June 9, 2009

Sydney editor Gillian Serisier embarks on an artistic space odyssey with Soda_Jerk, two Sydney-based remix artists working across the areas of video, photo-collage and installation.

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Like the soda jerk of their namesake, the “consummate showman, innovator and freelance linguist… the pop culture star of the gilded age”, Soda_Jerk (aka sisters Dominique and Dan Angeloro) spin and whirl imagery, sound and time into a frothy excess of cultural frivolity. The fun, however, is skin deep and, despite their sci-fi art-speak website being extraordinarily witty, it is the underpinning commentary of racial, cultural and media-induced stereotyping that charges their work with depth.

By remixing existing footage, imagery, words and music, the artists present – in Star Trek vernacular – a temporal shift in the space-time continuum, which creates room for hope. “By recombining the fragments of the past, we see the remix as a means of producing alternative futures for the present. This informs the utopian dimension of our practice,” they say. Astro Black: A History of Hip-Hop (episodes 0-2, 2007-08) exemplifies their position, they say, as it “positions the sci-fi aspects of hip-hop as a form of social politics by reworking the 1974 film, Space is the Place”. In this three-channel video installation Soda_Jerk interweaves the music and imagery of artists ranging from Sun Ra to Public Enemy within and without the realm of science fiction to jangle history and countermand futures.

Their sound work, Killer Mix (volumes 1 and 2), also presents a commentary on expectations and stereotyping. The disparate tunes, though all in some way associated with true crime murders, fundamentally deny heavy metal as the sole agent for murderous rage. In this catalogue, the sappy pith of Mariah Carey and George Michael get equal airtime with AC/DC and Def Leppard, as music that warms the killer’s heart. “By excavating a history of the connection between acts of true crime and specific music tracks, we are concerned with making audible the complexity of how we negotiate and understand our relation to shared culture,” say the pair. “We are particularly interested in the role that randomness and chance play in shaping these relations.”

With each track comes a brief commentary on the crime, which fleetingly engages new meaning; however, their essentially innocuous nature is driven home by their irrelevance to the event itself. More to the point, our desire to read the commentary and negate associations reflects our television induced true crime saturation.

Questioning the given is further explored through their installation work Eyes Only For You (Portrait of Mary Kay and Vili), which reworks the media image of student/teacher couple Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau (US 1996). In Soda_Jerk’s remix the portrait’s digital eyes return the gaze of the viewer effectively recasting the boy as cognisant individual, while dismissing the ideal of him as an object, albeit the object of Letourneau’s desire.

The video work of Soda_Jerk presents a social commentary through the remixing of iconic mass culture, as does the work of artists such as Philip Brophy (Anna Schwartz Gallery) and Grant Stevens (Gallery Barry Keldoulis). Brophy’s remixing of music video presents images and the nature of popular culture in a way that questions our engagement with cultural imagery, particularly the soft porn of music videos. Often slowing works down and overlaying disjunctive soundscapes the work becomes increasingly uncomfortable to watch and pushes us towards reassessing the original music video’s role as cultural eye candy. Stevens’ use of popular culture reworks quintessential images from Hollywood, such as Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, or Hulk Hogan of World Wrestling Federation fame, to jumble and distort our viewing of the images and therefore the acceptance we have of these images as iconic of our culture. Using voiceovers and text he further frustrates viewer expectations and the simple logic of pop culture.

Since forming in 2002 Soda_Jerk has exhibited nationally and internationally. Solo screenings of note include Pixel Pirate II: Attack of the Astro Elvis Video Clone, shown in Bangalore, Mexico, Hong Kong, Berlin, Rotterdam, Edinburgh and nationally 2006-2008, and Dawn of Remix, 24HRArt: Northern Territory Centre for Contemporary Art, Darwin, 2007. Group exhibitions of note include Terra Nullius, Galerie ACC, Weimar, Germany, 2009, and Primavera, MCA, Sydney 2008. Commissions include work for the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of Australia and the National Gallery. (inside)

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