Digital Asylum, "Violencia," details from the multi-media installation, 1996.

Beate Bermann-Enn

(Gallerie Spagnolo, San Diego) One of the most riveting concerns of the 1980s and '90s is the violence in our society. This multi-media, multi-artist installation and exhibition will address some of the aspects of this topic. Not just what is violence--what shapes and forms it takes--in nature, in sublimated forms, in the past, in overt and aggressive shapes; but also its seductive shapes made acceptable and fascinating by a kind of beauty that can envelop it.

The four artists of Digit Asylum who created the interactive multimedia Violence and Beauty in America are Patrick Howell, Laura Malone, Gordon Van Huizen and Sean van Tyne. Timed to happen simultaneously in the gallery and on the Internet, this piece gives the user the responsibility of what happens on the screen, and makes the viewers in the gallery and on the Internet witnesses to the users' relationship to the violent options on the computer.

The friendly and familiar guidance of the mouse component of this installation seduces the viewer to activate violent sequences on a computer screen. Music interweaves with the images, sometimes contrasting with soft romantic tunes the stabbing and pain on the screen, sometimes underscoring the action the user always has the option to stop, not be violent, or to go to a different sequence The inescapable question is posed about the frightening willingness of the viewer/users to engage in acts of violence if they are clothed in contemporary media aesthetics.

Jeff Laudenslager contributes an installation which that includes several multimedia components ranging from etched glass to evocative shadows on the wall. They deal with the diverse nature of violence. One, the demolition of a Soviet guard tower in East Berlin, refers to a heroics of violence that we can cheer. Another is a newspaper story, etched on glass, of three white Africaaners, two dead and one to be executed by a black militiaman. The visible hatred in the eyes of the white man about to be executed plays off against the black oppressed man about to execute his oppressor, confronting the viewer with the question of the justification of violence. The third component of this installa- tion uses the image of the swastika, a clear and emblematic sign of violence. It appears here once as a reflected shadow on the wall, and again as a very real swastika blade in a skillsaw.

Shauna Peck will present a purposefully unromantic installation that leads the viewer back to the "commonness" of death, using a body bag. This item is common in war, present at accidents, used by every medical examiner, never recycled, and is used all over the world. They are manufactured in Southeast San Diego, by rows of women sowing zippers into the body bags, which comes in different colors, but only one size. It does not vary and production has gone up. Peck creates a surrounding that evokes a very normal day in a very normal life, very simple, very generic, not even female/male oriented--but containing the unplanned-for presence of the bag. Death as the out-of-place intruder in a normal life.

Raoul Guerero will be represented with three lithographs of "wanted" posters. They are made up of people and characters that might have been real. Reflecting upon the mythology of the West, violence as an inheritance, Guerero uses his experience and impressions from a sojourn in the Black Hills of South Dakota. He infers with the types of his characters a deeper connection to German, Dutch and Scottish forebears whose daring and hardiness might have laid the foundation for the types that ended up on wanted posters in the past.

Ronin Mintz has a different take on violence, a counterpoint to the interactive media piece in the gallery. He examines the depersonalization of violence--really of life in our time--and confronts the computer. In this view technology has made us insensitive to violence by distancing us from the act. Film, television and now Virtual Reality has taken the place of reality, causing people to lose the skills to interact as people. Mintz presents a conveyor belt with computer parts sitting on it, some of them "alive:" computer disks spinning, LED lights flashing, memory boards etc. The belt moves every once in a while, passing under suspended old hand tools like mallets, sickles and hammers that pound them. The tools destroy the new vehicle for violence.

Joyce Cutler Shaw presents a Message Monument featuring the words "We the People" in melting ice. Water for the ice has been collected from all 50 states. The original work had been conceived for the west front of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. for the Bicentennial in 1976. Shaw incorporated the legislative process into the piece: an act of Congress was needed for permission to set up the piece in that location. Having been endorsed by the bicentennial commission and approved by the chairman of the House, the art project together with other issues were swallowed up and wiped away by the Hayes-Elizabeth Ray scandal, and so never came to actual realization at the capitol. With this installation and readings, Shaw reflects on the intervening 20 years-- on what violence is, not just physical but also the effects of neglect, the encroachments into freedom of speech and other issues.