Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Phil Collins at SFMOMA

UK artist Phil Collins is probably tired of being introduced as “not the other Phil Collins.” But in a way the coincidence of names is fitting, for the basic subject matter of Collins’s art is the effects that entertainment media have on lives and personalities. Collins, a finalist for Britain’s 2006 Turner Prize, is particularly interested in how the experience of being on camera affects people.

As part of its New Work series, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is presenting (through 1/21/07) the second installment of a karaoke trilogy by Collins. This video installation from 2005, entitled dünya dinlemiyor (the world won’t listen), shows young people in Istanbul performing tracks from the album “The Smiths” by the 1980s British band of that name. The performers in this Islamic nation were selected through an open call. The songs are performed in English.

The experience offered is broadband. You will cringe, laugh, and fidget while the non-talents are on screen. You will enjoy the few who actually show performance chops. One young man doesn’t sing at all, he just dances. I was reminded of the spastic dancing by Elaine in a famous episode of Seinfeld. At first you may snigger, but then a more complex emotion takes over.

You could walk into this continuously looped presentation, hear some off-key singing, and decide to make a quick exit. If you stay put, you’ll reap rewards. Most of the performers are interesting in some way. The passion they show for songs from another country and from another era may leave you musing about the complexities of culture and the quirks of globalization.

This is a don’t-miss.

(Images courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery.)

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