In his recent book Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age, the poet Kenneth Goldsmith identified "a new condition in writing: With an unprecedented amount of available text, our problem is not needing to write more of it; instead, we must learn to negotiate the vast quantity that exists." For Goldsmith, who also teaches a college course in plagiarism, that negotiation becomes both an elegy for originality and an obstinate habit of inventive reiteration.
His next book is Seven American Deaths and Disasters, a transcript-intensive compendium of national traumas, public mediations of which have become familiar to us whether we like it or not. To see Goldsmith rework, say, a real-time radio report on the Kennedy assassination, first as a literary object, then as a spoken-word performance piece, is to behold a peculiar subversion: against long odds, the distancing device becomes inviting.
Of course the language of the digital age isn't limited to writing, and as the San Francisco Film Society's KinoTek program of cross-platform creative collaborations reminds us, Goldsmith has conceptual kindred spirits in many other forms. One is the San Francisco-based visual artist Kota Ezawa, who joins him this Wednesday evening for a promising local show.
Kota Ezawa, Take Off.
Among other notable American deaths and disasters, Ezawa, too, has assayed the Kennedy killing -- by animating, or reanimating, that doleful mainstay of obsessive cinematic rumination, the Zapruder film. And even if you weren't yet alive when it happened, or you've seen it all those other times, that terrible moment is worth watching again from Ezawa's alternate view, if only because the dilution of rote remembrance gives way to something else, something improbably new.
Because he grew up in Germany, Ezawa is used to observing American culture from some remove. He has described his work as translation, and it often involves reconfiguring extant imagery from American popular culture. Take Off is the punning title of his newest piece, in which C-SPAN footage of George W. Bush departing the White House by helicopter becomes an animated watercolor.
Like Goldsmith, who happens also to be the founder of the avant-garde online archive UbuWeb, Ezawa sees a bright future in the challenge of aestheticizing even mundanely familiar material; he sees familiarity itself with fresh and dauntless eyes.
Take Off: Kota Ezawa & Kenneth Goldsmith, 7pm Wednesday, December 12, 2012, at Kadist Art Foundation in San Francisco. For tickets and more information, visit sffs.org.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED