and video clips from the campaign trail. The Internet has become a platform for endless meta-information and constant feedback. It is precisely this space in which a viewer is perpetually inundated with information that allows such a reductive political commentary to resonate.

      MTAA performs a political action that is succinct and subversive. Our Political Work is a protest of (simulated) endurance: infinite, random, and digital. It is the inverse of political satire, pointing out that it is reality that is the joke.

      Filmed against a silver backdrop, the artists suggest that there is in fact a silver lining to the current political atmosphere. The November 4th election is rapidly approaching and people will soon have the opportunity to register their opinions. With the recent global economic collapse, impending energy crisis, healthcare, women’s and same sex couple’s rights all hanging in the balance, Our Political Work is not only a reaction to the current political climate but is also a well-timed call to arms.

      With so much at stake, one is left wondering if we all screamed loud enough, would the message be heard?

      Cody Trepte is an artist living in Los Angeles. He is currently working on his MFA at California Institute of the Arts.


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