Sunday, April 28, 2019

So Much Deathless at Red Bull Arts New York

“So Much Deathless” at Red Bull Arts is a retrospective of the work of Gretchen Bender (1951 - 2004). Bender was a multi-disciplinary artist who worked heavily in video, particularly by repurposing TV programming as well as live tv broadcasts.
Bender’s work Aggressive Witness - Active Participant, 1990, is composed of 12 older model televisions, placed about four feet off the ground against the walls, wrapping around the viewer in a dimly lit room. Some of the screens play period abstract computer graphics while others play live television shows and commercials.
Upon closer inspection, the broadcasts displayed are contemporary television shows and ads. Centered on each screen in vinyl letters are one to two word statements such as “NO CRITICISM” or “NUCLEAR WARHEADS”.
These phrases overlaid on top of antiquated looking television sets would seem like social commentary by the artist on the culture and climate of the time the work was created. Instead, experiencing the overlay of phrases such as “IMAGE WORLD” AND “HOMELESS” over present day commercial content reflects on the meaning these social commentaries have today and how their relevance is as true now as it was when the work was created nearly 30 years ago.
The presentation on the older CRT monitors reminds the viewer that the moving image/media’s role and power in our society is nothing new and has long been problematic in its sway of the general public’s opinion and attention. The viewer is confronted with phrases that inspire thought and hopefully discussion over social and political issues such as homelessness and the potential for nuclear war but is made to consider these topics with the backdrop of a toothpaste commercial or America’s Got Talent. These issues are just as real today as they were 30 years ago and Bender helps the viewer consider whether one would prefer to spend time watching the next episode of a sitcom or researching and debating long standing and evolving socio-political issues.


  1. I agree with John's assessment of the work of Gretchen Bender. It stands out the correct use of the different levels of communication that overlap to construct an orchestrated piece. We have the images recorded with camera, graphics, text, sound and finally the installation. The ability of this artist to select all these elements that do not belong to the artistic field in itself, and organize them to build a message is what gives value to the work as a piece of art. On the other hand, the critical message towards the media society and the pressure exerted to win the viewer's attention is very contemporary despite being a work of almost 30 years.


  2. I do not really have any negative criticism. I felt the writing was clear. It’s difficult to describe an installation with multi channels and abstract video and or animation, but I felt you articulated it well. I did not see the piece, and in general an image could have helped. You also did a great job of analyzing the meaning of the piece through both its language and material components. Your description of the pieces meaning being a warning of the media’s influence reminds me of Marshal McLuhan’s writings. Considering the time period that the work was being made this could be an interesting thing to read as part of your analyses.