Jeremy Shaw’s solo exhibition Best Minds, organized by Klaus Biesenbach, was on view at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens, New York from September 10 through October 10, 2011
A curious room-sized 3-channel video surrounds the viewer in the eerie green-black light found in night-vision goggles and video surveillance in Canadian-born artist Jeremy Shaw’s Best Minds at MoMA PS1. The grainy images taken with a handheld camcorder recall Nauman’s multichannel video surveillance of his studio at night, and are paired with the slow, ambient The Disintegration Loops, 2002, sound recordings of deteriorating tape reels, composed by William Basinski.
In the images, young, generally white people dressed in oversize hoodies, sneakers, and baggie jeans, (one notes the overt generational reference to the 1980s and 90s just by these signifiers), moving in extreme slow motion in the most confusing manner possible. Did the artist reverse the video feed? Was this a choreographed performance?
No, in fact. That’s just how white people danced in the early 1990s, apparently. (Or could this video have been taken more recently?)
The artist explores altered mental states, however, in Best Minds — the surprise is that everyone is stone sober; the footage comes from a straight edge hardcore concert in Vancouver, Canada. Violently heaving themselves back and forth in totally unpredictable, arrhythmical patterns, and freezing in the most awkward sculpture-like poses, primarily male dancers ecstatically jump, kick, leap, and shove one another on a cold, concrete floor. According to the Urban Dictionary, and the guard outside the room, this is called the “spin kick” move in hardcore dancing, where one executes a spinning back kick (sometimes while jumping) in a crowded concert area.(1)
This particular subculture of hardcore punk eschews drinking, drug-use, sexual promiscuity, and eating meat as a political action, and was arguably started by punk band Minor Threat, who coined the term with their song “Straight Edge,” 1981. Its symbol is an X, typically drawn or tattooed on a person’s skin. The movement received international attention in the late 1990s for its intensely violent imposition of its moral values on others (particularly in Salt Lake City in 1998)(2) where fast food restaurants were firebombed, and smokers and burger eaters were beaten with chains, maced, or branded with an X.
Taking a violent situation—such as a hardcore punk show—slowing it down to a mesmerizing pace, and pairing it with alien music, unidentifiable in its source, turns something fast, politically loaded, and dangerous, into a moving image we appreciate almost purely for its aesthetic. Like Ginsberg’s “Howl” (1955), Shaw seems to turn his observations of subculture into a poetic analysis of its hidden or even unintentional beauty. Subsequently, like an anthropological study, the video is studied like a display in a museum of natural history, a time capsule of footage that marks a moment, since passed, in the fickle history of North American youth culture, suggesting the constant entropy of such movements—even when being concurrently expressed in ecstatic, testosterone-filled and violently original dancing.
1. Anonymous. “Hardcore Dancing.” UrbanDictionary.com. April 21, 2005.
2. Sahagun, Louis. “The Twisted World of a ‘Straight Edge’ Gang.” Los Angeles Times. January 29, 1998.