Eric Saks

Media artist aka filmmaker, director, videomaker, viralist, prankster, memester, producer






Film video descriptions 2007-1996:


Material Witness

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.


Nation Elevated

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.


Tobacco Geezers

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.


Love Machine

2001, NTSC video, 25 mins.

An immersive video projection based on organic audio algorithms that create video effects from a vocal chant by the artist.



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.


Modern Man

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.


Sunny Prototype,

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, Miami

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 Awards, New Orleans;

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.


Smooth Warming,

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 Kunstverein, Austria. Created with Patrick Tierney.

Videos and drawings made with a fax machine.



1997, NTSC video, 25 mins. Funded by 1995 National Endowment for the Arts Media Grant

An experimental narrative inspired by the disappearance of a boy scout during a hike in Southern California.



1995, NTSC video, 25 mins

Documentary video about collaborator Patrick Tierney’s surreptitiously placed sculpture works.


1995 Touch Tone

NTSC video, 25 mins

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 Los Angeles home movies and a scrapbook documenting a local bus-line history. 


1992    Fax Attack

NTSC video, 3 mins

Another phone culture investigation in combating unwanted faxes from restaurants.


1991        Gun Talk

NTSC video, 14 mins.

Full funding: Long Beach Museum of Art “Open Channels.”

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--San Francisco Bay Guardian


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.


1990    Big Pixel Theory

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.


1990    Hide

NTSC video, 1 min

Full funding: Long Beach Museum of Art “VAP” program.

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.


1990        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


1989        Don From Lakewood ( Co-created with Patrick Tierney)

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


1989        Forevermore: Biography of a Leach Lord

83 mins., 16mm film

An experimental feature film about hazardous waste dumping in America.


Major exhibition site list


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


Grants, awards, fellowships, prizes, appointments


2005 Artist in residence, The Grotto, Cotignac France

2004 Durfee Foundation production grant, Los Angeles

2001 Adobe lecturer on After Effects software, Seoul Korea

2001 Creative Capital Foundation grant for public service announcements – Tobacco Geezers

2001 California Arts Council Fellowship in Media

1999 New Visions grant, video installation, Long Beach Museum of Art

1998 Visiting artist in residency at Fabrica Institute, Venice Italy.

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 Los Angeles.

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 Los Angeles media artist exhibition.

1990-94 Board member of Filmforum, a Los Angeles media exhibition venue

1992 Los Angeles Cultural Affairs grant to produce portraits of Los Angeles.

1992 Western States media arts Fellowship.

1992 California Arts Council 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)

Harper, Laurel                          “Digital Expression”, How ( August 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)

Manhola, Dargis.                      “Pick of the Week, LA Weekly (June 8, 1997)

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 Journal. (February 13, 1994)

Azerrad, Michael.                     “Rising Stars and Visionaries.”The Los Angeles Times. Calendar. (Jan. 1994)

Daniel, Bill.                               “A Fast Fax Interview.” Release Print Journal. (September 1993:)

Willis, Holly.                           New California Video” Bay Vac Journal. (Spring 1993)

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)

Wolff, Kurt.                              “The Camera is not a Toy.”San Francisco Guardian. (March1990)

Reveaux, Tony.                        “The Challenge of Purismo.” Art Week. (October 1991)

Rosenbaum, Jonathan.              “Critic’s Choice.”Chicago Reader. (October 8, 1989)

Rosenbaum, Jonathan.  “’89 in Movies: Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Top Ten.” Chicago Reader. (Jan. 1990)

Rosenbaum, Jonathan. “The Impossible Documentary.” Rotterdam Film Festival Catalog essay. (1990)

Willmington, Michael.   “Leach Lord gives Potent Statement.”Los Angeles Times, Calender section. (October 9, 1989)





An extract from writer Holly Willis for a Creative Capital Foundation Brochure 2003                


The Yellow Pages / Tobacco Geezers by Eric Saks


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 America’s relationship to all forms of technology, from the seemingly innocuous telephone to the more insidious surveillance devices dotting urban street corners, Saks has built a body of work that deftly limns the contours of an evolving technoculture. In his celebrated Pixelvision short Don From Lakewood (1989), for example, a series of prank phone calls to a hapless furniture salesman entreating him to deliver a sofa to Los Angeles perfectly sketches the complicit relationship between buyer and seller, as well as that between con man and victim. In Gun Talk (1991), Saks examines American firearm policies using an array of visual shenanigans held together by a moving first-person diaristic account of a shooting, while Hide (1990) is an amusingly ironic fake commercial showing paranoid viewers what to buy so that they can hide in their own homes.


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.”


The Yellow Pages will eventually include several interactive game components, but at this point, Saks is working on The Tobacco Geezers website [], which considers genetics and tobacco. Saks was initially inspired to do the project when he came across genetically modified nicotine-less tobacco. Startled by the implications, he began to ponder what this would mean for marketing tobacco to kids, and how you might warn teenagers about the impact of this new product on their health. Rather than making more straightforward PSAs (public service announcements), Saks decided to attempt to create a campaign based on viral marketing techniques in which issues would be raised, but indirectly. In one day short animations with a web address were emailed and 16,000 visitors went to The Tobacco Geezers website. Site visitors encounter one of the fictional website characters, Lee, who is obsessed with genetics, anti-smoking, and artificial intelligence. The next iteration of the project will similarly be cryptic, seemingly authored by someone investigating conspiracy theories and the corrupt, sweeping power of capitalist corporations.


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:





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. (Museum of Contemporary Art, Geffen Contemporary, 152 N. Central Ave., dwntwn.; Nov. 12-19,) 


-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.


By Manohla Dargis, LA Weekly,Category: Calendar, Pub: 05/23/97, Page: 64

            ERIC SAKS AT FILMFORUM ... 05/23/97



Eric Saks' haunting Creosote, takes the narrative trappings of countless banal Indies [abused boy finds substitute weirdo father, goes to L.A., becomes a teen hustler, then a tabloid celebrity, dies bearing stigmata, etc.] and casts them in flickering black-and-white images that look like X-rays bounced from outer space. (Creosote is the mystical sci-fi picture that Contact wants to be and isn't.) ...

Videodrome by Amy Taubin The Village Voice July 22, 1997



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 U.K.



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 Torrance, California. Gun Talk (1991) features Sluggo from the comic strip Nancy and various nightmarishly masked and voice-distorted individuals discussing firearm-related experiences. But none of these quite prepared me for Saks' latest work, the 42 minute Creosote. In infernal black and white and spooky multiple exposure, it recounts a fractured narrative as creepy as any of millennial visions found in Don DeLillo's Underworld. A scary and essential program.


By Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader,

Fri. Oct 3 1997 pg 10

reviews of Eric Saks' videos


BOX: New York Video Festival preview:

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 Torrance, California, 95), Touch Tone (apparently

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 Lakewood - the best known and

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 "Don from Lakewood" who refuses to

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 2 AM 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 Nancy comic strip's Sluggo a featured player) and 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

Torrance, the L.A. suburb figuring as a Saks axiom and staple. It

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 Near East/in your own back yard"), and

the tackiest organ music imaginable, recorded at varying speeds. The

collage effect may recall some of John Dos Passos's Newsreels in U.S.A.

(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 America somebody would take out his

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 Assisi - though the character named in an intertitle

(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

California desert; to accept visions as real and meaningful." That's a

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

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