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Published on Nov 20, 2012
Can you tell what politicians mean by what they say or how they move? In this film, artist Liz Magic Laser develops "The Digital Face" (2012)—a new performance staged at Derek Eller Gallery's former location in Chelsea and at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City—that examines hand gestures in contemporary presidential State of the Union addresses. Struck by the virtuosity of Barack Obama's movement in his 2012 address, Laser examined past speeches to discover that George H. W. Bush was the first president to use gestures in the televised era. The artist choreographs the presidents' wordless movements with two Merce Cunningham-trained dancers—Cori Kresge as Obama, and Alan Good as Bush—into a performative dialogue that reveals how gestures have been embraced and codified by politicians and their handlers over the past two decades. Throughout the rehearsal process, Laser employs stop-action photography to isolate and tweak individual gestures; she later amplifies the sound of the camera shutter's incessant clicking for the performance's soundtrack. Tracing the origin of many of these oratorical techniques to the 19th century theoretician François Delsarte, Laser is concerned with how contemporary political figures are adopting theatrical tools to persuade the public, masking the content of their speeches with movements designed to induce empathy through well-rehearsed and often subliminal cues. "We are living in strange days," says Laser, "where performance itself has become the dominant instrument of power."
New York Close Up is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; Toby Devan Lewis; Lambent Foundation; the Dedalus Foundation, Inc.; and the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc. Additional support provided by The 1896 Studios & Stages, and by individual contributors.