Antoni Muntadas and Marshall Reese. Role Models, Hillary Clinton campaign spot 2016. Still from Political Advertisement X: 1952–2020. 2020. Video (black and white and color, sound), 97 min. Courtesy the artists

democracies?

In our inauguration moment, a trio of moving-image works exposes the ways in which video dominates—even determines—politics today.

The videos Political Advertisement X: 1952–2020, RESERVED, and Democracies screened here January 19–31, 2021. The videos are no longer available for streaming.

We have finally entered 2021. But we are still roiled by a global pandemic, an unprecedented election cycle, and mass protests in the United States. The inauguration of the nation’s 46th president is upon us, following a horrific homegrown attack on the US Capitol that was livestreamed on countless screens. We watched the insurrection unfold on our phones and laptops and TVs in real time; we watched a violent assault on democracy fomented in the virtual sphere. One thing seems undeniable: the domination of politics by media, and most of all by video. From the split screen of two Americas, of those in power and those powerless, to the viral videos that shape our beliefs and our actions, video has seemingly seeped into every aspect of our lives.

This sea-change has been brewing for years: a reality-TV president, war as a video game, bodycam footage, endless Zoom meetings, the rise of TikTok. What seems especially new is the degree of our dependence; video is the medium through which we conduct every moment of our lives—from quarantined parties to business meetings to political debates to policing. And it has become clear that video is a network that might connect and unite, but that might also shatter and radicalize. Drawn primarily from MoMA’s collection, and looking ahead to the forthcoming exhibition Signals: The Politics of Video, the selection of works below takes on the newly omnipresent impact of video on politics, on the cusp of world change.

Artists have created some of the most prescient and perceptive takes on this media transformation. Here, in this limited screening series, we present an international selection of artists’ experiments that feel uncannily relevant to our relationship with video today. What are the conditions that brought us to this point, and where might we go from here? With Artur Żmijewski’s Democracies (2009), we consider the performance of politics in public space, while Bani Abidi’s RESERVED (2006) presents a sharp study of official ceremony. The decades of presidential campaign ads collected by Antoni Muntadas and Marshall Reese in Political Advertisement X: 1952–2020 (2020), continually updated to this day, reveals the evolution of the televisual language used to influence and even create political power. We see video as a tool of persuasion and propaganda, but also as a means of witnessing and resistance. Together, the videos echo the question posed by the title of this series—democracies?—exploring the endlessly multiple and fractured publics within which we now live.

—Lina Kavaliunas and Simon Wu, screening organizers

Antoni Muntadas and Marshall Reese. Political Advertisement X: 1952–2020. 2020

How do you sell the presidency? New York–based artists Antoni Muntadas and Marshall Reese have posed this question for decades, compiling clips from more than 60 years of American political advertisements to create Political Advertisement X: 1952–2020. Updated every four years, the collection ranges from black-and-white commercials for Eisenhower in the 1950s, to the made-for-television Reagan years, to the hyperbolic claims and alternative facts of the 2020 presidential election. The videos are presented in chronological order, with no explanatory voice-over; they are by turns comic, melodramatic, and horrifying as they play on our collective fears and prejudices. Muntadas and Reese explore the economy of truth and lies that powers the image of the “ideal” presidential candidate—and present an unsettling portrait of the “reality TV” of political campaigns.

Bani Abidi. RESERVED. 2006

RESERVED depicts a city stopped in the course of daily life: everything is on hold as crowds wait for the arrival of an unseen politician or governmental figurehead. Schoolchildren hold flags limply; antsy diplomats pace on a red carpet; rickshaws sit in traffic behind police blockades. Bani Abidi draws on her own memories of endlessly waiting for some official event to begin while growing up in Karachi, Pakistan; she explores the ways in which social privilege and hierarchy choreograph everyday life, but also questions the artifice of televised political events. Indeed, what seems to be documentary footage is actually constructed: all of the participants are actors. As anxiety mounts, the video loops back, completing the endless sense of waiting that always seems to accompany political ceremony.

Artur Żmijewski. Democracies. 2009

Shouts, songs, horns, and shots ring out from the 20 videos comprising Democracies. Between 2007 and 2009, Artur Żmijewski and a small video crew recorded a series of public assemblies in countries across Europe and the Middle East. The resulting footage erupts into an audiovisual mix of bodies congregating, communicating, and occupying public space. In 2009, Żmijewski revealed that he “chose the title Democracies because it’s a lie: these are not all democracies.” Or, while they are purportedly democratic, these nations and their inhabitants engage in practices that undercut and threaten the very democracy they claim to uphold. In this urgent moment, Żmijewski’s statement—in part inspiring the title of this program—provokes the question: What does democracy look like?

These video works will be available to stream through January 31, 2021. The screening anticipates the forthcoming exhibition Signals: The Politics of Video at The Museum of Modern Art.

Media and Performance at MoMA is made possible by Hyundai Card.