The room in which I found Adam Diaz Hope and Jon Bernson’s installation Beautification Machine, at the Nevada Museum of Art, is full of images. Not images really, but the pieces of images. Shattered fragments of images, broken up as if by a kaleidoscope, swirling across the black walls, around a central radiant spire of glass in the center of their orbit.
These are the broken edges of image, its lines and colors. I can recognize the images that were broken and distributed here. It is the pieces of a television news broadcast. I can hear the audio, just a bit, as it is garbled and processed into an ambient soundscape by the installation electronics.
But there are pieces, in and amongst these shattered images, that I would recognize anywhere. The captioned headlines of 24-hour cable news programs. The precise, white-on-red text. If I watched more news, I could probably identify the channel by its branded design. Spinning across the dark ceiling, is a fractured caption with the distinctive news signifier, “Obama.” As the cable news feed continues to break across the ceiling and the walls, I recognize when it cuts to commercial. I see the recognizable face of a spokesperson for an insurance company, in a recognizable ad.
In a sense, this is not a deconstructed news feed at all. This is the same news feed, that I’ve seen countless times before, in various installations, sculptural and not. I see the same fractions of headlines in the airport, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, in stores, and in bars. I hear these audio captions, this basic utterances of media, in the conversations of strangers at restaurants, on trains, and on the street. These are the small indicators that let me know that news is all around me. It is a thing that we have come to define, a thing that lasts 24 hours a day, a thing that we know when we see it, even when how we see it is reflected and scattered across the inside of a dark room.
The Beautification Machine is not really breaking up media, it is obscuring it, but only slightly. The sensation is much like watching television with your spread fingers held up in front of your face, the way one might watch a horror film. You still know that the terror is out there, the horror you can’t stand to see in full depiction upon the screen will still play out. But it is not quite as immediate as it was. There is a shroud between you and the terrible images. And although that veil of fingers offers no real protection, for images, it works well enough.
The point of Beautification Machine, according to the artists’ statement, is not to allow the viewer to hide from the news, but to make it beautiful. I’m not certain that it succeeds in this. The swirling of colors and ambient soundscape is certain luminous and memorable, but I don’t know that media can be made to be beautiful. That is not what the media image is. By reflecting, redirecting, and obscuring the image, it is broken up, like a pane of glass on contact with a rock. But what rains down upon the pavement afterwards is still glass. In that captivating power of TV media, allowing it to invade our senses in so many venues throughout society, there are many emotions at play. And by working with this as its medium, Beautification Machine is perhaps truer to its material than aesthetics might otherwise allow.