Lately I can’t get away from ads. I turn on Pandora and preceding every track—I’m hardly exaggerating—is a commercial promoting Viagra or some such product I haven’t the minutest interest in hearing about, let alone buying. And then, of course, peppered in are Pandora’s own ads, which try to sell me on an ad-free version of Pandora. And here all I wanted was a little music to accompany my short drive to campus. Some Radiohead to mask the monotony that is Lubbock after four—make that five—years of communal distaste. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so.
Zach Nader, founding editor of this blog and now a Brooklyn-based artist, works with ads. Frequently. In fact, much of his ongoing work concerns, in one way or another, advertisement. Take his video series Public Viewing, for which cameras were erected and left rolling in front of street-level billboards in New York City, each of which was behind a glass pane, meaning any traffic or passer-by was captured as a ghostly reflection. That smudge of yellow? if you watch long enough, and look close enough, reveals itself to be a taxicab. And the bat spreading its wings is really just an umbrella opening. City life as apparition, that’s Public Viewing. And to make it even spookier, Nader focuses the camera on the eyes of the models featured in each billboard. Thus the models appear more substantial—more real—than what they look upon.
Then there’s Parts. A friend of mine keeps a print from this series framed on the wall behind his dinner table. Whenever I have a meal at his house it’s this image that drabs—er, grabs—me. I always find myself staring, studying: a hotel room voided of its occupant; a brown silhouette sitting with one leg draped over the other on an orange bed. The images in Parts remind me of a time at home when shuffling through some of my old magazines I found pages where the figure had been cut out, replaced by imagery from the page immediately following. I saw an ocean where a rainforest grew hidden in a hole of a wave. I saw a highway with an enormous silver watch blocking traffic. Somebody with a golden M growing out of their neck. (Later I found out my younger brother, who was in desperate need of images for a collage he was compiling for school, was the scissor-wielding culprit.) But I digress.
Parts wonders: what happens to an image when the impetus for its creation is replaced? The print hanging in my friend’s dining room is from a hotel chain ad, presumably (presumably, because the artist is unsure of the source image). The figure has been blotted out by the most prominent color of his physique—brown. What we’re left with is a frame, framing emptiness. Or rather, framing a blank slate. After all, what is advertisement but an enticement to project? Look at me, the boy in the commercial says. Look at the women that clad my arms and rustle my hair. This could be you if you use my deodorant. God save us. No, Nader save us.
Counterweight is a logical extension of Nader’s approach to images. As with much of his work, it’s all about erasure: families replaced in portraits by sporadic combinations and distortions of the surrounding scenery. If you think this work sounds personal, you’re not alone. Nader is commenting on the modern family. What is it, he’s asking, that we capture in a posed photograph? Certainly it is not a reality that ever existed. No—it is a fabrication. A memory constructed, that we can look back on happily through the years, as if the captured smiles were actually shaped by happiness.
Maybe that’s what it comes down to—happiness. Happiness and entertainment.
Indeed, entertainment is called into question in Nader’s Caught Stealing, which asks: how does performance factor in—does winning or losing, in other words, matter in sports anymore, or are we just wrapped up in the spectacle of the game’s presentation? The video begins under a skin of alternating color, at first minimal and un-obscuring—misty, you might say. But as the baseball game progresses, the veil thickens, and the intermittent claps lose their foundation in the process—they may as well be Ping-Pong balls dropped down a wooden staircase by the end of the video, when all that remains is a variegated mirage, like a bouquet abstracted behind a rain-fogged window.
I suppose you can look at Caught Stealing as something of a response to the tricks employed in a lot of popular entertainment today: play a laugh track in a sitcom, for instance, and someone in the audience is bound to laugh, even when the humor is at its slightest; cue a somber song at a somber moment in a melodrama, no matter how underdeveloped the characters it involves, and tears will flow. Make no mistake about it, though—these are not earned but stolen reactions. The product of test-audiences, formulas, graphs and boardrooms. Emotions measured out in coffee spoons…so to speak… And Nader is helping us to see it by clouding our vision.
You can find more of his work at http://zachnader.com/.
He also manages the website Useful Pictures.