A group of rogue artists destroyed the internet yesterday by driving a car into a pile of electronic devices. Donald Trump initiated the ceremony, proclaiming the internet as the “greatest shackling of humanity since the Atlantic passage” so its destruction is in America’s best interest, he says.
So – obviously – the internet was not really destroyed. Trump didn’t really say those things. But this scenario was staged by a group of SMU students as part of a project titled Media Burn 2016 at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary. The video was livestreamed on YouTube and promoted on social media. The group even sent out a press release inviting members of the media, but no one else could attend the event apart from the volunteers.
Sadie Donnelly, one of the organizers, says it recreated the original Media Burn, a conceptual video piece by a group of avant-garde artists named Ant Farm. The 1975 project intended to draw attention to America’s obsession with television by driving a modified Cadillac into a wall of television sets after a speech by a John F. Kennedy impersonator.
“We thought that the message it was trying to send is still relevant but we don’t think about TV as much because our main source of news has shifted towards the internet,” says Donnelly.
This time around, Donnelly driving over a pile of dysfunctional electronics in a Fiat 500 was a little underwhelming in comparison to the original. But the disruptive message still resonated. Especially with the presence of a playfully convincing Trump impersonator, played by student Dalton Fowler, giving a speech about the alleged evils of the internet.
“In two decades, this device that strangles life has become an instrument that we cannot live without,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. The nasty lies you find on it. It is a liberal creation that pushes the communist agenda of our liberal media.”
“Donald Trump is like kind of the antithesis of Kennedy,” says Donnelly. “He’s so polarizing. He’s so widely disliked by so many people. He’s sort of a symptom that’s a lot of what’s wrong with America right now.”
Donnelly says the inspiration for re-staging the event stemmed from a discussion in a digital media class taught by SMU professor Michael Morris after he showed the original video to students.
“We watched it in the wake of the 2016 election and it just seemed really poignant,” Donnelly says. “I kind of said, ‘Oh, it would be funny to do a media burn now’ because so much has changed but the message is still the same.”
Donnelly's classmates agreed and within a few weeks the students organized the event. They’d only confirmed a venue a week prior, spreading the message and contacting the media. The group collected items that represented the “digital waste” of new media landscape.
Donnelly, whose past art work has addressed issues of mental health and sexual assault, says the new Media Burn is fitting for the new political climate. The internet’s echo chamber of fake news and issues with the real Trump motivated the new video’s message. She says it’s a call for the art community to take a more political stance.
“I think that artists now need to confront Trump,” Donnelly says. “Leading up to the election I was put off by artwork that discussed Donald Trump because it seemed like sort of a phase like it was going to die out, like after the election Trump wouldn’t be important anymore. But it’s something that we’re going to have to live with now and I think that people really need to address it.”
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