New York

Perry Hoberman


In his recent show of horizontal Plexiglas lightboxes, Perry Hoberman used state-of-the-art computer technology to create an effect that, ironically, is closely associated with the 1950s—namely, that of 3-D, stereoscopic imagery. Hoberman first takes pictures from advertising and film stills, then processes them with computer-graphics programs (some devised by the artist himself) and finally prints them onto transparencies with a color ink-jet plotter. These techniques enable him not only to make stereoscopic pictures, but to colorize, solarize, distort, and otherwise manipulate the image. Although Hoberman has worked with 3-D special effects for quite a while, he’s usually used slide projections or installations, both of which have required the viewer to don glasses with special red-and-blue lenses. Now he has built the viewing apparatus right into the artwork by incorporating red and blue Plexiglas strips. Although this new approach works less well than the glasses method on the whole (the effects don’t come as easily), it makes for a more handsome object, appealing even to the naked eye.

Each piece strings words and pictures together in a kind of sentence inspired by the panorama, the comic strip, and the film edit. Hoberman’s use of a sentence-like sequence, film stills, and textual elements together recalls the “Blasted Allegories” of John Baldessari. But by mixing slogans from ads and sci-fi movies to generate a kind of recombinant meta-text, he owes less to the Cagean legacy of randomness that structures “Blasted Allegories” than he does to Situationist détournement: sample texts read, “Alive without a body. . . the look of a new generation,” and “It was alive with pleasure. . . It had the heartbeat of America. . . It was reaching out to touch someone. . . ” This vague, tautological upbeatness reminds me of a sign which a neighborhood shoe store persists in hanging each fall: “Here we go again. . . sales like never before.” But the sci-fi element in Hoberman’s work corrupts the self-contained, smile-button mentality of the ads. Hoberman adds colorful molecular patterns, bastardized Modernist motifs in the form of ’50s-ish designs, and various B-movie figures in melodramatic poses to his recycled textual hooks.

In his essay “The Mad Scientist,” Dan Walworth notes how the very name “science fiction” joins opposing terms in which each necessarily qualifies or completes the other to the extent that one hypostatizes objectivity and the other, subjectivity. Jules Verne—the visionary bourgeois inventor of the genre—strove in his art to transcend these dualistic, ideological limitations. But since its inception, the genre has steadily declined, partly because the politicization of esthetics has failed to keep pace with technological progress. Consequently, the science fiction movies of the ’50s, with their Calvinistic overtones of suppressed difference and certain punishment, have become models of repression and degradation, and Hoberman both savors and satirizes them. The “madness” that erupts from his interpenetrating discourses of seduction (ads) and annihilation (science fiction) succinctly captures the sense of death inscribed in the commodity fetish. Hoberman’s most recent performance, Revenge of the Debris, 1988, a kind of loose allegory of consumer society’s collapse under a neo-Lovecraftian ecological disaster, proved to be disturbingly prophetic; weeks after its debut last summer, New York City area beaches were awash with infectious hospital waste. Truth is stranger than fiction. . . buy now, pay later!

John Miller