The plane doesn’t hit. It glides silently by the World Trade Center, casting its shadow and floating back into blue sky. This takes 11 seconds. Then it begins again. Next to it, on another screen, JFK does not get shot. Jackie, in pink Chanel, does not climb onto the back of the convertible. The car moves in the direction of Parkland Hospital, but it won’t go there. Over and over, nothing happens. An ingrained collective memory has been wiped clean. These new video installations are at the art space Western Bridge.
Eric Fredericksen brought the videos to Seattle from Miami in December and put them on display January 5. They’re a late-breaking addition to his show Crash. Pause. Rewind., which opened in October and closes March 4, featuring sculpture, video, photography, and works on paper devoted to the violence and allure of human-engineered disasters. It is a bipolar show, swinging between thrusting moxie and eerie, sociopathic emptiness. We are all psychiatrists, peeping and asking. But in rebuilding the twin towers and repairing John F. Kennedy’s exploded skull, New Jersey artist Josh Azzarella has performed the healing already, and it is a new wound. Using a reverse Aristotelianism made for a media age, Azzarella has turned lurid fictions into lobotomized pleasantries in order that we hurt again. These are primal betrayals of history, the survivalist wish of repression turned against itself. The camerawork is slow, funereal. Realizing a deep cultural desire in a ritualized format sets off a pang of consoling sorrow. At least in the place of mediated numbness, there is feeling.
Yet even this punishing satisfaction only lasts a short time, for the doppelgänger scenes are as relentlessly replayed on these modest TV screens as were the original famous bits of footage in American living rooms. Just as multiple viewings electroshocked the events into a stupor, so the steadily rhythmic view of their longed-for reverse quickly becomes as unreal. We reexperience an acutely painful, childish desire to turn back time, and then, by repetition’s thieving, lose even our grasp on that. Exhausted from a second round of shock and awe, we are left alone, as far as always from the mass events we long to claim as our own, substituting paltry questions about how, after all, these videos were made.
Azzarella spent three years digitally changing frame by painstaking frame in the CNN feed from September 11, 2001, and the amateur Abraham Zapruder film from November 22, 1963. He made the blatant lies look as true to life as possible. When a three-dimensional modeling program made JFK and Jackie look too slick, Azzarella stopped using it and instead tracked down and inserted parts of real images of the couple from earlier that day. In Photoshop, Azzarella sucked the toxic smoke out of New York. “I made the sky blue,” he said. He acted as God, Walt Disney, and morphine, creating a sci-fi utopian fantasy from a creepy sort of cleansing. Though Azzarella’s videos could be seen as peaceable daydreams for a troubled people, they are also scenes glimpsed by an ether addict before slipping off. The sun shines. Everything is fine. There’s a blip and then unconsciousness.