Corcoran exhibit looks at influence of media images

November 06, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

How much control do we have over which media images we see?

Less than we think.

How do those images affect the way we think about the world and ourselves?

More than we think.

These are the answers suggested by "Luxor v1.0," an installation at Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art that can unhesitatingly be called unique.

The installation includes the following: an 18-foot figure based on African and Korean spirit sculptures; a computer-programmed wall of 256 video images that the viewer can manipulate; mural drawings dealing with past, present and future; and assemblages of found objects (such as old mirrors and photographs) that have to do with our concept of beauty.

"Luxor v1.0" -- the title is meant to evoke both ancient times (Luxor is a city in Egypt) and the modern world of computers -- is the product of a collaboration by three Washington artists: Y. David Chung, who specializes in drawings; Renee Stout, whose sculpture is inspired by African art; and Matt Dibble, a video artist.

But the installation came about because of a fourth person: Philip Brookman, the Corcoran's curator of photography and media arts. When Brookman arrived at the gallery in 1993, he says, "I wanted to do things with photographs, but I also wanted to work directly with artists to create a new work. And I wanted to show that the [Corcoran] will risk commissioning a new work, a work they haven't already seen somewhere else."

His concept for the installation was "the media, and how the media influence the way people see themselves," says Brookman.

Being familiar with the work of Chung and Stout, Brookman talked to them about a collaboration; Dibble, with whom Chung had worked before, was quickly enlisted.

"Philip gave us a broad palette," says Chung, "and we worked backwards from the idea to how to make it work."

All three collaborated on the 18-foot-tall sculpture, which represents the past. "We wanted to create it as if we had unearthed it and put it in the museum," says Chung.

The African dolls on which the sculpture was based "were containers for spirits of the dead, to help people ward off evil spirits and other things that would bring harm to them," says Stout.

In "Luxor v1.0," he says, "it's to ward off all the negativity that the media might produce, and to try to get back to basic spirituality. We get so

caught up in technology that we forget spiritual things. That's why it looms over everything else."

The sculpture has its work cut out for it. Facing it is a wall-sized screen on which are projected 256 video images -- the kind we're bombarded with every day in our lives. This was Dibble's contribution.

"It includes everything from an atom bomb test to a toothpaste commercial, all jumbled together so that it's more and more hard to tell the difference," Dibble says. "And in the center is the image of the ancient pyramid with an eye in it, which we put on our money. It's the symbol of information as currency, the currency of the future."

Dibble has programmed the wall of images to give viewers a degree of control. Put your hand over any of four sensors in the middle of the room and the projector zooms in on part of this mosaic.

By fiddling with the sensors you can manipulate what's on the screen. But only so much, and it always eventually goes back to the original. Thus the viewer learns how little control we really have over the images that come to us.

Chung's and Stout's contributions, in complementary fashion, teach us how deeply ingrained media images are. Chung's three wall-size drawings deal with the past, the present and the future, incorporating images from the Roman chariot race in the movie "Ben-Hur" to tanks and missiles to the space station from the film "2001: A Space Odyssey."

"It's scenes from advertising and pop history, and it's about how these things come into our heads," says Chung. For instance, when we think about ancient Rome we are more apt to think about the chariot race in "Ben-Hur" than about actual history, since such images are so definite and pervasive.

And Stout's assemblages deal with how media images affect our self-images. Several of them address the issue of beauty: If media images constantly project images of blond white people as beautiful, people who are not blond and white may feel un-beautiful.

"If there is only one kind of beauty portrayed, you may feel that you will never live up to what the ideal is," says Stout. "And if you don't feel good about yourself, how do you function in society?"

Not everybody, of course, will get all this. But that's all right, says Chung. "I don't think it's necessary that the viewer learn all that from it. It's intuitive. We don't try to be opaque, but it has mysterious elements. We hope people will enjoy it and not be frustrated by it. It's meant to communicate."

AT THE CORCORAN

What: "Luxor v1.0"

Where: The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 17th Street and New York Avenue N.W., Washington

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Nov. 13; closed Tuesday

Admission: Suggested $3 adults, $1 seniors and students, $5 families

Call: (202) 638-3211

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