Media artist aka filmmaker, director, videomaker, viralist, prankster, memester, producer
2007, (work in progress)
An experimental narrative, short film that investigates a young man’s claims of being abducted out of the US and taken to a foreign country where he was “rendered’ under interrogation for eighteen months before his sudden reappearance at home.
2003-2005, Powerpoint video projection, 60 mins.
A Powerpoint peformace charting the history of memes on the internet to the arcane interests of the artist.
2004, NTSC video, 25’ mins.
A video essay and narrative created out of a collection of telephone answering machine tapes I have amassed locally from thriftstores for more than fifteen years. These telephone messages form an arcane cultural anthropology, a slice of life of our collective unconscious.
2003, NTSC video, 2’ mins.
Using video and audio algorithms, Nation Elevated, envisions the scary invisible power of an eavesdropping technology run by the National Security Agency as depicted in a shape shifting ether of smoke rings.
Come to See ‘Ya
2003, NTSC video, 16’ mins
Using answering machine messages from one lonely and obsessive man as a starting point for a minimalist lyrical cine-poem about modern alienation.
2002, RT: 15” secs., 15” secs., 15” secs.
Funded by a Creative Capital Foundation grant. Viral videos for the Internet, the mobile phone to direct people to an anti-smoking websites.
2001, NTSC video, 25 mins.
2001, NTSC video, 30 mins.
Dust is a 10-year project comprised of hundreds of hours of phone calls picked up on a radio scanner and editorialized into a meta-narrative about the interpersonal psychotherapy we all seem to conduct on the telephone. Like much of this telephony work, the visuals are synced throw animation algorithms.
2001, NTSC video,: 2 mins
Replication is a purely visual expression of how evolution is based on the ability for species to mutate.
2001, NTSC video, 2 mins.
Produced and led this collaborative video based on an artificial intelligence whose system is dieing out.
Jet Set Download
2000, RT: 1’ mins.
A fast paced essay that explores the hyperbolic world of airplane disaster fetish.
2002 , NTSC, 2 mins. video projection, EyeStalk group show, Smack Melon Studios
A projection explored the haunting verisimilitude of artificial intelligence as seen in the image of large Anime-styled eyes that floated in a black space.
Untitled:002 - Infinity,
2001, NTSC video, 60 mins. video installation,
for Broadcast Design Awards,
Produced, curated and art directed for Belief and The Broadcast Design Awards. This project is an immersive DVD projection environment created by twenty design groups who made digital video works about the theme of the infinite.
2000 , NTSC video, 20 mins. video
installation, for Broadcast Design
Produced, curated and art directed for Belief and The Broadcast Design Awards. This project is an immersive DVD projection created by ten design groups who shot material that was traded amongst the group in an exquisite-corpse fashion to realize a thematic experience about “darkness.
2000 , NTSC video, 20 mins. Video installation for Size Does Matter, part of LA FREEWAVES at the Moca Geffen Contemporary Museum, Los Angeles; Co-created with Michael Goedecke, Belief EXP, Animal Charm, PEST AV
Show and Tell,
1999, NTSC video and sculptures, permanent video/sculpture installation, Long Beach Museum of Art, California Funded by New Visions Grant
Hello? Palimpsest Telephony Situation,
199 9, site-specific video
installation at the Salzburger
Videos and drawings made with a fax machine.
1997, NTSC video, 25 mins. Funded by 1995 National Endowment for the Arts Media Grant
experimental narrative inspired by the disappearance of a boy scout during a
1995, NTSC video, 25 mins
Documentary video about collaborator Patrick Tierney’s surreptitiously placed sculpture works.
A video essay about long distance telephony, romance, and collecting vinyl records.
Exhibition and descriptions 1995-1988
1994 Media Bust
NTSC video, 45” seconds
Commissioned and premiered at 1994 LA Freewaves video Festival
Media Bust is a barrage of familiar yet distorted images and mutilated dreams where space is choked with copyright, and OJ is everywhere.
1994 Encrypt Public Service Announcement
NTSC video, .45” seconds
A public service announcement concerning the negative aspects of a federal initiative to prevent digital encryption.
