Reframing Global Video

Mark Boulos,  “All That Is Solid Melts Into Air,” Two-channel digital video installation (14:20 minutes), 2008.  Courtesy of Pitzer Galleries.

I am always dubious when the word “global” begins an exhibition title. Trying to gauge some sort of global cultural pulse seems absurdly ambitious. But yesterday, when I went to see Narrowcast: Reframing Global Video at Pitzer College’s Galleries, I was genuinely surprised by my own reaction.

I spent well over two hours with the work and I feel like “global” is a fitting adjective for the exhibition. Together, the videos in Narrowcast are about the impossibility of fully grasping globalism and each tries to engage the present, past, and future with probing urgency.

I want to spend my last few days as a guest blogger focusing on the work in Narrowcast, following up on some of the conversations that the exhibition engages. It seems a relevant, timely thing to do, given that the presidential election is four days away and Narrowcast explicitly explores problems of political engagement and resistance.

Mark Boulos,

Narrowcast reprises a 1986 exhibition–called Resolution–that appeared at LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions). Five of the artists in Narrowcast participated in original exhibition; the other five are younger contemporary artists.

One of the newest works in the show, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (2008), is also one of the most unnerving. Made by Mark Boulos, the piece is a loud, discombobulating, and gripping two-channel installation.

Boulos’ installation pits two videos against each other. Footage of  Nigeria’s Ijaw people plays on one wall, while footage of oil traders on the Chicago Stock Exchange plays on an opposing wall. The oil traders incessantly distract, the noise of their activity drowning the first film’s audio, even though their behavior is static and uneventful compared to that of the Ijaw fishermen, oil workers, and revolutionaries. At one point, a fisherman from Nigeria laments the economic injustices imposed upon him by the far-off Western oil industry. Near the end of his rant, he looks at the camera and says, “Thank you.” His appreciation seems genuine–he’s glad someone is taking his concerns seriously but he also knows that the figures behind the camera are implicated in his oppression. “Don’t come here again,” he tells them before he walks away.

The title of Boulos’ installation riffs off Marshall Berman’s 1982 book on modernity (also called All That Is Solid Melts Into Air). “To be modern is to live a life of paradox and contradiction,” wrote Berman. “It is to be overpowered by the immense bureaucratic organizations that have the power to control and often to destroy all communities, values, lives; and yet to be undeterred in our determination to face these forces, to fight to change their world and make it our own.” This is precisely the battle that Boulos’ dualing films engage.

Note: Narrowscapes was curated by Ciara Ennis and Ming-Yuen S. Ma. It includes work by Lyn Blumenthal, Juan Downey, Antonio Muntadas, Marshall Reese, Michael Smith, Bill Viola, Natalie Bookchin, Mark Boulos, Regina José Galindo, Pablo Pijnappel, and Artur Zmijewski. A symposium called Resolution3: Video Praxis in Global Spaces accompanied the exhibition.