Our world is increasingly shaped by the display of visual information. Digital advertising has been seamlessly integrated into both public and private spheres, while modes of communication, from social media to the smartphone, have changed the way we think about our virtual and physical worlds. Commercial Break, a citywide exhibition, presented 23 artists who created platform-specific interruptions within the advertising cycles of some of New York City’s most highly visible and technically advanced digital screens.
Hayal Pozanti's RELENTLESS TENDERNESS appeared in the advertising cycle at Westfield World Trade Center as a striking contrast between familiar and unknown languages. Pozanti's alphabet of shapes floats in the background, while its English translation spells out the words “RELENTLESS TENDERNESS,” which scroll across the screen. This distinctively human expression differentiates us from artificial intelligence to emphasize the commonalities we share as a species.
Founded in the VIP lounge of Art Dubai in 2013, the collective GCC aims to investigate the contemporary culture of the Persian Gulf region. Circulating on Barclays Center’s “Oculus”, digital images of the oil paintings of the members of GCC were positioned in the role of “Baba”, or the Father, a title often used by political leaders within the Middle East. Their painted eyes replicated variations of the gaze found in traditional portraits of heads of state, from the “visionary” leader to the punitive stares of a dictator. Big Baba’s eyes are always watching.
Sue de Beer’s films explore social issues in contemporary culture with a unique visual style of colored light, prismatic doubling, and close cropping that create an enticing cinematographic charm.
Her contributions to this exhibition feature two young urban skateboarders from the Bronx “Brujas” feminist skate crew who view their interventions into the city and urban street culture as a deeply political act.
Their strong presence on an advertising screen in the center of the city, images of their political heroes, and de Beer’s final appeal “Don’t Mourn, Organize,” all send a powerful message about the radical nature of their actions.
Whitaker created a series of screens that (section by section) expose her subjects onto the film. Through this meticulous, repetitive process, she created a group of images for Commercial Break with moving bodies framed in colorful geometric forms. In this way, she uses the techniques of digital information processing and rudimentary animation to create striking photographs that evoke historic digital technology. These refer to the innovative pioneers of graphic design and advertising in an iterative way that adds a flash of whimsy and color to our urban dynamism.
Cory Arcangel's interest in the language and culture of the internet has led him to establish Arcangel Surfware, a clothing and lifestyle merchandise line and publishing imprint created in collaboration with the global merchandise giant, The Bravado Group, a division of Universal Music Group. This ad spot sends a clear message with its cozy tube socks and branded sweatpants: Arcangel Surfware products consist of everything one needs to "chill" in bed all day and surf the Internet in comfort.
Awol Erizku’s photographs focus on the ways that people of color represent themselves as well as how they are portrayed in the art world, advertising, and in the media. The artist’s tableaux and portraits reference historical imagery, mine high fashion, are in close dialogue with street culture, and evoke the old masters.
Tabor Robak’s computer-generated works merge 3-D animation, gaming, and the language of marketing to create an instructive tension between reality and simulation. For Barclays Center’s “Oculus,” Robak used innovative methods to create his new colorful artwork.
Across LinkNYC kiosks, Horvitz displayed one simple image of a night sky, with a short text that directly addresses the viewer—a reference to advertising slogans. However, the words do not form a benign statement but poignantly reference his grandmother, who was incarcerated in a Japanese Internment Camp in the United States. The facilities were in operation for four years following Pearl Harbor and detained between 110,000-120,000 Japanese Americans. The work is a personal yet universal, timely and elegiac reminder to take heed of the past, especially when crafting the future.
Heather Phillipson’s videos and sculptural installations are a surge of images, noises, colors and words that, together, form complex poetic digressions on our contemporary moment. "WHAT’S THE DAMAGE" transmitted the energy and emotion of political protest. The work smashed together representations of destruction to reflect back a chaotic, urgent moment onto Times Square.
Meriem Bennani’s new artwork for Barclays Center’s “Oculus” screen was an advertisement for an imagined line of hijabs that expands upon her “Fardaous Funjab” videos. That series, about an invented entrepreneur "avant-garde hijab designer,” addresses the issues surrounding the headscarf's cultural significance and re-evaluates preconceived Western notions about Islamic attire. Her special “Your Year” advertisement proposes an inclusive, multi-ethnic calendar that unifies Islamic holidays with secular ones as well.
Brian Bress’ three videos in Times Square displayed four elusive figures who are delicately balanced in a state of tension. Their subtle movements make them emerge into the foreground or blend in with their bold graphic backgrounds.
Bress’ fabricated landscapes and faceless characters combine humor and art historical references to produce an enigmatic and subtle tableau vivant with powerful metaphorical implications.
Understand.nyc is a collaboration between the artist Antoine Catala and the MIT researcher Gabriel Kahan. For the run of Commerical Break, the duo used the citywide network of LinkNYC kiosks to run an open call for members of the public to partake in a two-day workshop. Reaching beyond their immediate circles, their aim was to find a diverse group of random volunteers to work collaboratively towards identifying a situation common to the participants. Through a series of discussions, the group selected the question 'What is Love?', identifying six causal loops: 'Reality', 'Phantom Love', 'Impossibly', 'Live Love', 'The Mirror', and 'Uncoupling'.