1994 Straight Talk About Deserts
NTSC video, 15 mins.
A cut up collage narrative about a young man growing up as a runaway drifter. This episode utilizes television news bloopers to prompt the main character’s spiritual trip into the desert. This is Saks attempt at teenage TV with contemporary role models.
1993 Copper Connection -
NTSC video, 8 mins.
Copper Connection demonstrates the nefarious uses for a single penny coin. Collaborator Patrick Tierney performs the “how-to” cultural jamming.
1993 KNBR produced for Neighborhood home movie project.
NTSC video, 10 mins.
KNBR posits a view of redlining and
segregation in the domestic life evidenced in a collection of suburban
1992 Fax Attack
NTSC video, 3 mins
Another phone culture investigation in combating unwanted faxes from restaurants.
<![if !supportLists]>1991 <![endif]>Gun Talk
NTSC video, 14 mins.
Video essay about gun control. Saks uses cartoon like cutout figures, computer animation,
speech synthesized commentary, and a diarist storyline to dig into issues of
gun control and get at his distaste for firearms. This essay is an intense saga
of how powerful guns can be even when not fired. --Kurt Wolf--
1991 This Summer PSA
NTSC video, 1 min.
A warning about asbestos removal scams advertising on campuses.
1991 Vote PSA
NTSC video, 45 seconds
A reminder not to be swayed by political candidate give-away premiums.
NTSC video, 90 minute video compilation
Produced and curated a 90-minute video compilation of works made with the Pixel Vision Toy camera, by artists, children and teenagers. Shown nationally and internationally.
NTSC video, 1 min
A fake PSA concerning civil liberties. While on one level this 60 second spot is an amusing parody of exploitative late-night television marketing campaigns, Hide also sends out a deft, ominous and unfortunately necessary message concerning the threat to freedom of expression in this country in the climate of “Helmsian “censorship.
<![if !supportLists]>1990 <![endif]>You Talk/I Buy
Pixelvision video, 10 mins.
A reverse prank phone call with an American automobile salesman parodying marketing and foreshadowing the Gulf war. “This tape capitalizes upon the dreamlike flow of choppy collages of recycled pulp that is organic to Pixelvision’s texture. Saks’ send-up of commercialism has some of the loopy surrealism of videos by The Residents.” Tony Reveaux, Art Week
NTSC & Pixelvision, 23 mins.
Prank Phone call episodes collectively display a clear microcosm of the infinitely larger McLuhanesque, technologically induced, schizophrenic society in which we live. In the tape, the salesman and the phone customer have talk and no communication; familiarity without acquaintance, thus manifesting alienation both geographical and ideological despite the tools of the “global village.” “Death to Death of a Salesman”Manholla Dargis-The Village Voice
83 mins., 16mm film
An experimental feature film about hazardous waste dumping in
REDCAT theatre, Los Angeles; Smack Mellon Studios, Williamsburg; 1950-2000 American Century, Whitney Museum; California Century at LACMA, Los Angeles; Pandemonium Festival, Tate Gallery, London; David Zwerner Gallery, New York; Marc Foxx Gallery, Sara Meltzer Gallery, New York; Los Angeles; NYC. Broadcast Design Awards 2000 & 2001, RES FEST 200& 2001 Sunshine Noir: L.A. Art 1966-1997, Armand Hammer Museum; PBS “Independent Focus” Broadcast, NYC; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Broadcasts on KCET, Los Angeles; Art Space, NYC; Long Beach Museum of Art, “New California; 4th, 6th,10th - NY Video festival at Lincoln Center; RES Festival; Pacific Film Archives; LACE Video Annuale; Rotterdam film festival; RE:Solution Gallery; EZTV; Dallas Video Festival; The Other Cinema, NYC; ATA Gallery; Impakt Festival, The Netherlands; “L.A. Freewaves” broadcast on KCET, LA; The Edge Television broadcast pilot series; The Video Galleriet, Copenhagen, Denmark; US Environmental Film Festival, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Edinburgh Film Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland; Films Charras, NYC; San Francisco Cinematheque
