Los Angeles

Jessica Bronson

Flashing ambulance and police lights. Aerial shot of freeway median-strip greenery with sounds of a revving motor. A silent little freeze-frame in black and white of a zippy car. Aerial shot of cars zooming along with more revving. Expensive aerial pan of Hollywood sign. And at the end—predictably—sounds of a car crash, repeated twice, while the camera swoops in like it will collide with a building in downtown LA. Final freeze-frame shot of the LA cityscape. Loop to flashing lights.

Except for the big-deal, twin curved screens, you might think you’d bumbled into a semester’s end show for an intro art class, perhaps Video 101, instead of the most recent work by Jessica Bronson, the second winner of the Emerging Artist Award, created by MoCA and The Citibank Private Bank. Although she titles this video installation world picture, 1998, Bronson does not address the obvious: How is it a world picture, a world viewed? Nowhere else in the world is there a highway system like LA’s, no other freeway works and doesn’t work like LA’s, no other city is as vehicular as LA, and, crucially, no other freeway system has meaning like LA’s. Bronson dispenses with all but the most vapid reflection on these questions, if she considers them at all. She forgoes thinking about the inattention that is at the root of many accidents, and that rhymes nicely with the nonstop, somnambulistic videotaping of everything. She removes all traces of danger or thrill or humor (after all, there is something complicatedly, humorously stupid about the highway chase), and, most egregiously, she erases, with her distanced, aerial vantage, the complexities of race and class (i.e., O. J. Simpson’s white Bronco ride, Rodney King’s video beating) that fuel almost any highway chase.

The installation, according to associate curator Cornelia H. Butler, “explores the recent phenomenon of the freeway surveillance video which dominates the local news in Los Angeles.” How? In no way do the roller-coaster antics, despite a mix of appropriated and newly shot images, convey the eeriness of surveillance, nor do they engage the uncanny juxtapositions of television’s quotidian offerings or explore the raison d’être of the highway chase, which is, of course, duration: How long will it last? Part of the erotic satisfaction of watching such chases is the hope that they will be as endless as the circuitous routes of the freeway system itself. No one wants a chase to end—except the law. For all its supposed hipness, Bronson’s video ends—redundantly, dully plotted, utterly concluded—with the sounds of a crash and a frozen frame, not even engaging in that most basic technique suggesting the ellipses of the ongoing: the dissolve.

By celebrating this depressingly unimaginative work, MoCA and Citibank, perhaps even more than Bronson, perpetuate the idea of Los Angelenos as unthinking and violent. Unlike Warhol’s Outer and Inner Space, 1965, in which he contemplated video and image by watching Edie watch her own video image, comment on it, and be freaked out by it, or Alex Bag’s work, in which she plays with television’s metastasizing perversities via bare-bones SNL antics and deadpan aesthetic commentary, Bronson joins the ranks of so many who make videos less complex than the average stuff consumed by the viewer at home. Despite Bronson’s claims to “embrace the lowbrow,” the grandiose structure of this thing suggests someone desperately hoping it will be taken for something like a trenchant Virillian commentary on speed; instead world picture goes nowhere fast. Or, as a friend of mine put it, “Vroom fucking vroom.”

Bruce Hainley