Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a real sucker for hijacking idioms. That is, moving into a certain idiom— like Airport Retail, Las Vegas, Ancient Persia, Higher Education— and adopting its forms and format for parody, analysis, or even as a straightforward medium. It was this weakness that first grabbed me when I found the flyer for the Breaking News show, now up at Little Berlin… So ripe, I thought, that whole idiom. Weather. Sports. Anchordesks. The inflections of Newsspeak. Tickertape… The whole business.
But Breaking News didn’t quite work this angle— and so much the better and wiser, I realized. That idiom, though less explored maybe in a gallery context, gets plenty of rotation already, in exacting parodies like The Onion and Stephen Colbert… so there’s less reason to explore its well-worn avenues.
Gabriel Boyce and Preston Link, instead, seized the content of headlines for their source, and in an interesting way. Celebrity deaths and public shaming, air disasters, health scares, tidbits of world gossip— things that occupy us for a matter of weeks then fade away forever into Oblivion. The great Now of telecommunications— the same shit on different days that demands worldwide attention without ever explaining why it deserves it.
What Boyce and Link seemed to be doing was trying to counter this Forgetfulness. To playfully expand this paper-thin Now— the newsfeed for the last year— into something a little more memorable and monumental; albeit lightly and in tokens and models… To give it a little more weight and reality.
For instance, the Airbus that skimmed to a landing on the Hudson last year, announced in the Breaking News blotter as a “Miracle on the Hudson.” That crash was miraculous and remains to this day the world’s very best illustration of the word “elation.” At the same time, there was something silly about the whole undisaster. The passengers almost looked bored waiting for rescue on the wings of the floating aircraft. And this incredulity gets captured nicely by the Breaking News team with a wooden, Playschoolish recreation of the event, sitting on the gallery floor.
Another object that really made the fleeting concrete is their recent celebrity death memorial; a wall of black, stacked, faux-marble, inscribed à la Maya Lin, with the names of the deceased. J.G. Ballard. Robert Novak. Les Paul. Chanel. Farrah Fawcett… A monument not as much to any particular celebrities as to the strange character of celebrity mourning. You read all these headlines of infinite glibness and cannot connect whatsoever with the sentiment. You might, for example, read of the great death-triad of Fawcett, Jackson, and McMahon:
“I know we all are going to die at one time or another but the thing is we never know when or who will go next. I was so shocked to hear of these three dying. We look at these celebrities and think they will be here forever. After seeing what Farrah went through with her battle to survive it made me realize they are all just like us. They are humans too and they do have their problems also. Just because they are big stars doesn’t mean they are trouble free in life.” –Jan Barrett, Michael Jackson Dies–Makes Number Three in the Celebrity World, Posted on June 26th, 2009 at Blogger News Network
Judging from this passage, I imagine that the author should be moved to tears by the Breaking News memorial, which takes her eulogy to its ludicrous conclusion by setting the sentiment in eternal stone.
So, Breaking News, rather than adopting the forms and format of the News idiom, took it the opposite direction: pulling these stories and moments out of that idiom and serving it up to us in a more concrete way. And though many of these stories— like the dying chihuahua— were not exactly world issues, there is something to be said for deflating sensationalism into small, palpable toy-models that sit comfortably on a desk. This way, they can finally be considered, collected, and properly measured; rather than just being flashed across the screen and washed away on a wave of cultural amnesia. They even went so far to make one of the pieces— the one about the typhoon in China— an interactive piece of the sort you may find in a science museum… A making present of distant events, which oddly enough, actually works. I will most likely remember these news items for some time to come.
In the end, though, the Breaking News team still slipped in a few newsy accoutrements, like logo pens, a news blotter, and the name of the show written across the back wall in true newsroom font. Just some fun, to appease gimmicky folks such as myself.
Breaking News, Little Berlin, October 2-31, 2009.