Cleopatra’s Karaoke: Three Steps to Art

by Whitney Kimball on April 23, 2013 Reviews

For their portion of the Shanghai Biennale, Cleopatra’s has teamed up with artist Chris Rice in commissioning over 50 mostly-emerging Brooklyn artists to make karaoke videos. The series , CKTV, is now on view at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. If that sounds like the kind of fun, toss-off premise you find in summer shows, it is fun– but by no means arbitrary.

The BAM show doesn’t look like much; half a dozen screens hang in a dim, shallow study room off the magnificent main hall. Videos include a lot of what you’d expect: handheld footage of Brooklyn apartments, webcam narcissism, and 80s video effects. Still, like last year’s “Bulletin Boards” at Venus Over Manhattan, we also get the sort of yearbook that one finds in the best-planned group assignments. (Good if you’re an art writer, as you can familiarize yourself with a group of artists whose work has been popping up frequently in Rhizome and Brooklyn exhibition lists over the past few years). Karaoke’s ingredients of image, text, and sound gives us an easy recipe for art-making, made to be tampered with.

You’ll hear a lot of refrains along the lines of “my only girl,” “my one love,” and “I cry, cry, cried,” and several videos mine those tropes. BFFA3AE’s “uh duh yeah” delves into the part of the song where the lyrics fall away into total nonsense. (The video from the show isn’t online, but we have a similar version posted here). It’s a montage of oh’s and woah’s; Mariah Carey sings “Shoe Do Do Do Do Do Do,” Destiny’s Child goes “Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay yay, Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh.” There are even iconic ones: the Hansons’ “Doo Wop,” Eurythmics’  “Oooo’s” in “Sweet Dreams.” Without a story, the moaning becomes filler for empty space.

Still from Boru O’Brien O’Connell's karaoke version of "Against All Odds" (Image courtesy of Boru O’Brien O’Connell)

UnsurprisinglyBoru O’Brien O’Connell prefers a more disturbing flavor of satire. He pairs Tom Cruise, playing a misogynistic advice guru in Magnolia, with Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds.” A cute synth plays along to the text “Take a look at me now/ There’s just an empty space,” as Cruise stares vacantly into the camera. His eyeballs are slowly whited out by sci-fi twinkles, which, while wiping all emotion, seem to deify Cruise as a character, actor, and scientologist.

CKTV//Gary Numan-Down In The Park from Phillip Birch on Vimeo.
Adding to the unholiness, Philip Burch coldly renders a near-photorealistic, faceless astronaut floating through a computer city. He removes the voice, making Gary Numan’s “Down in the Park” all machine. Spelled out, the poetry becomes a robot statement: “Down in the park where the machman meet the machines are playing kill by numbers.”

“Obsession” In the Style of Animotion from Saki Sato on Vimeo.

On a lighter note, Saki Sato plays Animotion’s “Obsession” to celebrity photos, which fade into lovingly-rendered deviantart portraits; they match up perfectly. All of the words are sung, except the refrain “YOU ARE MY OBSESSION/WHO DO YOU WANT ME TO BE TO MAKE YOU SLEEP WITH ME,” which flashes between images of fans reaching over the metal bars to grab a photo or a signature. Like most, it lacks the staying power of an original. Still, like any good preview, it entices for what’s up next.

For a look at some of CKTV performed at BAM, see Asher Penn’s coverage at Sex Magazine.

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