For this first week of class we read essays that examined how social conditions can impact the production and presentation of art. Holland Cotter’s New York Times Art Review, Top of Wish List: No More Business as Usual and Seitu Jones’ article, Public Art That Inspires, discussed art located in museums, galleries and communities. Both authors reflected on how economic limitations can present opportunities for artistic innovation. They found that these conditions have motivated some artists to become more resourceful, open to collaboration, and independent in their thinking.
Michael Joaquin Grey’s video installation Perpetual ZOOZ (2005) at the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center reflects this idea. Grey is interested in examining morphology, the study of the form or structure of anything. When I entered his installation it initially seemed to be about geomorphology and I expected it to be a commentary on the development of landforms. But upon closer inspection I saw that it was actually a cinematic projection that manipulated the classic Hollywood musical The Wizard of Oz.
This projection of The Wizard of Oz rotates horizontally as if it was a spinning coin. The film images on both sides differ but they both stretch vertically in synch to the sounds of the installation. While one side of the film is synched to the sound of the artist’s heartbeat, the other side corresponds to his mother’s heartbeat (P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center). The sense of being in a womb-like space is created by the locating the installation in a large dark room and using the sounds of a mother and child’s heartbeats to illustrate the aural environment. Grey also endowed his projection with sculptural qualities by using his knowledge of computer science to create additional movement. I believe he may have used descriptive geometry, a form of computer aided design, to enable this.
To understand this impressive but perplexing art piece I read the show’s descriptive text to gain insight on how to interpret the artist's intention. It mentioned that the artist “investigates critical moments in…culture with a nearly scientific eye, all the while testing the very limits and boundaries of the tools required in such study” (P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center). After reading this sentence I realized that The Wizard of Oz qualifies as representation of one of American culture’s critical moments.
The protagonists’ hopeful journey to a magical place that is just “over the rainbow” echoed the dreams of material and spiritual progress that some Americans believed would result from the economic reforms and development of the western United States that occurred during the Great Depression. Even after this era, the film’s messages of progress, transformation, and fellowship continue to resonate for many. Anyone seeking their destiny or a way to return home to their loved ones or previously unloved parts of themselves saw themselves in the film. Its status as a treasured icon is will be recognized this year through numerous 70th anniversary celebrations across the nation.
The themes that are powerfully depicted in The Wizard of Oz are re-figured by Grey through his use of advanced computer technology. By aligning The Wizard of Oz’s themes of progress, transformation and fellowship with symbols of pregnancy, the artist reminds viewers that periods of gestation are necessary before one can move onto the next stage of development. The messages expressed in Grey’s installation, that new plans and ideas need time to ripen and that the right conditions must present themselves before they can be appropriately birthed, can calm the anxieties that many feel in the current global financial crisis. His use of a treasured icon that was created during similar economic conditions supports Cotter’s and Jones’ assertion that turbulent economic times can liberate artists from pandering to financial markets or art world trends so they can instead focus their energy on producing innovative, authentic, and life-changing work.
P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center. "Exhibitions: Michael Joaquin Grey." P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center. 20 Sep. 2009 <http://ps1.org/exhibitions/view/299>.