Dara Birnbaum’s ‘Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978-79)’
Running Time 5mins 22secs
American video and installation artist
Dara Birnbaum is one of the first female artists to re-appropriate footage from television and media in her remixed and markedly feminist film art. She edits simulacra of popular culture to reorder the hierarchy of ideologies and identities within a global image exchange, and makes visible the unseen politics of technology and female representation through repetition and a re-structuring of the formalities of film and mass media.
Dara’s work challenges the simulation and supposed realness of mediatised environments presented as closed and unquestionable systems of truth. In foregrounding the createdness of these narratives she exposes hegemonic discourses of documentation and broadcasting. In Canon: Taking to the Street posters are repeat printed and moving image recorded at student protests in 1968 and 1987, from France and America, and edited into slow-motion. Historical and geographical timeframes within the material of protest representation are removed and dissemination is opened up to critical viewpoints where the depicted event of protest appears simultaneously more immersive and less real. As Baudrillard stated ‘simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality; a hyperreal’. Dara undermines the devices of simulation to create a hyperreality that is so unlike reality in its self-awareness, the viewer becomes acutely aware of the manipulation inherent to mediatised simulation.
In Technology/Transformation extracts from the famed Wonder Woman television series are equally demystified as Dara emphasises the fantastical special effects and beguiling theme tune in a re-edit that reveals the superhero power of Wonder Woman as primarily sexual. This technological transformation is examined close-up as we are repeatedly shown the magical moment of Wonder Woman’s evolution from office girl to pop icon. Parallels with advertisements and the glamorous promises of the latest technological advancements are clear as Dara forbids us to enter into the ‘wonder’ of this now phoney moment. The comic fragments are condensed into a micro mimesis where the music and voiceover recreate the full Wonder Woman experience, the lyrics rolling across the screen as the viewer is confronted with the seductive and explicit double entrendre of the song, and the heroine’s agency appears entirely sexualised all of a sudden.
RIO Videowall is another of Dara’s technological interventions; created for a new build shopping mall in Atlanta, the piece tackles issues of surveillance, public space and the demolition of green areas in an increasingly gentrified world. The location and movement of images and our interactions with data flows within the economies of simulacra are called into question. Charged with an image data bank showing the site before the arcade was built, a wall of twenty five monitors is encoded with a feedback loop from surveillance cameras resulting in a retransmission of silhouettes as people walk past, disrupting the serendipity of the undisturbed landscape and dematerialising their existences into this digitised social body. Dara brings invisible technological expressions of control into the foreground of public space, de-weaponing their silence and disentangling them from the everyday.
In a time where media is produced and circulated at ever growing speeds, Dara Birnbaum deconstructs this global simulacra exchange and its deep seated ideologies through her appropriation of mass media mimesis, repeating the manipulation of mediatised images and broadcast back to itself. The wonder in Dara’s work is precisely this perspective of a cultural re-edit, revealing the enchanting hype of our technologised, mediatised world.
By Ruth Miller
all images © Dara Birnbaum