With works like PM Magazine, Birnbaum sought to “turn the media on itself,” as she has put it, by modifying images appropriated from TV. Here four synchronized videos create a visual collage of clichéd feminine archetypes—an ice skater, a cheerleader, and a girl licking an ice-cream cone. These images were extracted from the opening sequence of the entertainment-news program PM Magazine, then altered, repeated, intercut with a shot from a commercial for Wang computers, and set to a post-punk cover of the song “L.A. Woman” by The Doors. In deconstructing television’s symbols and codes—which Birnbaum has described as the “contemporary language” of the United States—the work undermines the manipulative power of mass culture, its emphasis on consumerism, and its propagation of gender stereotypes. In addition, gaining access to tapes from television studios was an act of subversion in itself.
At a time when museums often denied video the same status as more traditional mediums, Birnbaum claimed physical space for it by incorporating two freestanding walls, which, in the work’s first iteration, she painted chroma-key blue and red (colors significant to television broadcast at the time). Displayed using the type of metal framework found in television production and trade shows, the monitors appear within cutouts made in enlarged photographs of stills from the videos. Partly informed by Birnbaum’s background in architecture, the work’s spatial environment encourages active engagement with the videos rather than passive viewing.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
One of the first artists to appropriate television imagery, Dara Birnbaum dissects and recombines television's symbols and codes as a means of resisting its one-way address and encouraging active, critical viewing. PM Magazine is one of Birnbaum's earliest multi-channel installations. Responding to the marginalization of video artworks in museums and institutions at the time, the artist claimed a space for video by painting two freestanding walls with colors significant to television production of the 1980s: Chroma Key Blue and red, which was considered too vibrant for the broadcast of a stable signal. Four monitors are framed by an industrial Speed Rail support structure similar to hardware used in television production and trade shows. Manipulating and re-editing sequences from the television program PM Magazine and a Wang Laboratories computer commercial, Birnbaum draws on strategies from feminism and institutional critique to alter the meaning and fundamental syntax of mass-media imagery. Set to a post-punk cover of The Doors' "LA Woman," PM Magazine undermines popular culture's emphasis on consumption, leisure, and gender stereotypes.
Gallery label from Cut to Swipe, October 11, 2014–March 22, 2015.