2005 Artist in residence, The Grotto, Cotignac
2004 Durfee Foundation production grant,
2001 Adobe lecturer on After Effects software,
2001 Creative Capital Foundation grant for public service announcements – Tobacco Geezers
1999 New Visions grant, video installation, Long Beach Museum of Art
1998 Visiting artist in residency at Fabrica Institute,
1998 Best experimental video, Charlotte Film Festival
1998 Best experimental video, Athens Video Festival
1998 Jurors Prize for Creosote video, Black Maria Film Festival
1997 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for a film about
1995 National Endowment for the Arts, Media Arts grant for the video Creosote.
1996 Annenberg Foundation grant for Touch Tone a video about telephony.
1994 Visiting computer artist at Chino Institution for Men Arts Program.
1992-93 President of Filmforum, a
1990-94 Board member of Filmforum, a
1992 Los Angeles Cultural Affairs grant to produce portraits of
1992 Western States media arts Fellowship.
1991 “Open Channels” grant, Long Beach Museum of Arts media arts program.
1990 First Prize, best dramatic feature, U.S. Environmental Film Festival.
Grierson, Tim “Video Worth Pausing For”, Artbyte (Sept/Oct 2001)
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, “American Hunger”, Film Comment (Summer 2001)
Willis, Holly “Darkness”, RES Magazine (Fall 2000)
Rosenbaum, Jonathan “Critic’s choice ”, Chicago Reader (October 3, 1997)
Malcom, Paul “Phone Call from a Stranger”, Detour (October 1997)
Amy, Taubin. “Videodrome.”, The Village Voice (July 22, 1997)
Dargis. “Pick of the
Week”, LA Weekly (
Wolff, Kurt. “Video Pick of the week.” SF Bay Guardian.
Berry, Collin. “The Right Trash.” Bay View collum, SF Weekly
Willis, Holly. “American On Line: Holly Willis Connects with Eric Saks.” Filmmaker.
Palving, Rune. “Fisher-Price PXL 2000.” KlasseKampen (December 7,1994)
Oslo Dew . “Top 25 Underground Films.” Film Threat. (October 1994)
Konefsky, Brian. “Art of the Future.” Albuquerque Reader
DellaFlora, Anthony. “Phone Junkie.” Albuquerque
Michael. “Rising Stars
Daniel, Bill. “A Fast Fax Interview.” Release Print Journal. (September 1993:)
Holly. “ New
Hoberman, J. “Un Film de Fisher-Price.” Premierre. (April 1993: pgs 48-49)
Suderberg, Erika. “Form and dysfunction, Fisher-Price and the Cult of the Pixel .” International Documentary. (Winter 1991)
Klawans, Stuart. “Film Reviews.”The Nation, (February 1991: pgs 247-248)
Camera is not a Toy.”
Reveaux, Tony. “The Challenge of Purismo.” Art Week. (October 1991)
Jonathan. “’89 in
Movies: Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Top Ten.”
Rosenbaum, Jonathan. “The Impossible Documentary.” Rotterdam Film Festival Catalog essay. (1990)
Michael. “Leach Lord gives Potent
Statement.”Los Angeles Times, Calender section. (
An extract from writer Holly Willis for a Creative Capital Foundation Brochure 2003
Los Angeles-based media artist Eric Saks has been at the forefront of digital media culture for over a decade, fashioning an eclectic film- and videography that combines live action, animation, and digital manipulation; creating a series of large-scale media installations; working at cutting edge companies such as Voyager and the design firm Belief; curating shows and DVD compilations of video art and experimental film; and earning numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and grants from the Annenberg Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
With a keen eye
for the roiling anxieties disrupting contemporary
In his latest project, The Yellow Pages, Saks has decided to tackle the World Wide Web. “I’ve been studying viral culture on the Net, and I’m fascinated with how efficacious passing on a single email to a friend can be to generate thousands of viewers overnight,” explains the quiet-spoken Saks, who notes that part of his inspiration was the very successful viral campaign for Buddy Lee Jeans. The Buddy Lee site featured a character called Super Greg who appeared in the jeans commercials, and while the website never mentioned the jeans directly, people stumbling across it would often draw the connection between the character and the jeans, then pass along the web address to friends. “My goal is to model the way the Internet passes around novelty culture and compels you to explore something you might not spend time with in other pop media—to use this model as a leverage point to get people to question new and old issues.”
