Dave McKenzie, We Shall Overcome, 2004, video, color, 5 minutes 46 seconds.

Dave McKenzie, We Shall Overcome, 2004, video, color, 5 minutes 46 seconds.

Dave McKenzie

Dave McKenzie, We Shall Overcome, 2004, video, color, 5 minutes 46 seconds.

A STUDENT in my performance class at Northwestern University recently gave a short presentation on Bruce Nauman’s work. His investigations brought him into contact with Alison Chernick’s video James Franco as Bruce Nauman, 2010, in which Franco performs, or reperforms, Nauman’s Art Make-Up, No. 1: White, 1967. Before beginning his presentation, the student asked the class which clip—the Nauman or the Franco—they wanted to see first. The majority of the class preferred Franco.

They likely chose him because he is . . . popular. He is also digital, and his presentation across multiple formats is not only socially acceptable but easy to process (mechanically and palatably). Clearly, the students’ relationship with Franco has everything to do with his appearance on television, film, and the Internet. His image is essentially already in syndication. Still, this is not about Franco or Nauman. This is about choosing and about trying to unravel the ideology—or even algorithm—behind one’s choice.

Or maybe this is about a trip to a museum. There, a guard has been known to point, whisper, or even announce, “You know, you can walk on that.” The that is a floor piece by Carl Andre. I have been with these works many times, but I do not walk on them. Being able to do something and desiring to do something are two very different things. Some visitors step around the work and others step on it. The ones who walk on it do so in a specific way. Their steps seem to say, “Look what I can do! And if I can do it, you can too.”

The ability to do something, to participate in something, or even to access something should be critiqued by acknowledging one’s desires and needs and by imagining the possible outcomes of one’s actions. As technologies continue to shift, it becomes increasingly important to take a position—not only by choosing but by assessing and reassessing.