The art of the pause

When historians look back at the history of video, I predict they’ll regard the evolution of the “pause” button as a weird, aesthetically important moment.

It used to be that freeze-framing a piece of live action was only possible for high-end sportscasters or artistic stop-action photographers. But when the VCR emerged, it gave everyone that ability. Back in the late 80s, the satirical Canadian magazine Frank used to run cartoon strips composed of paused moments from the nightly news. Invariably, they’d capture the newscaster — or a political guest — making one of the incredibly ungainly expressions that flicker across one’s face in the course of normal speech. They’d put sardonic captions beneath it, and presto: A form of political-remix comedy was born. (Well, maybe not “born”; I’m sure someone had done this before.) These days, the freeze-frame-with-witty-caption is de rigeur on comedy web sites and TV shows. Tivo has amped freeze-frame culture up into the stratosphere.

This is why I was intrigued to learn about PAUSE, a recent art exhibit by Chris Larson. Larson created a wood replica of the car from The Dukes of Hazzard — the General Lee — crashing through the cabin of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. It neatly evokes the gorgeous riot a Tivo user sees every day: The kinetic insanity of pop culture striking a sudden pose. As Larson puts it in his accompanying text:

Forcing together two illogically relevant worlds, Chris Larson creates a monument to duality. Crashing the General E. Lee, the 1969 Dodge Charger from TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard, into a wooden shack, representing Ted Kaczynski’s Montana cabin, brings into the same space similar ideologies expressed with both childhood recklessness and premeditated social disregard.

Heh. Larson seems like a brilliant dude, but … man alive, that piece of prose is a good example of why artists should avoid writing their own accompanying texts; the pomo lit-crit jargon is precision-engineered to piss off the average viewing public. Nonetheless, check out the site — I’m just sad I missed this exhibit, since it closed two weeks ago here in New York. Sigh.

(Thanks to Sensory Impact for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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