When asked if this indirect route can be more effective than traditional PSAs, Saks answers affirmatively. “I’m wrestling with the idea that people want PSAs to change behavior, but it’s debatable if PSAs achieve that change,” he says. “Some people claim that many anti-tobacco PSAs actually promote cigarette smoking. But an enigmatic 30-second animation could be something that you’d want to see over and over again. Rather than just delivering a message, it will prompt viral discussion – if your friend tells you what he or she thinks it means, it might actually be more potent to change.”
Eric Saks -- Critical writing about artist and work abridged Summer 2003:
SIZE DOES MATTER: IMAGES WE WANT TO SEE BIG
Anne Bray and JoAnn Hanley, the curators of this particular L.A. Freewaves video program, wanted to breech the boundaries of the small screen with a series of videos that deserve large-scale
projection. Perhaps the most
spectacular in the bunch is Smooth Warming, a collaborative video-projection
installation by the Santa Monica-based design firm Belief, with video- collage
team Animal Charm and media guerrillas Pest AV. In the piece, a series of sliding
mattes helps create a multilayered canvas from which we glean a minimal
narrative involving, strangely enough, mermaids and unicorns in funky
incarnations cavorting across the screen. There are seemingly direct references
to the history of painting; allusions to Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a
Staircase, as well as the minimal color washes of Mark Rothko, the violent
serial painting of Warhol and the soft-focus photographic paintings of Gerhard Richter, all float past in a controlled cacophony and collision
of textures. The profusion of images plays with surface and depth, while the
piece's electronic vernacular and the dissolution of boundaries that occurs as
footage gets lifted out of one context and placed in another both effect a
destabilization of meaning and singular perspective. Rather than creating an
ahistorical image soup, however the piece grapples quite concretely with issues
of painting, broadcast design and video art, all the while relishing tactility
with images you can practically feel. Other highlights of the program include
Far Reaches by Shawn Chapelle, a collage of 2,000 pictures that's again all
about texture, and James Elaine and William Basinski's Fountain, a lovely
ambient piece made by magnifying images of water. (
-Holly Willis, Los Angeles Weekly, fall 2000
Although the strange art of Eric Saks often seems a collision of influences -- the work of collagists Karl Schwitters and Joseph Cornell come first to mind, among others -- the longtime California resident (reluctant hostage sometimes feels like the truer word) has a voice and a ferocious vision all his own. Saks' latest, Creosote, 42 minutes of ravishing black-and-white video imagery that evokes Man Ray's Rayographs and the celluloid whimsies of Melies, fuses together the story of a missing child with the story of St. Francis for a cryptic meditation on loss, faith and the desert. Unlike his contemporary Lewis Klahr, whose obsessive collage films often take as their subject obsession itself, Saks trafficks in obsessions that are invariably about something -- the military industrial complex, deviance, decay, alienation, pranks. (One of Saks' most important and frequent collaborators is Pat Tierney, with whom he made the peerless pixelvision classic, Don From Lakewood.) Saks has a lot on his mind, and if there's a problem with his work it's that, at times, it can feel too calculating and artful, heavy with ideas that are never fully translated beyond the conceptual stage. Perhaps that's why I like his '95 video collage Touch Tone so much. A riff on the road movie that encompasses, among other things obsessive, a lusty romance and a fetish for old vinyl (the program notes say it's also about "anticipating the millennium," but that's true of so much of Saks' work), Touch Tone has just enough hardcore grit to give it the frisson of real passion. As to be expected, the video is technically virtuosic, dazzling; even better, though, it's also raunchy and real. Eric Saks will be on hand to talk about Creosote, Touch Tone and his '93 video, Straight Talk About Deserts.
AT FILMFORUM ...
