Behind the Surveillance Cameras, Mechanisms Gone Wild


Just when we’d nearly forgotten his optical-gizmo art, which has been absent for the past 10 years, Jon Kessler makes a great comeback. “Global Village Idiot,” a show of frenetic, kinetic, exhilarating, nervy new works, may well be the most relevant exhibition around. Hopping with makeshift mechanical and electrical devices, it’s a glorious jumble of clamps, turntables, tripods, bulbs, cables, surveillance cameras, live-feed videos, pathetic objects, and delusional images, all in constant dizzy symbiotic motion. Shaking, wobbling, sliding out of focus, it matches our out-of-sorts mood at this media-driven moment and pinpoints a sensibility—hyper, ditzy, hooked on random sensations, poised to flee—we’re barely aware of yet.

“I was perceiving this fragile planet,” explains Kessler. “I don’t know if political is the right word. I think this is the way the world is constructed right now. The special effects, the nightly news, the reality shows that are anything but real.” And, though he doesn’t say it, the pervasive anxiety provoked by 9-11.

Kessler always had a way of exposing the mechanisms behind his perfect illusions. Now those exposed mechanisms merge inextricably with their own constructed images. One Hour Photo, a makeshift conveyor-belt piece, conveys—over and over like the WTC replays—a cascade of twin tower postcards and their perpetually tumbling image. Party Crasher features an old graybeard (God, Osama, homeless hippie terrorist, or the global village idiot himself?) perpetually eluding a pursuing camera and its mediated image. Heaven’s Gate, with a computer focused on the butt crack of a Cabbage Patch doll and a video zooming through the vagina of a sex toy, explores the world of amateur Internet porn. The artist has another explanation: “It’s kind of my Étant Donnés.”