EDDO STERN at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West), to August 29. $12, stu/srs $9; Wed after 6 pm free. 416-979-6660. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Watching the L.A.-based Israeli artist Eddo Stern observe Deathstar, his latest video, at the opening of his AGO show last week, I see a slow smile spread across his face. I'm laughing in disbelief at what's on the screen. The video is a series of clips Stern has taken from ultra-violent online video games by random programmers depicting the gory death of Osama bin Laden. He's set it to the score of The Passion Of The Christ. The sick clips from the various animated games feature bin Laden's disfigurement by a variety of means from punching and stabbing (even fisting) to electrocution and sniper fire.
This is a document of a particularly juvenile response to 9/11. However, the music subverts the programmers' intent, insisting we view bin Laden as a Christ-like figure amidst all the maiming. I laugh when I imagine the reaction of someone too conservative to appreciate the subtle critique under the overt debauchery. Don't miss the other two videos either.
Part of the AGO's Present Tense Contemporary Projects series, the show also includes three video installation/sculptures that incorporate mechanical movement set to computerized music. The most fascinating piece, Fort Paladin, takes the shape of a castle housing two computers. One runs America's Army, a computer game produced by the U.S. Armed Forces to entice young people to sign up. The second computer actually plays the game by operating a series of robotic pistons that punch the buttons on a keyboard controlling the movement of the soldier onscreen.
Rather than criticizing the graphic nature of video game violence, Stern merely presents the bloodshed and lets it attest to our acceptance of violence as entertainment. His work invites further discussion, and while there are moments when the noise in the show reminds me of being lost in a Chuck E. Cheese, the overall effect is positively astounding.