San Francisco

Anthony Discenza

Jennjoy Gallery

Video is the only visual medium with no artifact. Television isn't there in the set; it's just an invisible signal, broadcast over cables and through the air into bedrooms and bars, where—at the flick of a switch—its hungry ghosts are available around the clock. The average American viewer, in fact, watches TV for seven and a half hours a day.

All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By, 2000, is a hypnotically lovely reminder of those annihilated evenings spent in front of the tube in the company of Friends. To make this piece, Anthony Discenza pointed a video camera at his television and recorded random footage while channel surfing. As he taped, he adjusted levels of color, focal distance, speed, and size of image. Once the footage was collected—seven and a half hours of tape, in homage to the above-mentioned average daily intake—Discenza then replayed it at high speed on one deck while recording it on another, manipulating the video signal again as he compressed it. Through a process that combines chance and deliberation, he continued to orchestrate the stream of image and sound through several successive generations of rerecording from one deck to the other, going faster and slower, backward and forward.

Projected in a continuous loop, the forty minutes of All Heads Turn consists of three full passes of a fifth-generation product. There is no editing; the full seven and a half hours remains. Though recognizable images occasionally appear for an instant—a talking head, a screen of words—the electronic “noise” and data embedded in the signal gradually accumulate and take over. The piece's sound suggests an electronic composition but is simply the result of the repeated compression and rerecording of the original material. It accompanies flickering grids of irregular geometric forms dissolving into pulsing fields of gorgeous color that pop into vibrating horizontal bars or fade to black.

Like a poem (or a soap opera), these sequences have distinctive rhythms, rising to climaxes, slowing and sinking, only to rise again. Somehow, a buried narrative is suggested—as if it were impossible to obliterate the addictive storytelling that keeps millions glued to the TV screen. Yet there is none, except perhaps for the myth connected to the work's title. According to this Celtic-Norse legend, a legion of ghosts on horseback sometimes passes by on a hunt at midnight. When they do, one must look away or become a ghost oneself. The ambiguously framed title suggests that the temptation of looking is too great—all heads must turn toward the flickering images, no matter what the consequence. This idea is reinforced by the way the piece is projected at a slight angle on the gallery wall, its rectangle of light and color transformed into a tilted trapezoid. It's as if we are seeing it obliquely, out of the corner of our eyes—unable to keep our gaze from the phantom procession.

Maria Porges