One of the artworks on display in the current exhibition “Robot Dreams” at Museum Tinguely in Basel is American artist Jon Kessler’s piece “Kessler’s Circus”. Jon Kessler is best known for his kinetic sculptures that combine old analog mechanisms with digital technology such as surveillance cameras.
“Kessler’s Circus” was first shown in 2009 at Deitch Projects in New York. “Kessler’s Circus places the viewer inside the American war machine. An army tent pitched inside the gallery houses mechanical sculptures and barracks stacked with video monitors. The work depicts the American military-industrial complex as macabre circus, traveling from country to country, importing nothing and exporting atrocities under the veil of democracy. Rather than simply presenting a mediated spectacle, Kessler indicts the audience in the violence.
Surrounded by handmade mechanisms and surveillance cameras, the viewer becomes part of the machine. There is an induced sense of vertigo and surge of paranoia, as the viewer’s own faces appear in the video feed. Entering Kessler’s Circus, one is immersed in an undefined state, conflating machine and spectacle with entertainment and horror.
Kessler’s Circus updates and politicizes the experience of Calder’s Circus. Following the tradition of performative mechanized sculpture, Kessler creates a playful format for his exploration of our modern war experience. The mischievous nature of Kessler’s hand belies a dark violence that is at once captivating and frightening. The business of death as mediated spectacle exposes anxieties and complacencies concerning surveillance, propaganda, and our ravenous consumption of celebrity.” (Excerpt from the press release (PDF)).
Jon Kessler: Kessler’s Circus (2009) / Special Exhibition “Robot Dreams” at Museum Tinguely, Basel. August 4, 2010.
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