Eric Saks' haunting Creosote, takes the narrative trappings
of countless banal
Videodrome by Amy Taubin The
Touch Tone Eric Saks' eerie, sardonic Touch Tone locks into the flipside of these technological flights-of-fantasy; is unabashedly lo-fi cut-and-paste style perfectly matching its mood of jaundiced, off-kilter observation. Taking the form of a long and rambling collect-call monologue that ranges from the remote titillation of telephone sex to the seductive power of pop memorabilia, Saks' darkly provocative film offers a telling glimpse of the likely banal realities of cyber-culture as alienated, overloaded and trivia obsessed. Erudite, challenging (and occasionally frustrating), Touch Tone strikes out in a markedly different direction from much recent technologically-inspired work, but, for those who are prepared to listen, leaves a trail of images and allusions that linger powerfully in the mind.
Fuzzy Logic 2 Series,
Steven Bode--Film Video Umbrella
Eight years have passed since Eric Saks released his
remarkable first feature, the pseudocumentary Forevermore:
Biography of a Leach Lord, but judging from this eye-opening collection of
videos, which he'll present in person, he hasn't been idle. Touch Tone (1995),
reportedly also available in a graphic novel version, loosely recalls Forevermore in its overall form: a hallucinatory first
person monologue preoccupied with technology plays over a surreal collage of
processed images. Combining all sorts of found materials, the film at time
evokes animated work of Louis Klahr. The sinister KNBR(1993)
employs fatuous radio talk over home movies and obscure printed titles, all of
it apparently grouped around the subject of
By Jonathan Rosenbaum,
reviews of Eric Saks' videos
Eric Saks and Michael Goedecke - Dust will be presented at the Walter Reade on July 14 & 19
by Jonathan Rosenbaum
It's tempting to call Eric Saks' preferred mode, in video and film
alike, the pseudo-documentary - though there are times, mainly during my
more apocalyptic moods, when I wonder if any other kind of documentary
currently exists. It's less speculative to say that two of Saks' main
subjects are ecology and waste but if you extend the meaning of those
terms logically, you come up with just about the entirety of the sad
American empire, President George W. Bush included.
Place Saks' work in a drawer marked "weird stuff" or "marginal,"
regardless of whether that drawer stays open or closed, and the gesture
becomes the same kind of empty, self-fulfilling market judgement that
his work laments - like the current functioning of national boundaries,
simply a blind stab at demographics and market research rather than any
valid estimation of universality. Yet Saks' remarkable, neglected early
16mm feature (Forevermore: Biography of a Leach Lord, 89) and his more
recent videos like Creosote and Dust breathe an everyday American
desperation that we can all recognize, even when it comes wrapped (as it
often does) in a literary tradition - a form of layered, weathered
melancholy about American hunger that Thomas Pynchon has captured
perfectly (albeit in a more hippie-humanist register) on an early page
of his 1966 novel The Crying of Lot 49. Mucho Maas, a DJ who once sold
used cars, reflects on those abject, essential objects:
"Yet at least he had believed in the cars. Maybe to excess: how could he
not, seeing people poorer than him come in, Negro, Mexican, cracker, a
parade seven days a week, bringing the most godawful of trade-ins:
motorized, metal extensions of themselves, of their families and what
their whole lives must be like, out there so naked for anybody, a
stranger like himself, to look at, frame cockeyed, rusty underneath,
fender repainted in a shade just off enough to depress the value∑ inside
smelling hopelessly of children, supermarket booze, two, sometimes three
generations of cigarette smokers, or only of dust - and when the cars
were swept out you had to look at the actual residue of these lives, and
there was no way of telling what things had been truly refused (when so
little he supposed came by that out of fear most of it had to be taken
and kept) and what had simply (perhaps tragically) been lost: clipped
coupons, promising savings of 5 or 10 cents, trading stamps, pink flyers
advertising specials at the markets, butts, tooth-shy combs, help-wanted
ads, Yellow Pages torn from the phone book, rags of old underwear or
dresses that already were period costumes, for wiping your own breath
off the inside of a windshield with so you could see whatever it was, a
movie, a woman or car you coveted, a cop who might pull you over just
for drill, all the bits and pieces coated uniformly, like a salad of
despair, in a gray dressing of ash, condensed exhaust, dust, body wastes
- it made him sick to look, but he had to look."