Through collective making these casual loops were then visualized as physical objects, called ‘tiles’, which were scanned and are displayed as 3D objects on http://www.understand.nyc, where visitors to the site can interact with the tiles. They were also shown on the LinkNYC kiosks network one day after the exhibition closed.
Britta Thie’s work examines the human condition, through soap operas, advertising, and the complex fluctuating relationship between the self and digital representation. The artist’s six-part web series, Translantics, dramatized the characteristics of millennials, through online personas, and the fluidity of identity and nationality.
For the LinkNYC kiosks, Thie ran a commercial for her forthcoming follow-up series The Superhost. Set in a fictional Airbnb apartment, the satirical drama centers around post-digital self-commodification, achieved through online rating systems. The sitcom was performed in front of a live audience in June 2016, and the live-recordings and rehearsals form the final web series, with added animation and a laugh track that corresponds to rating-stars. The show launches in March 2017 on ARTE.TV as a web series. For more information please visit the-superhost.com
Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley create black and white videos filled with historical references that explore the condition of women throughout history by combining wordplay-rich poetry, fictional characters, and utopian environments. Their new video titled Crete Meat, adapted from their 2014 work Swinburne’s Pasiphae, fuses classical antiquity with pop culture. Shown within the context of Times Square, this video became a satire of advertising, highlighting the peculiarities of desire.
"The Crying Sun" was an animated film inspired by the children’s poem "What the Sun Has Seen," by Maria Konopnicka, an influential Polish poet of the positivism period, a translator, journalist and progressive activist for women's rights and Polish independence. Common themes within the poet’s work included the poverty of the peasantry and their oppression; this poem tells, in a childlike manner, of the countryside’s daily life, rituals, and activities, as viewed by the Sun above. In Polska’s video, the Sun, while bright and childlike, starts to cry, becoming a powerful metaphor for the pain of being a passive viewer without having the agency to act.
Her new video, "Lesson LXXV," was a continuation of her ongoing series that began with the artist creating commercials on the ‘lessons’ outlined in Kevin Young's book of prose, "The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness." While previous Lessons have featured personal and found video, for Times Square Syms created a poignant yet disquieting self-portrait with charged overtones.
For Times Square, Arunanondchai created three videos, which can be viewed in sequence or independently. The works poetically take us on a journey between Thailand and New York, with vignettes of his grandparents and post-election protests.The videos’ juxtapositions—youth and age, past and present, hope and loss, happiness and pain—poignantly remind us of the complex, tragic, yet beautiful nature of life.
Jacolby Satterwhite’s videos of environments inspired by science-fiction use performance and 3-D animation to explore memory and personal history. His new work for Barclays Center showcased a 360-degree virtual reality video. Its futuristic scene features an extraterrestrial landscape of bright whirling machines and dancing figures to entrance viewers with their immersive allure.
"A memory can live" is the origin story of "What the Heart Wants," Cécile B. Evans' 2016 video installation commissioned by the 9th Berlin Biennale. "What the Heart Wants" explores what it could mean to be human in the future, and what constitutes ‘a person’. HYPER, the narrator of What the Heart Wants, presents herself as a new system, introducing viewers to a future time called "after k", and proposes a solution to the collapse of the WWW. In "A memory can live," HYPER presents a public service announcement for a clean slate: a blank, editable document page where users can collect their thoughts, start new conversations free of convoluted interfaces and timelines. HYPER's product isn't for you, it is you—start building her world at http://amemorycan.live/ now.
Kate Cooper digitally manipulates images of women to question the aesthetics of advertising and representations of femininity. In "We Need Sanctuary," Cooper uses computer generated (CG) figures as the protagonists to consider their potential and presentation as autonomous entities with a logic of their own.
Casey Jane Ellison is a stand-up comedian, artist, and writer. Working with performance and video, her works often humorously address television and celebrity culture, feminism, identity politics, and the history of art. In line with the ubiquity of online advertising and messaging, Public Art Fund invited Ellison to develop a series of pop-up “ads” for the exhibition’s home page. Ellison created an episode – complete with breaks where the exhibition artworks run as commercials – where she muses on the perils of bread and fascism.
Public Art Fund gratefully acknowledges the generosity of its 40th Anniversary supporters:
40th Anniversary Leadership Circle
Jill & Peter Kraus, Jennifer & Matthew Harris, the Charina Endowment Fund, Elizabeth Fearon Pepperman & Richard C. Pepperman II, Jennifer & Jason New, Elise & Andrew Brownstein, Holly & Jonathan Lipton, Marcia Dunn & Jonathan Sobel, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Patricia & Howard Silverstein, The Silverweed Foundation, Katherine Farley & Jerry Speyer, AllianceBernstein L.P., and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.
Commercial Break is presented with special thanks to Westfield World Trade Center, Barclays Center, and Intersection.
Additional support for this exhibition is provided by C L E A R I N G, New York/Brussels, Marianne Boesky Gallery, Jessica Silverman Gallery, and those who wish to remain anonymous.