Gretchen Bender worked in the commercial sphere on music videos, advertisements, and television shows while simultaneously making art that critiqued the media culture within which she operated. Her work experience made her skeptical of the latest mass communication technologies, including television, which she saw as the next frontier for visual expression and psychological oppression: “I think of the media as a cannibalistic river,” she said three years after completing Dumping Core. “There is no consciousness or mind. It’s about absorbing and converting.”
Bender conceived Dumping Core as a theatrical presentation complete with live electronic music. It lives on as a gallery installation in which she programmed four videos to play in varying combinations across 13 synchronized monitors. “I’ll mimic the media—but I’ll turn up the voltage on the currents so high that hopefully it will blast criticality out there,” she has explained. The screens pulse with an overload of repeating television graphics, corporate logos, and clips appropriated from advertisements, TV programs, and movies. Bender titled the work after an early computing term, “core dump,” which is a recording of a computer’s memory captured just before it crashes.
Additional text from What Is Contemporary Art? online course on Coursera, 2019
In Dumping Core, a frenzy of images appears across thirteen video monitors, creating an information overload set to a proto-techno soundtrack. The installation mimics and exaggerates the pervasive media culture prompted by
then-new television networks like CNN and MTV. As Bender said, “I quickly got caught up in the way in which TV moves,
the current. . . . From that equivalent flow I tried to force some kind of consciousness of underlying patterns of social control.” By rapidly intercutting computer-generated logos, graphics, and other clips from TV and movies, the artist sought to subvert corporate agendas and expose the rampant use of new image-making technologies for commercial gain.
The work’s title refers to a computer error called a “core dump” and also alludes to the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, capturing fears of technological dystopia and nuclear annihilation. Conceived and staged as a work of “electronic theater”—and originally performed during a single evening—Dumping Core demanded a close look at the power of televisual media at a nascent moment of the rapidly accelerating digital age.
Gallery label from 2019