Or to put it more succinctly and dryly - the way that Isaac Hudak does
in his diary, writing at some point in the Seventies - "The great waste
debacle is not on top of us, it's already in us, the soil in our blood."
Hudak is Saks' fictional toxic-waste dumper or "leach lord" recording
his thoughts (some of them borrowed from E.M. Cioran and Peter Handke)
over half a century in Forevermore - a solitary sad sack played by three
separate actors onscreen, three more actors off (with Saks himself
handling the middle years). If you've just stumbled over his name while
wondering if you're already supposed to know who he is, then in a way
you've already entered the treacherous domain of the typical Saks video,
where your own uncertainty about what's real and what's fiction, what's
fantasy and what's documentary, what's science and what's poetry, is
part and parcel of the confusion and isolation being addressed - the
comedy and terror of not knowing who and where we are.
The eleven Saks works I've seen since Forevermore, made over a span of a
dozen years are all videos - or at least that's what they were when I
saw them, some of them having assumed other forms on earlier occasions:
Don From Lakewood (which had previous lives, first as a picture book and
audio cassette, then as a live performance piece and puppet show; 89),
You Talk/I Buy (90), Hide (90), Gun Talk (91), Fax Attack (a
three-minute documentation of anarchist mischief - getting even with
restaurants who fax unwanted menus by faxing back reams of meaningless
items in loops; 92), KNBR (93), Straight Talk About Deserts (94),
Neglectosphere (documentation of surreptitious pseudo-surveillance
installations by Patrick Tierney, a frequent Saks collaborator, in
municipal buildings in
also available in a graphic novel version; 95), Creosote (97), and Dust
(a collaboration with TK excerpted from a video installation consisting
of a DVD video loop projection with a sound system; 00).
The first three are (or were) commercially available on a single video
from Videoactive Releasing. Collectively they suggest the kind of
ongoing madcap quarrel with capitalism and technology Saks is engaged
with, displaying a form of mutual aggression in which everyone loses,
sellers and buyers alike. Don From
meatiest of the trio, another joint effort with Tierney - is, like I
Talk/You Buy, partially shot on the now almost-extinct Fisher-Price
Pixelvision video format that Sadie Benning and Michael Almereyda have
helped to make famous, yielding a grainy, intimate image, black and
white and boxed in. But the soundtrack - chronicling a series of real
phone chats between a used sofa salesman named Willy and a persistent
potential customer calling himself
come by the store - is much more important than the visuals. It's
simultaneously hilarious as deadpan comedy, interminable, and an
absurdist Beckett-like combination of the two; as one catalog
description of the piece puts it, "The salesman and the customer have
talk and no communication."
In the first call, Don is requesting a catalog, insisting he can't get
out of the house, and Willy's replying with infinite patience that it
makes no sense for him to produce a catalog detailing the used sofas he
currently has in stock. In a second call, Don asks if someone else can
pick up a sofa for him on spec with a $10 deposit, assuring Willy that
the guy he's sending along is a good Christian; Willy patiently explains
that he's being evicted at the moment and can't help him out. And in a
third call, when Willy claims he's still being evicted, Don proposes
coming by the store late at night to look at a sofa. Willy says he has
only one sofa left and it can't be seen from the window; he adds that he
can't open the store for Don at or leave a key to the store for him
to pick up because he has neither the time nor the inclination to do
business in this manner. Meanwhile, what we see is even more minimalist:
a silhouetted puppet with a dangling phone line for Willy, a crudely
animated drawing for Don, and some funky animation about driving down a
road between the calls.
In the similar stretch of sales talk and response comprising You Talk/I
Buy, the visuals are more abstract, obscure, and nightmarish, with
aggressive flicker effects that threaten to produce hallucinations. And
Gun Talk (or, rather, Part One of a video that has a 1995 sequel),
performed as well as directed by Saks, in a way does for gun worship
what the previous videos do for retail, though the pop representations
are generally more abusive (sliding and bouncing magazine and newspaper
cutouts, with the
discourses more varied (personal confessions of gun traumas spoken by
Saks behind various masks; glib, horrific maxims delivered by
electronically generated voices that recall Alphaville's Alpha-60 -
e.g., "If a boy can go down to a 7-11 with $10 and a list of groceries
and then come back with the right change, he's old enough to learn how
to handle a handgun.")
