Mark Allen's Top
Ten for October 11th, 2004:
New York, USA
4. Don Ritter's "Vox Populi"
(Jack the Pelican Gallery, Williamsburg, Brooklyn - until Oct. 17th)
So I wandered into Jack the Pelican gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
this week. I've seen some pretty good work there on occasion on some of
my escapist strolls. Anyway, in the back room of the gallery from now
until October 17th is this great multi-media installation by Don Ritter
and it's called "Vox Populi."
The installation consists of this elevated podium under some spotlights
with a live microphone and a teleprompter screen with a scrolling, pre-written
speech (you can choose from Martin Luther King, George W. Bush, Adolph
Hitler or John F. Kennedy) - all ready for you to walk up to and start
speaking. In front of the podium, on the wall, is projected an ingeniously
seamless series of streaming videos of a crowd (sometimes viewed from
far back, sometimes close-up) that are relentlessly shouting for you to
"Speak! C'mon! Speech! Say your mind!" that kind of overlap
each other in a deafening crowd roar - and their actions change according
to different signals being given off from the microphone and the podium
and the sound in the room. Apparently if you start speaking they shut
up and sit there and watch you judgingly, and if you start to stammer
or take too many gaps, they "Boo!" or deplore you to not give
up. I think if you make it all the way through one of the speeches they
burst out in roars of applause... but if you don't complete it they call
you a quitter.
I say apparently because... well, I lost my nerve all alone there in the
gallery on a sunny October afternoon... caught by surprise by the exhibition
and knowing that the person working in the front office would be able
to hear me loud and clear if I got up and started speaking. I was caught
unaware, and I chickened out.
Maybe I'll go back. One of the reasons it freaked me out so much was I
was literally feeling the tension, all alone back there, the tension you
felt in middle school before you had to stand in front of English class
and give an oral report and you had to go first because your name started
with "A," or that tension you felt backstage on the opening
night of that play you're in where you're praying you don't vomit on your
choked-out opening line, or that awful feeling before you go on stage
at that terrible club in Berlin that the dipshit, K-holed club promoter
back in NYC booked you and your go-go dancing friends at, even though
you just found out you're getting paid almost 1/4th of what was agreed
on and you did some drug earlier that you shouldn't have and then you
had some drinks to counteract it and you're praying for the music to cue
so your nervous, nauseous, high, enraged, jet lagged ass doesn't just
drop dead right there on the spot behind the jizz-stenched black curtain
with the sequin fist and eagle pattern on it.
Ritter's work literally channeled all those past experiences and others
right there alone in that room with nothing but electronics. I literally
had sweaty palms. Would the guy working in the gallery office hear me?
Should I be embarrassed? Is he used to hearing people do this all day?
What if I make a mistake!? Gawrsh!
I noticed as I moved closer to the podium, that the people in the video
projection started shouting and employing me even more to "...get
up! Speak your mind!" and when I reached way up and tapped the mic
a few times (to see if it worked), they amazingly shut up and just stared.
Spooky. As soon as I didn't step up and start talking into the microphone,
they started to "Boo!" and again harassed me to give a speech.
The way it seems to work is different crowd sequences (using the same
crowd of actors) are programmed to kind of fade in and out of each other
very quickly according to what response is needed. And the sound they
make is really overwhelming.
The only other artists that come to mind are Richard Serra, who in the
1960's and 70's created huge metal sculptures inside giant rooms... sculptures
out of heavy flat slabs of rusted metal that leaned precariously against
each other and tilted at really odd angles, or seemed to barley be able
to stand up by themselves, looking like they might topple over on top
of you if you walked too close to them. His goal, among others, was to
create psychic "tension" in a room, which was as much a sculptural
medium to work with as the metal itself.
Here is a link with all the info you need about the Don Ritter "Vox
Populi" installation at Jack the Pelican gallery in Williamsburg,
Brooklyn. I highly recommend going... facing your fears and speaking your
mind. Try to picture the guy working way up in the front office naked.