On November 15, the New Museum in New York launched its Media Lounge - the only museum space in the city dedicated to digital art, experimental video, and sound works, selecting as its inaugural presentation Candice Breitz's 1999 videa installation, 'Babel Series'.
The 'Babel Series' is initially experienced as a cacophonous enveloping environment. Loud and seemingly indecipherable noises emanate from seven monitors, placed at varying heights in the gallery, simultaneously repelling and enticing visitors into the space. A small fragment appropriated from Madonna's song 'Papa Don't Preach' has her moaning 'Pa - Pa - Pa - Pa - Pa - Pa' etc. Another video has Freddie Mercury gabbling 'Ma - Ma - Ma - Ma - Ma - Ma'. Elsewhere, George Michael whimpers 'Me ö Me ö Me ö Me ö Me ö Me' etc. while Grace Jones insists 'No - No - No - No - No - No - No.' In each of these videos, the body is frozen in language constantly emerging and disintegrating as it articulates. Here repetition is both the vehicle through which visual and verbal meaning is created and the mechanism through which language degenerates into chaos. Caged in the pandemonium of their baby talk, these celebrity figures become visual and auditory vehicles of the primary building blocks of language, spitting out basic sounds learned in infancy, which in their rawness might be interpreted as some kind of universal language. However, Breitz's work seems to suggest that the universal languages aspired to by utopian artistic projects of the past (for example, in the poetic structures of Da-Da or in Futurist visions of a language rooted in technology) may have finally been realized not through the establishment of an international community bound by a common and easily understood language but rather through the near-global dispersal of popular media, with its own insatiable drive toward transparency. At a time when pop English is the only language which might be seen as approaching universality, as people around the world watch television, listen to popular music, and surf the Internet, the Babel Series employs stuttering syllables and mechanical repetition of the very processes through which language is acquired to reflect on the extent to which subject and language formation are increasingly fashioned according to the influences of the global media. The installation was first shown at the Istanbul Biennale in 1999. It has subsequently been shown at the Centre d'Art Contemporain in Geneva and at Galleria Francesca Kaufmann in Milan.
Also showing is Breitz's new piece, 'Soliloquy' (Sharon). This is the first chapter in what will eventually be a trilogy of short films. To make this film, the psycho-sexual thriller 'Basic Instinct' (1992) was rigorously trimmed and edited so that all footage was deleted except the moments in which Sharon Stone speaks or groans or giggles or grunts. The new film that results, a medley of all of Stone's moments of articulation isolated and strung together, is a mere 7 minutes and 11 seconds in length. The result is an alienated monologue in which questions are asked but never answered, in which comments are left hanging without response, a non-sequitur ramble in which the femme fatale character is isolated from the narrative context of the movie and from linear dialogue with other characters. As the looping soliloquy devolves into a narcissistic and desperate babble, one is reminded of the extent to which language depends on context and community for its meaning. The protagonist writhes and jerks like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. The soliloquy is in this sense reminiscent of Andy Warhol's 'Screen Tests' in which the non-presence of a script, director and narrative at times forces a direct and violent relationship between a secluded actor trapped before a camera and an audience attempting in vain to probe the interior depths of this actor. This film will be shown at the New Museum for the first time.