KNPR may be the first item in this bunch to give us a prolonged look at
juggles a scrapbook history of a local bus line, diverse home movies, a
surreal and fatuous DJ patter improvised by Tierney, cryptic intertitles
("Sunday /misty romance of the
the tackiest organ music imaginable, recorded at varying speeds. The
collage effect may recall some of
John Dos Passos's Newsreels in
(or Fibber McGee and Molly on acid), but the ominous tone suggests some
sort of truce between normality and derangement that becomes
increasingly sinister, calling to mind Norman Mailer's early evocation
of Naked Lunch: "The joy in reading is equal to the kick of watching a
television announcer go insane before your eyes and start to croon
obscenely about the President, First Lady, Barry Goldwater, Cardinal
Spellman, J. Edgar. Somewhere in
pistol and shoot the set." Approaching this project more formally,
Straight Talk About Deserts combines the collage method of filmmaker
Lewis Klahr with a few nasty tweaks. An anchorwoman seen on a toy TV set
starts giving spastic raspberries in the midst of a newscast while the
image subdivides into different colored sections. Over slipping and
sliding landscapes and flapping insects, the alienation effects come
fast and hard, each voice interrupting or overlapping its predecessor.
(There are also many overlaps between videos. Touch Tone - introducing
the dust that comes back as a featured player five years later, in Dust
- also picks up the alienated and/or interrupted phone talk while
offering comparable kinds of fragmentation in the poisonous pop images.)
Creosote and Dust, creepy and ambitious recent works, throw all sorts of
refuse into the mix. The former - slowly unraveling in stark
black-and-white and spooky multiple exposure, using stop-frame animation
and puppets - recounts a fractured narrative as scary as any of the
millennial visions found in Don DeLillo's Underworld. The main strands
are abstracted from two real-life stories - those of Jared Negrete, a
Boy Scout who mysteriously disappeared forever on a camping trip, and
St. Francis of
(also voiced by a female narrator) is an amalgamation of the two,
"Francis Negretinez." For Saks, Creosote
stems from "several desires: to create a work that connects violence in
the family to the spiritual crisis of the end of this century; to
juxtapose the prototypical drifter with a religious visionary; to
continue with a body of media-work relating to the dramas of the
lot to take on, even in 42 minutes, and if the work yields dark moods as
much as visions, a sense of impending doom is a constant.
Dust suggests a Jackson Pollock working with junk rather than paint - an
action canvas made up of dust motes, static, airwaves, broken bits of
chatter. Finding our way through this splatter may be beyond our means,
but at least Saks offers an instructive way of getting lost. Perhaps the
purest example of his art to date, this half-hour video has a perpetual
fascination deriving from a rather terrifying dialectic between image
(particles of drifting dust) and sound (conversational voices heard in
intercepted and surreptitiously recorded phone calls).
What becomes frightening - posthumanist with a vengeance - is that
contrary to expectations, it's the dozens of voices and not the millions
of motes that wind up seeming interchangeable. At least in terms of
form, no two specks are alike, and their spontaneous flux is obvious
from one second to the next as they drift by in diverse patterns.
At first the chaotic confetti spill of disconnected raps on the
soundtrack seem informed by diverse kinds of content - a father
mishearing his daughter each time she says "lizard" and many other
seemingly random bits. But then instances of phone sex or talk about sex
start to accumulate, so relentlessly that the rare deviations from this
norm - such as two women chatting about farting and defecating in public
or one guy's equally un-self-conscious lament of depression about his
domestic life - ultimately sound no less estranged and mechanical.
And it keeps getting worse: the words turn phonier as they fall into
similar patterns of cultural regimentation ("You've just earned major
karmic credit points for not playing games and for telling the truth"),
while democratic dust registers as more and more exhilarating in its
freedom and diversity, mocking our sameness. It eerily evokes the notion
of cockroaches outliving destructive humanity, marching intact through
the apocalypse - a denouement one suspects Saks might relish.
Jonathan Rosenbaum TK. June 2001