Back to the Future

Paranoia and conservatism -- yay! It's the '80s again with "Not in My Backyard"

A cover story by Bill Keller in the Jan. 26 edition of the New York Times Magazine compared Dubya to former President Ronald Reagan, citing parallels in temperament, background, and rise to power. With war against Iraq looming large and a recession that shows no signs of easing up, it doesn't take a lengthy analysis of the Bush and Reagan administrations to notice that it's beginning to look a lot like the '80s -- complete with back-in-fashion Day-Glo sweatshirts and leg warmers. Los Angeles-based artist Micol Hebron riffs on that coincidence -- and on that era's rallying cry -- in her interactive installation "Not in My Backyard."

A recent graduate of UCLA's MFA program, the Marin-bred Hebron hasn't always been so preoccupied with politics: Her work quickly garnered art-world attention, but has dealt more with pop culture and art history. Her "Revival" series, for example, featured more than 50 paintings of 20th-century icons like Piet Mondrian, René Magritte, and the Powerpuff Girls -- each meticulously created out of glitter.

Using the "Culture Wars" of the 1980s -- Pat Buchanan's term to describe the controversy over government funding for artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano -- as the framework, Not in My Backyardcalls attention to the syndrome that defined the conservatism and self-interest of the Reagan age, an attitude that's still alive and kicking. For the installation, Hebron constructed two backyard spaces, each hidden behind a tall fence. In each of the plots, two video projections, shown on the walls and looped to a soundtrack of '80s pop and punk tunes, present a montage of images: one of rising objects (rockets, balloons), the other of falling matter (waterfalls, collapsing buildings, roller coasters). Interspersed with subliminal messages and sound bites, the videos include anxiety-provoking clips of nuclear weapons, pornography, bio-terrorism, and alien invasion, culled from the nightly news and films like Pretty Baby, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Chinatown.

Get a jump on the '80s revival  at Micol Hebron's 
installation,  Not in My Backyard.
Get a jump on the '80s revival at Micol Hebron's installation, Not in My Backyard.

The catch to Not in My Backyard is that the backyard spaces aren't easily accessible. Viewers must jump on mini trampolines placed in front of each area to peer over the fence -- a tongue-in-cheek way to force them to become involved in the piece. As viewers jump, they're recorded with a surveillance camera that feeds the images into monitors. (Party poopers can use peepholes carved into the fence.)

While the piece doesn't delve into the roots of the mindset, it does investigate the effect of political agendas on art. To emphasize her point, Hebron has created a reading and reference area in each backyard, stocked with art magazines, a biography of comedian Lenny Bruce, a copy of the Constitution, and banned books such as Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses and J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.

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