20 May, 2009

Artist of the week 41: Jonathan Horowitz

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Jonathan Horowitz’s recycled pop culture footage targets contemporary politics – and really packs a punch, discovers Jessica Lack

The art of Jonathan Horowitz finds unlikely connections between pop culture and politics. Using a cast of celebrities, films and songs, the New York-based artist sends up the most egregious examples of culture being manipulated for political ends, creating works of art that range from the acerbic to the poetically sublime.

Many of Horowitz’s video installations are made from found footage. In early works, like The Body Song (1997), he reversed Michael Jackson’s video for Earth Song, which begins in an apocalyptic dust bowl inhabited by savages and wild animals before morphing into a Garden of Eden. By turning it around, the vision becomes a dystopia, Jackson reduced to a feral being. It’s a simple but powerful idea that reminded me of a scene from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, in which the narrator watches a film about the firebombing of Dresden played backwards – the planes scoop up the bombs and carry them back to the factories where they are made, before burying the components in the ground.

Horowitz is not afraid of political point-scoring, either. His 2004 photographic piece featuring the New York Post front page honouring Ronald Reagan’s life is paired with a photograph of a man dying of Aids. The title packs a punch: Archival Iris Print of an Image Downloaded from the Internet with Two Copies of the New York Post Rotting in their Frames – a cutting response to the former president’s handling of the Aids crisis during his tenure.

In 2007 Horowitz had an exhibition in Berlin entitled People Like War Movies, in which all of the works in the show set out to make the point that war is legitimised and sold through pop culture. Choosing two anniversaries – five years of the Iraq war and 30 years since the death of Elvis Presley – he used shots of the King starring in GI Joe, together with photographs of mutilated corpses and extracts from Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down.

Why we like him: For The Soul of Tammi Terrell (2001). Singer Tammi Terrell, who died of a brain tumour at the age of 24, was best known for partnering Marvin Gaye on the 1967 hit Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Horowitz features the duo performing the song on TV monitors while opposite, Susan Sarandon, playing a woman dying of cancer in the film Stepmom, sings along. All three singers are lip-synching, suggesting that in our post-modern world, there is little to distinguish reality from fiction.

The end is nigh: He’s just completed a solar-powered project called Apocalypto Now made entirely from found documentary footage. At the time of working on the film, he described it as “about climate change and disaster movies and the Christian apocalypse. And maybe I’ll throw Mel Gibson in there.”

Take away: Because everything in Horowitz’s new show is recycled (from the video footage to the objects on show), the artist is asking visitors of the exhibition to bring along an item to be swapped for something inside one of his pedestal bins.

Where can I see him? Apocalypto Now is part of Jonathan Horowitz’s show Free Store, at Sadie Coles HQ, 9 Balfour Mews, London, W1, until 30 May.

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