BY Britta Peters in Reviews | 04 NOV 13
Featured in
Issue 12

Liz Magic Laser

Westfälischer Kunstverein

BY Britta Peters in Reviews | 04 NOV 13

Liz Magic Laser, Public Relations/Öffentlichkeits­arbeit, video still, 2013

Remarks like ‘the media manipulate information’ or ‘public appearances by politicians are professionally stage-managed’ are commonplace to the point of truism. So the decision by New York-based artist Liz Magic Laser to focus with educational verve on these two topics in her film and performance works can be seen as a bold move: can she add anything new? Or even activate these topics politically?

Public Relations is the sober title of Laser’s first solo exhibition in Germany and the site-specific installation she made for the show. It makes clever use of the large window onto the city centre at the new premises of Westfälischer Kunstverein by installing a café that could be seen from afar – a veritable picture-postcard whose linoleum mimicked a black and white tiled floor. But somehow things didn’t match: in among the classic bistro tables with their cast iron legs, for example, stood a conference table.

In the exhibition space beyond, the café featured again, this time as a film set in a two-channel video installation, watched from revolving stools in a cross between a recording studio and a bar: on a large screen, a man reading a newspaper in the café speaks, while interviews recorded in the streets around the Kunstverein are projected onto the opposite wall. In these scenes, a TV reporter asks Münster residents about their views on journalistic reporting, while the man in the café comments on her questions or on something he is reading in the paper.

One theme addressed was the simplified portrayal of the Arab Spring following the Egyptian revolution of 2011. As the reporter makes clear in the course of her interviews, the fear of making journalistic misjudgements in the face of unclear circumstances was spun by the media into a claim that readers and viewers could not be expected to deal with overly complex content. In a way, it’s their own fault that they get what they seem to be asking for: ‘everybody wants a happy ending’, says the reporter with conviction.

The theatricality of the entire installation – including a model of the stage set – was strongly reminiscent of Bertolt Brecht’s theories of epic drama: analysis instead of identification. And the role of the commentator also remained ambivalent: he embodies the attitude of ‘those in power just do as they please’ coupled with sexist jibes towards the journalist. Besides coming across as rather didactic, many things were also self-explanatory. But without being boring: the interaction between the two videos provided intelligent and far-reaching analyses; the interview sequences have an accomplished absurdity. With Push Poll (2012) and Stand Behind Me (2013) the show included two other video works that plough more or less the same furrow: Push Poll also deals with the theme of street surveys, while Stand Behind Me uses performance to explore the body language of well-known politicians.

Overall, however, the exhibition offered second-order disillusionment. The issues it dealt with are familiar enough, and the actual confrontation consisted in the question of what results from a knowledge of the manipulative dimension of media. In this sense, the title, Public Relations, could be taken literally: as an attempt to conduct a broad-based conversation about media penetrating all areas of life. During shooting, many local people became involved in the making of the exhibition, and the café set was a space where people could actually talk. In a pleasantly casual manner then, the exhibition referred to the historical founding of art societies in the early 19th century. Back then they were considered as an important factor in the emergence of a critically engaged middle class public. A point this show reactivates.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell