New York

Margia Kramer

Whitney Museum of American Art

Margia Kramer also traffics in well-trodden terrain, but the strength of presentation, or the information compiled, lends moving power to her work. Progress (Memory) is a three-monitor video installation dealing with the distribution and control of information through advanced technology. Each monitor occupies a separate space, or sphere of activity, determined by the parameters of an oblong hooked rug. One screen is “driven” by an individual peddling a stationary bicycle; a second, featuring computerized music, is activated by a viewer seated on a piano bench; in the third space—a somewhat homey scene—a standing lamp rests beside a monitor displaying a tape of a crawling baby manipulating household utensils. Spotlights illuminate the black-painted room, its walls marked by bars of music. This music—“bits” of computerized Bach—also appears on the second monitor screen.

Two of the monitors pit human languages—the “natural” sounds of children and music—against the “artificial” language of the computer, which is figured on the bicycle-operated screen. Similarly, the set showing the infant in different learning situations, as the child pieces together particles of information, could be said to oppose natural intelligence to its constructed, artificial form. Yet it is the tape dealing with the computer and communications industry that provides the central element of the ensemble, for it offers an exposure, and a staunch indictment, of the procedures surrounding the processing of information. Carefully strung together in its lengthy circuit is a series of scenes and interviews with disparate individuals; Kramer’s roster includes computer users, specialists, and philosophers, along with service managers and corporate officials. The tape follows the rhythm of liberation and enslavement in late capitalist society, tracing both the control of information offered through the deployment of the computer and the consequent control over the individual implicit in the bureaucratic amassment of information. Progress (Memory) explores the manipulation of the user, who presumes the usefulness of the manipulated forms; it peruses the appropriation of individual desire by the very means supposed to ensure its satisfaction. The bicycle that generates and “exposes” the information places the spectator in an activist’s role—as one involved in the dissemination of knowledge—yet it also presents an implicit critique of the linear trajectories underlying Western thought. Evident in Kramer’s installation, in its carefully crafted, amalgamated form, is a disclosure of the dubious delights attendant on the ideology of progress.

Kate Linker