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R. Luke DuBois, NOW

Tom Winchester

R. Luke DuBois, Fashionably Late for the Relationship, 2008. Video still. Blu-Ray DVD video. 63 minutes. Edition of 10, 2 AP.

NOW, the survey of artworks by R. Luke DuBois currently on view at The Ringling Museum of Art, is a collection of portraits created from crowd-sourced information. Each originates as data aggregated from sources like Billboard charts, music videos, Manhattan traffic, and the circus. Some portraits consist of complex systems, including his newest, which involves motion-triggered video, and others take on a more traditional identity as flat works recalling the history of the genre. By placing them side by side, curator Matthew McLendon emphasizes transitions both in social ideology and artistic representation.

Born in New Jersey, raised in London, and educated at Columbia University in New York City, DuBois has a unique perspective of the American identity. Objectivity is achieved partly because of his background abroad, but also earning a doctorate in musical composition, which inspires structures of computer programs he writes limiting his agency. DuBois decides the area of culture to investigate, a program compiles material we’ve provided in that area, and the result is an artwork without biases.

“Billboard” (2005) is an auditory piece consisting of each top song on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1958 through 2005. Utilizing a process DuBois calls “time-lapse phonography,” each song is transformed into an average tone played for one second per every week that it topped the chart. Bright notes from the early years quickly become percussive bass during the 37-minute long piece, while an iPod hanging on the wall displays titles coordinating with the rapidly changing tones.

“Pop Icon: Britney” (2010) is a compilation of music videos by Britney Spears positioning the singer’s eyes in one place (in the top third of a vertical composition) asking us to remember the sacred origins of the icon. This is compounded by the monitor framed in Baroque, gold-leafed wood. But what’s also compelling is how the conveyed temporality affects the portrayal of Spears. At first, it’s surprising how many clips of source footage there are of her and how long a duration before the piece repeats imagery. Then, after staring directly into her brown, half-squinted eyes locked in a constant gaze, her vulnerabilities surface. She appears trapped rather than in control. The compression of time the video displays virtually expands the temporal experience of viewing it, and that combination seems to reveal her as a human.

“Fashionably Late for the Relationship” (2007-2008) also relies on an extreme compression of time, specifically 72 hours presented as 72 minutes. In this piece, performance artist Lián Amaris tediously prepares for a date in a makeshift bedroom built in a Union Square traffic island. With the jerky fluidity of stop-motion, the video, installed for the exhibition as a large projection in a dark gallery, shows her jolting and seizing into life, then, with traffic hazing by, she frantically writes in a journal, tries on dresses, and kicks back wine. She appears to struggle with even the most banal of tasks, and the video’s slow pace, despite its amazing speed, allows contemplation on what really slows us down.

Virtually welcoming us into their community, the interactive piece commissioned for the exhibition is a series of five screens depicting circus acts. To the far right is the ringmaster. He relays information activated by sensors determining how often to cycle through footage, resulting with lassos, Spandex, rhinestones, grand gestures, and acrobatics fading into each other and then to black at a rate mimicking the world we inhabit. If no one’s in the gallery, the performers remain still and revert to a bygone tradition. NOW exhibits DuBois as integral in redefining portraiture’s relation to form. His work brings¬new truths to the surface by providing new order to familiar paradigms. It creates platforms that reaffirm our collective desires, even if it is just to run away and join the circus.