Remember '60s modernist art dogma? No imagery or story, just stripes, blips, drips, and zips of paint: style equals content. Two generations later we've completely changed esthetic direction: the postmodern consciousness sees all culture, including art, as covertly contaminated by power politics. We Interrupt Your Program at Mills College Art Museum features the work of fourteen women who discern in mass media, to quote guest curator Marcia Tanner, the "structures and vocabularies that exclude suppress or marginalize the female voice or any truly alternative points of view." In their high-tech artwork, these artists turn the tools of the corporate state against itself.
Technology is the subject in some works. Maria Antelman's video taH pagh taHbe combines smoothly dissolving shots of an old NASA hangar, all mysterious machinery and imposing architecture, with elegiac music, but the voiceover is gibberish, except, we read, to Star Trek Klingons, who may recognize Hamlet's soliloquy. Jean Shin's interactive sculpture TEXTile features an extended keyboard of 20,000 used key caps replicating her e-mail correspondence — and also comparing tapestry weaving and computing, both webs based on punch-carded data.
Gender stereotyping comes in for scrutiny as well. Nina Katchadourian's The Recovery Channels creates a TV alt-universe based on frazzled bits of videotape found entangled on New York streets; ranging the gamut of commercial TV programming, with a smattering of porn, it's a dispiriting depiction of what's playing on the national mind. Maria Friberg's video No Time of Fall, five minutes of the president fidgeting mutely at the podium, makes a devastating case against his unseen laughing, clapping audience. In Heir Apparent, Julia Page examines female role models in patriarchal culture with her ornately framed moving portraits, slow-motion footage of four beleaguered First Daughters. Julianne Swartz' sculpture Open combines Pandora's box and music box, commenting on depersonalization and its synthetic substitutes: when the wooden box is opened, various recorded voices declare in turn, "I love you."
The masculine ritual of war is seen without illusion. Stephanie Syjuco reclaims her native Philippines in her video triptych Body Double: three Vietnam War films set in her homeland are mostly blacked out, but for small windows revealing the countryside; it's antimilitary censorship. Maja Bajevic examines misused faith in her somber recitations of religious tenets enlisted in the service of war in her video Double Bubble.
Contemporary sociopolitical art is more abstract, intellectually ambitious, and ambiguous (for better or worse) than the upraised-fist street art of two generations ago. Less a call to arms than an exposé of the current order, it challenges Americans to become smarter, wiser information consumers. We Interrupt Your Program runs through March 16 at Mills College Art Museum (5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland). Mills.edu/museum or 510-430-3250.
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