Jonathan Horowitz

By Anton, Saul | Artforum International, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Jonathan Horowitz


Anton, Saul, Artforum International


It is a truism nowadays that television not only brings us the world but helps fashion it as well. Think of 1998's The Truman Show, whose protagonist is the star of a TV program without knowing it: All that he surveys--even the sky above his head-- is an elaborate soundstage populated by an entire suburb of actors. The implication is that our daily existence has a made-for-television dimension to it: Life may not imitate art, but it does imitate TV.

However, pace Truman, the relation between lived experience and TV isn't that of imitation--the traditional aesthetic relation between original and copy-- it's more like the feedback circuits of electronic media itself, a dynamic in which it becomes impossible to know precisely where reality ends and representation begins. It is within this loop that the artist Jonathan Horowitz situates many of his video installations. In Dunk Tank, 1994, for example, the thirty-four-year-old New York artist takes the psychic measure of the late-night talk show by casually incorporating the viewer into celebrity interviews. Four video monitors present conversations between Jay Leno and Harrison Ford, Eddie Murphy, Michael Keaton, and Kathleen Turner, respectively. Leno's questions are audible, but the celebrities' answers are not: The responses appear as text superimposed on the screen, syllable by syllable--lines meant for the viewer to recite. Horowitz's sly bait and switch thus exposes the fantasy that likely motivates o ur seemingly endless interest in talk shows: We imagine ourselves to be guests on the Tonight Show, saying the goofy, brilliant, witty thing we would surely say if only we had the chance.

Horowitz has also set about exploring how television undermines and flattens our sense of time. Take Maxell, 1990, a wry video that simply presents its title, "Maxell," in the center of the screen for six and a half minutes. As we gradually come to realize that the title is not an overture to a more visually dynamic program--moreover, that it is slowly degrading in picture quality--it dawns on us that Horowitz is mocking our, as it were, prerecorded anticipation of a televisual rather than a textual experience. As the screen is overwhelmed by static and white noise, we are made painfully aware of the passing of time--the one experience that television and film must prevent for fear of boring their audiences.

A more complex meditation on the nature of time occurs in The Body Song, 1997, in which Horowitz reverses the direction of a Michael Jackson video. Reversing the time messes up the film's logic; linearity and conflict are disrupted. The original music video, Earth Song, is an environmental fairy tale in which Jackson starts off lamenting a desolate wasteland that is miraculously transformed into a paradise over the course of the video, presumably thanks to his magical voice. In Horowitz's backward version, the piece begins as an Eden and ends as a conflagration. In this depiction of time, events take place randomly. They have no rational narrative form. Everything simply decays: Forests die and animals rot. Caught in reverse, Jackson becomes just one more beast, on par with the elephants, tigers, and other beings trapped in time's maw rather than a controlling agent or the hero of the narrative's dream machine. …

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