Social engaged art-making, video organizing and art teaching comprise my artistic triumvirate. Usually occurring in public spaces, my art projects contain images and texts, written or audible, in an accessible style reflective of the site. Over a generation of Freewaves biennial media art festivals that I co-founded and administer, I set up forums where other artists may express their aesthetics, ideas, and images in their own language. Through teaching public and media arts, I let young people know these opportunities exist and offer them the tools to make their own images.
Socially engaged art, independent video and art teaching are all about speaking one’s mind in the face of pervasive commercial structures. Now I can integrate these tasks into long term projects and facilitate communities to creatively express their needs and wishes and find visible outlets for those messages targeted to their neighbors and peers.
With 5,000 ads in our faces per day, with only 9% female TV directors and more extra-terrestrials on TV than Asians, Latinos and Native Americans combined, we have too much missing from our public pictures and too many false mirrors presented to us. Providing the space and place for other images and ideas, or to at least to begin strategizing ways to expand our options is a critical goal of my art and curation.
I place intimate images into public arenas or I transform commercial language into personal messages. Examples include billboards, a street banner, an outdoor audio installation, a video installation in a restaurant, animation on an electronic sign, and a “white out” (erasure) of every commercial sign on six adjacent blocks. Each one comments on the media and its circumstances. Authentic communication is my goal.
30% of the content of mass media is advertisements, i.e., corporate art, pixilated, transmitted and sprayed over the world. Ads are on our orange peels, protrude from the seams of our underwear, on our doorknobs and windshields. I try to prevent them from entering my eyes, ears and pores so they cannot alienate me from my desires, fears, and culture.
By contrast, in Out of the Window, I work with neighborhood art projects to develop alternative media that can be presented to and replied to by the one million people who ride the Metro buses each day in Los Angeles. Working with numerous advisors, assistants, and volunteers, Freewaves has created an alternative web space where international artists’ videos can be personally sorted, screened and commented. These are stepping-stones to my fulfilling my fantasy of an artist-run media channel that counteracts the numbing and nerve-wracking reruns of stereotypes, filling in some of the persistent omissions.
Using the same instruments as the vernacular as well as the industry (cameras, computers, cell phones, projectors, mics, sound systems), an artist or activist can tap the same power as pop language or expand perceptions of what mass media does and can do. Art using this technology can, more specifically, assist viewers to distinguish their realities from illusion, a required skill. The torrential power of mass imagery and messages could be diverted or reprogrammed with a multicultural, humanist skew instead of a corporate bottom line.
In urban streets, there is an unacknowledged battle raging between architects and media makers, with city planners as the arbitrators. Ads are sometimes bigger than buildings, and skyscrapers are topped with trademarks. As both architecture and media often dwarf the public, I try to create a more egalitarian relationship with viewers through my multimedia installations, indoor and outdoor, and through the Freewaves Festival. After moving in 1982 to Los Angeles, where there are fewer pedestrians than ads, I redefined public art to include media arts in order to continue to engage a large populace. I thought I could aggressively pump art into viewers’ homes via television. Instead I had to make art, run a video organization and teach media art.