The show “Message & Medium” had its opening at PhilaMOCA on Thursday, March 1. Its name is taken from the famous assertion by Marshall McLuhan that “the medium is the message.” In this exhibit, assembled by artist and curator Gaby Heit, some 20 artists display work, which is in some way based in textual elements.
In contemporary society we are inundated with images from art to ads and everything in between. More often than not, especially within advertisements, text also plays a crucial role in directing our thought process. Language is often the most literal factor, displaying information, which would otherwise be lost through images or abstractions: dates, times, locations or names for instance. The art in “Message & Medium” plays off the ubiquity of text and language in popular culture.
Jon Montenegro’s “happyrain” is an interactive piece, which stems from the world of social media. A monitor refreshes every few minutes with live feeds from Twitter, turning the messages sideways so it appears that they are raining downward. The data received is specifically content that deals with Tweets expressing excitement or happiness. As the viewer examines the raining words, the happiness is vicariously delivered to the audience in an effort to spread joy or positivity. Curiously enough, the night of the opening coincided with Justin Bieber’s birthday, so many of the messages were barely legible birthday shout outs to the teen pop star.
A very abstract take on the concept of language is the gigantic QR barcode by Matt Zigler. He expresses communication through technology as well, but in this case the image is fully part of a computer language — no birthday wishes here. The code is actually scannable, but, as it stands, the code appears as merely a grid of black and white cubes. Zigler compares the code to the poetry of the Tao Te Ching in that its positive and negative spaces are like that of yin and yang, playing separate but inherently connected roles in conveying meaning.
E. Sherman Hayman creates intricate narrative panels utilizing painting, drawing, old engravings and photographs. These little graphic documentaries trace various American political and social movements and provide statistics and quotations to back up the research. The text appears in boxes and speech bubbles in which historical figures discuss concepts, like wealth inequality, with an eye on current events.
There are many more artists, images, dialogues and diatribes within this wonderfully wordy exhibit. From Boots Levinson’s image “Respect,”which shows a young black man moments after the election of Barack Obama on November 4, 2008, to a comic without any visible characters by Paula Searing and Brian O’Neill, there are many takes on language and text in contemporary art. The show will be at PhilaMOCA until March 12.
PhilaMOCA is located at 531 N. 12th St.; 267-519-9651.