Headlines, an Online Exhibition, Curated by Alexis Lowry
CURATORIAL STATEMENT/PRESS RELEASE
The works in this online exhibition examine the relationship between text, images, and information in the contemporary news media. Playing specifically on the notion of headlines, each individual work deals with sensationalism seen in today's headlines and the "blowback" effects of today's news media in a critical way. The works range from inter-active pieces which allow the viewer to explore and discover the complex relationship of words to images in the news, such Jody Allen's "All the News That's Fit to Print" and Michael Takeo Magruder's "Headlines" to drawings such as A.J. Bocchino's "New York Times Headlines". This last work analyzes the process "of accumulation, archiving, and record keeping. These projects are monumental works that speak to: a common history, memory, institutional power structures, and the passage of time."
Time has become an important concept for today's media, as technological developments over the past twenty years have drastically improved our technologies of communication: so much so that we can now transmit information instantaneously across the globe. While there are obvious benefits to such high-tech forms of communication, in the media the obsession with relaying information in "real time" has lead to an over-saturation of information in the public mind. This information overload makes it difficult if not impossible to look at news critically; especially when there is little more to stories than their headlines. Ephemeral works such as Martin Allman's "Conflict" deal directly with this question. This work plays on the aesthetics of headlines in its discussion of the war in Iraq. In this inter-active work the viewer clicks the screen causing brief "headlines" about the situation in Iraq to temporarily appear on the screen. The words then slowly fade to a light, barely readable, gray color. As the viewer continues to click, the screen clutters, and it becomes impossible to read the written texts. The ephemeral nature of this work highlights the issue of memory as it is connected to the news media.
The news media often acts as cultural documentarian, preserving the images and stories that are important in our society, and it is through this news media that our collective conscience is formed. The current obsession with instantaneity and real-time information transmission erodes the collective memory: with new stories developing every second, the public is never allowed time to reflect on significant news events. This is deeply problematic because, as the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas argues, "public deliberations produce the outcomes which are best for society at large when all view points are able to be considered fairly in public deliberation (http://museable.home.comcast.net/IEEE.htm)."
Jody Allen's work "All the News That's Fit to Print" speaks directly to this concept by presenting real news in a non-sensical manner, making it impossible for the viewer to extract a narrative news story. The viewer opens the work, and clicks on images: this causes headlines to be read aloud. Alongside these spoken headlines, written headlines, and leading images appear: however, non of these news bites correspond, resulting in a traumatically overwhelming experience, as the viewer is reminded of the plethora of news that merits but does not receive adequate public attention. In this way, the work also addresses what Susan Moeller deems "compassion fatigue," a syndrome in which the viewer is desensitized to critical issues as a result of overexposure to bad news. As Moeller states, "[s]ensationalized treatment of crises makes us feel that only the most extreme situations merit attention...(Moeller: 1999: 14)." Thus, over sensationalizing some events, can draw attention away from and create disinterest in other horrific problems. Furthermore, excessively graphic portrayals of emergencies can alienate viewers who learn to avoid images that make them feel uncomfortable and or guilty. Thus compassion fatigue for violence is created. Through the media's use of these tools peoples comprehension of complex problems become blurred by their resistance to guilt. Like Allen's work, Michael Takeo Magruder's work also deals with similar themes, as he investigates the consequences of media saturation. As he describes his work, "Headlines examines the mediated histories generated by today's news corporations and reflects upon our collective preoccupation with real-time information generation, distribution and access. Given the developed world's countless network structures and our current state of data saturation, has news media evolved beyond mere information source and become a new form of cultural stimulant?"
Each work presented in this show approaches the question of sensationalized news from a unique perspective. The focus on real time information has lead to a complete over-permeation of exaggerated headlines in the news media. These headlines stand alone as news, with little substanative journalism to support them. Perhaps the most glaring example of this phenomenon is CNN's Headline News, an entire channel solely devoted to the latest headlines. The artist and works of art included in this show provide viewers with spaces for contemplation. The works demand that we question recent developments in journalism, and thereby reopen informed public debate.
New York Times Headlines by A.J. Bocchino