General Idea

general_testtube_xl

General Idea, Test Tube, 28:15 min, 1979

The Canadian artist collective General Idea — AA Bronson, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal — forged a unique conceptual practice that deployed parody and irony to critique the artworld and popular media culture. In performances, installations, video, photography, prints, and editions, they explored social phenomena ranging from the production, distribution and consumption of mass media images to gay identity and the AIDS crisis. General Idea worked together from 1969 until the deaths of Partz and Zontal in 1994

Produced by De Appel, Amsterdam, while General Idea was in residence there, Test Tube was conceived as a program for television. Presented under the brand “The Color Bar Lounge,” a cocktail bar in the mythical 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion, the program is a hybrid of popular television formats, including talk show, soap opera, news magazine, and infomercial. Introducing the program, the artists-cum-media hosts pitch The Color Bar as a “cultural laboratory,” serving up curative potions in test tubes in a lounge environment. Advertisements for the bar are placed throughout the program; a loaded word choice, full of double-entendres and innuendo, betrays the influence of both Dadaism and consumerism. This collapse of popular and high culture is central to General Idea’s agenda, as Felix Partz observes: “You know, the mass media are like a vast pharmaceutical complex developing new cultural elixirs of an unprecedented intoxication…but art remains a curious and elitist drink. Despite its unique flavor and heady cultural properties, it has never effectively been exploited.”

Interspersed throughout the program is a soap opera narrative about an isolated painter, a stay-at-home mother who troubles over exhibiting her art publicly. A modernist, “abstract depressionist,” she provides a clear counterpoint to the artistic model cultivated by General Idea – though it is an ambivalent portrayal. Test Tube was produced at the close of the 1970s and is a prescient meditation on changes in the art world. In the end, her show sells out to rave reviews, and a phone call from her gallerist to the hosts of The Color Bar Lounge is answered with enthusiasm.

Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix

Cold Cuts Video Festival 2015

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