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Saturday I watched Laura Parnes' intense 2-channel video piece "Hollywood Inferno (Episode One)," currently on view at Participant, 95 Rivington, NYC. This multi-layered, disturbing work deserves a treatise but for the moment I just want to contrast it with the supposed "youthquake" of art championed by Roberta Smith in the Jan. 17 NY Times. Smith says that artist Scott Hug and others are "confident" and "free of ideology," which somehow defines today's "young," or young-wannabes. I missed Hug's show but his magazine K48, which I picked up at Throb (for the Electroclash sampler in the back), is kind of charming. It has an ideology--that sex and self-expression are good things. One piece in particular, about an artist who got a teaching job at his old high school and set up a photo studio for quirky individualized yearbook portraits, is touchingly sincere. Elsewhere in the mag, pages of bared flesh suggest Larry Clark, without the adult-looking-back consciousness.
Parnes' video advances the other, much darker view--that sex and self-expression are the ultimate commodities, and things don't always work out so nicely for the youthquake in our alienated, violent land. In Parnes' world all of us--no matter what age--march in the legions of the Damned. Her heroine, would-be actress Sandy, goes from sucking a lollipop in a suburban candy shop to working as a costumed mascot to being an accomplice to murder in a sleazy Hollywood setting. (How is this different from David Lynch? I suppose because there's never any "loss of innocence"--she's corrupted from the start.) Along the way she struts her stuff as a fashion model, with a black & white security-cam still of the Columbine killers as a backdrop (this sounds terrible, but it's actually a subtly creepy touch--the backdrop looks like a frame from a Tarantinoesque action flick until you notice the timestamp). Parnes' anger rivals Dante's--or at the very least, Todd Solondz's--in her description of affectless youth selling itself down the river, with only Satan (in various guises) serving as an adult role model. I'll be surprised if this gets a perky writeup in the Times.
One of my favorite touches is Parnes' Kathy Acker-like use of quotes lifted from media and art-critical sources as dialogue. At the climax, an evil film director, wearing a human-skin mask, spouts some amazing high-flown gibberish as he butchers one of the characters. Turns out this speech combines George Lucas pontificating to Bill Moyers about the so-called archetypes in Star Wars and a "jazzy" pseudohip spiel on Robert Mapplethorpe by art critic Dave Hickey. ("There you are, swooping back down, circling, inward on this image--and it's all flickery in this icy, glamorous--intersection--of moral suffering and spiritual ecstasy, where the rule of law meets the grace of trust. And you're on the verge of exploding from its own internal contradictions. Ahhhh....Yes.") It's hard to decide which makes you want to flee the room more: the gore on the screen or the dramatic but empty words.