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Life on the Screen

A project with Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries exploring satire, cynicism and the figure of the jester in contemporary life

Values


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Performance

Organizing Institutions

Slought

Funders

Sponsored by Living Collection, Hong Kong, and Mina Park

Acknowledgments

Curated by Melissa Lee and Aaron Levy. Contributions from Adrienne D'Elia, Olivia Horn, and Alanna Rebbeck.

Process initiated

04/07/2015

Opens to public

07/17/2015

Address

Slought
4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Economy

100% Formal - 0% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "Life on the Screen," a project exploring satire, cynicism and the figure of the jester in contemporary life, on display in Philadelphia from July 17-August 17, 2015, as well as online.

The project takes its title from sociologist Sherry Turkle's seminal publication of the same name about identity in the age of the internet (1997), which explores the dramatic shifts in notions of self, other, machine, and world in a digital era. The adoption of online personae, she argues, has contributed to a shift away from traditional, unitary notions of self towards more fluid, fragmentary and performative identities. Building upon Turkle's observations, we have commissioned web-art group Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries to construct a new persona, one that responds to the pervasive sense of disillusionment today with civil society and political representation.

The persona Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries has created in response to our initial conversations - "Bozo On the Boom Boom Badass Beat" - appropriates this cynicism, as well as figures including the clown, the trickster, and the fool. The jester, a paid fool, is someone who has been afforded certain freedoms from societal constraint, and is thus able to proclaim otherwise inappropriate positions. Though oftentimes dismissed as foolish or mad, the fool nevertheless tells us truths couched in cliché and humor - such as, in this work, that "the world is fucking falling apart" (2:45 min) or that the Millennial generation relates "more to a smiley face than the President of the United States" (3:26 min).

When the fool offers a cynical commentary on the dystopic aspects of society, his discourse can become oddly sobering. These moments of truth transform the fool into a knowing jester, or trickster. All of these dramatic figures thus intersect in their irreverence towards the solemnities of state and authority. They speak truth about power, while ostensibly not threatening it.

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Why did we turn to art in exploring these themes and questions? We did so because artists, unlike activists and others, often do not meet with resistance when they broach them. The artist is a sort of paid jester, and occupies a position that is often not taken seriously.

Artists are supposed to entertain us; for this reason, they are exempt from various codes of behavior concerning social etiquette. This phenomenon has been referred to historically by Rabelais and others as "The Jester's Privilege," or the special ability that some in society have to engage in otherwise inappropriate forms of commentary.

In so doing, the jester becomes at one and the same time a capering, mad idiot who tells a tale "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," such as in Shakespeare's Macbeth, and at the same time a sardonic and clever commentator on the society in which he lives and works...

Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries is a web-art group formed in 1998 and based in Seoul, South Korea. It consists of Young-hae Chang, a Korean artist and translator with a Ph.D in aesthetics from Universite de Paris I, and Marc Voge, an American poet in Seoul.

Using mostly jazz musical forms, a plain typeface (Monaco) and animation technology, Chang and Voge have built a body of Web-based works that present seductive, acerbic and sophisticated narratives.

A story unfurls as type in the browser window, their work experienced at its own pace without stopping, providing an experience somewhere between a reading and a movie. Their work dispenses with the usual interactivity and other characteristics of Web-based media; the socio-political consciousness of the text is emphasized via the screen's material effects—type size and weight, velocity and duration.

Playlist

"We come to see ourselves differently as we catch sight of our images in the mirror of the machine.

[...] Today the program has disappeared; one enters the screen world as Alice stepped through the looking glass. On [the internet], people are able to build a self by cycling through many selves."

-- Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen (1997)