San Francisco

Anthony Discenza

Catharine Clark Gallery

Including works in audio, video, and signage, Anthony Discenza’s second solo show at Catharine Clark Gallery is informed by Hollywood films and faceless copywriters, as well as by the mash-up—the viral spawn of the multiple, simultaneous media streams of today. For the wall-mounted text Sometimes a Great Notion, Part 1 (all works 2009), Discenza pairs cultural phenomena—television or movie titles, brand names, luminaries, and the like—presenting them in the syntax of the entertainment-industry pitch: IT’S J. CREW MEETS HELLRAISER, IT’S BLACKWATER MEETS SAVED BY THE BELL, IT’S DILBERT MEETS L’AVVENTURA, for example. More than one hundred such proposals appear in black self-adherent vinyl, so that a snarky phrase like DAVID CRONENBERG MEETS THE PRICE IS RIGHT might catch your eye among the tall column of letterforms. The terms, written by the artist or found on the Internet, use the Conceptual-art delivery system of stark, sans serif type, bringing to mind the design of On Kawara’s date paintings or Joseph Kosuth’s definitions. This particular motif continues in two Duratrans light-box pieces. These mash-ups include upward of five different sources and suggest specific themes. Teaser #3, for instance, brings together names and titles relating to bodies, both actual and virtual: CIRQUE DU SOLEIL MEETS FEAR FACTOR MEETS EYES WIDE SHUT MEETS HALO MEETS GOLD’S GYM. Perhaps as something of a counteractive force to his previous, image-heavy works, Discenza purges most of the photographic from this show, pointing to the role of words in visual culture.

More intriguing is the audio installation A Viewing (The Effect), for which Discenza built a creepy environment: The off-gassing office carpet and ottoman come off as a home theater showcase–cum–waiting room. Speakers mounted on four walls, their wires carefully concealed, broadcast a female voice that calmly and professionally delivers a twenty-nine-minute monologue. “The effect is a feeling on timelessness and quiet sanctity,” the narrator says in the soft, monotonous, and cleanly articulated speech of a meditation-tape narrator. The script, assembled by Googling the phrase “the effect is” and piecing together, revising, and editing selected results, sounds like advertising copy, detailing the benefits of home interiors, artworks, and films—but ultimately becomes a kind of white noise. Treading in territory similar to A Viewing (The Effect) is a substantial, handsomely designed series of fabricated street signs emblazoned with pseudoplatitudes: They play like glib Jenny Holzers.

One of the few works in the show to include images is the video Charlton Heston: The Future Has Already Been Written, a merger of three dystopian fantasies made within five years and starring the same actor: Planet of the Apes (1968) meets Soylent Green (1973) meets The Omega Man (1971). The piece’s simple conceit involves Discenza presenting them practically simultaneously, cutting from one film to another every tenth of a second. As the dated Hollywood blockbusters blur into a single vertiginous entity, narrative gives way to staccato flashes of outmoded special effects, polyester pants, angry mobs, and Heston’s bare chest. These campy images, wrested from simplistic end-of-the-world narratives, no longer cohere, but they have a powerful retinal effect. Discenza’s delivery system functions as a streaming download delivered directly to viewers’ eyes—approximating the effect of our era’s meaningless overflow of information.

Glen Helfand