The Message: New Media Works
The Message: New Media Works is a transformative journey through five contemporary film and video installations that use music, film and pop culture to reveal profound truths about life in the 21st century. It’s also first chance for D.C. audiences to discover leading international video artists Camille Henrot, C.T. Jasper, Joanna Malinowska, Frances Stark, Hito Steyerl, and Arthur Jafa, an award-winning cinematographer known for his collaborations Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Solange, and whose seminal Kanye West-backed “Love is the Message, The Message is Death” inspired the exhibition’s title.
Each video appropriates a common method of communication in today’s media-saturated world—the sermon, the web lecture, the concert, the music video and the online sex chat room—and uses its familiar format to question and provoke ideas around information overload in the global digital age. Music and language appear as common threads to weave all five works together, as artists use them as tools to rewrite traditional narratives around theology, race and sexuality.
According to curator Mark Beasley, “In an increasingly digital society, we keep seeing that language, humor and music triumph as timeless and universal. As you walk through The Message, the exhibition unfolds as a musical LP, with each work as an individual track on a record connected by similar themes.”
In making her 2013 work, “Grosse Fatigue,” Camille Henrot mined the Smithsonian archives to uncover stories of the creation of the universe from a variety of religions and indigenous traditions. Images and video clips pop up in browser windows on a computer screen, set to a narrative soundtrack of spoken-word poetry, forming a collective “origin story” for the world.
Hito Steyerl’s film essay-cum-performance lecture “How Not to be Seen,” also from 2013, instructs the viewer how one can remain invisible and avoid detection in an age of constant surveillance.
C.T. Jasper and Joanna Malinowska’s “Halka/Haiti” (2015) addresses issues around globalization and colonization, staging a full-length Polish dramatic opera in a rural Haitian village populated by citizens of Polish descent. The expansive 30-foot curved screen and plastic deck chairs that are part of the installation seem to immerse viewers in the village square alongside its original Haitian audience.
In 2016, Arthur Jafa worked with Kanye West, who provided the soundtrack for “Love is the Message, The Message is Death,” a filmic essay of triumph, tragedy and resilience of Black life in America. Jafa’s award-winning work as a director and cinematographer—with Stanley Kubrick, Spike Lee, Jay-Z and Beyoncé—is now influencing a new wave of contemporary filmmakers.
In France Stark’s “My Best Thing” (2011) the artist records and computer animates her real-life encounters in online sex chat rooms, an unlikely and humorous basis for creative collaboration in the face of performance anxiety.