Assistant Professor of Modern Culture and Media Studies:
Modern Culture and Media
Phone: +1 401 863 7886
In my work as an artist, curator, and cultural organizer, I have focused on developing a critical understanding of the complex and interdependent relationships between art, media technology, and politics.
Mark Tribe is an artist and occasional curator whose interests include art, technology, media theory, and politics. His art work has been exhibited at G-MK (Zagreb) Ronald Feldman Gallery (New York City), LACE (Los Angeles), the DeCordova Biennial (Lincoln, MA), and the National Center for Contemporary Art (Moscow). He has organized curatorial projects for the New Museum of Contemporary Art, MASS MoCA, and inSite_05. Tribe is the author of two books, The Port Huron Project: Reenactments of New Left Protest Speeches (Charta, 2010) and New Media Art (Taschen, 2006), and numerous articles. He has lectured at UC Berkeley, Goldsmiths, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, MIT, and Harvard. He is Assistant Professor of Modern Culture and Media Studies at Brown University, where he teaches courses on radical media, the art of curating, open-source culture, digital art, and techniques of surveillance. In 1996, Tribe founded Rhizome, an organization that supports the creation, presentation, preservation, and critique of emerging artistic practices that engage technology. He received a MFA in Visual Art from the University of California, San Diego in 1994 and a BA in Visual Art from Brown University in 1990.
When I joined the Department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown, in September 2005, the United States was embroiled in a controversial war in Iraq, but there was little evidence of protest on the campus. For most of the previous decade, I had worked at the intersection of contemporary art and new media. I had founded and run Rhizome, an organization dedicated to the exchange of ideas and information in the field of new media art, and had made several Internet art projects. But as I was finishing New Media Art (Taschen, 2006), a book I co-wrote with the journalist Reena Jana, and as the death toll in Iraq continued to mount, I became increasingly interested in the place of protest in contemporary politics, and in the ways in which protest is performed, documented and mediated.
Since arriving at Brown, I have investigated these themes in two major works (the Port Huron Project and The Dystopia Files) and several smaller ones (Star Spangled Cover, Chinoise A, Sweet Child Solos, and The New Revolution).
These projects are animated by three interrelated questions:
How has the use of media to document and represent political protest changed the ways in which protest is performed?
How have contemporary technologies of mediation and distribution shaped the role of protest in the public sphere?
How can the formal language of video installation be used to investigate the ways in which performance is conventionally documented and represented?
The Port Huron Project (2006-2009)
In September 2006, I staged the first of six reenactments of protest speeches from the Vietnam era: a public address originally delivered by Coretta Scott King in 1968 in New York City's Central Park. By reenacting and re-documenting events from the radical movements of the 1960s and '70s, I sought to investigate the ways in which these movements are remembered, imagined, and invoked in the context of contemporary political protest. The New Left casts a long shadow over today's radical activists, and I felt I had to address its legacy if I was to begin to understand the mood of political despair and futility I sensed around me.
The following summer, I staged reenactments of speeches given by Paul Potter, president of Students for a Democratic Society, at the 1965 March on Washington and by Howard Zinn at a 1971 peace rally on Boston Common. In 2008, I staged reenactments of speeches given by Angela Davis at a 1969 Black Panther rally in Oakland, Cesar Chavez at a 1971 Vietnam veterans memorial rally in Los Angeles, and Stokely Carmichael at a 1968 peace march in New York City.
Two of the speeches had been published in books; the others I transcribed from audio recordings or found in archives. I selected speeches that were both rhetorically effective and apposite to contemporary politics. For example, Paul Potter's speech included these lines: "WHAT IN FACT has the war done for freedom in America? It has led to even more vigorous governmental efforts to control information, manipulate the press, and pressure and persuade the public through distorted or downright dishonest documents."
I cast actors to deliver the speeches in the parks and streets where they were first given. Audiences, which included invited guests and passersby, ranged in size from 25 to 300 people. I avoided period costumes, props, and other common features of historical reenactments. My goal was not to take my audience on a nostalgic journey into the past, but, rather, to bring these strikingly relevant speeches into the present as a way of denaturalizing contemporary politicsto create moments during which one might ask why, despite the parallels between the Vietnam era and this one, the "massive social movement" envisioned by Potter in his 1965 address seems almost inconceivable today. "Most of the college-age spectators gathered there in a clutch were fully aware that they were witnessing art, but by the end they also seemed not to be simply playing along but to be engaged by Mr. Potter's arguments," wrote one reporter who attended my reenactment of Potter's speech. (Kennedy, Randy. "Giving New Life to Protests of Yore." New York Times 28 July 2007: B1.) At the same time, by setting up situations in which the past seemed to speak to the present, I sought to provoke a critical interrogation of common notions and uses of history. As Rebecca Schneider, Chair of the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at Brown, wrote about the Port Huron Project:
Questions of the returns of history that arise around such reenactments can be mind-boggling: What happens to linear history if nothing is ever fully completed nor discreetly begun? [T]he artist makes work that touches another temporal register, bringing an alternative now into play and using seeming anachronism, suggestive deferral, and explicit repetition as political and aesthetic spurs to thought . Tribe and many other artists currently engaging reenactment complicate the singularity of "now" and approach performance by mixing and matching time, playing across temporal registers through explicit and literal re-play. The queering of time troubles our heritage of Enlightenment (and capitalist "development") investments in straightforward linearity as the only way to mark time, reminds us of a durational "now" for political action, and points to a politic in veering, revolving, turning around, and reappearing. (Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment. New York: Routledge, 2011. 180-182.)
I worked with college students, high school students, and young artists to produce extensive documentation of each reenactment. The photographers, videographers, sound recordists, and other production crew played a significant role in the events themselves: they became part of the spectacle, serving as inescapable reminders of the artifice inherent in reenactment, as well as the importance of cameras as vicarious spectators for whom protesters perform.
From this documentation, I made single-channel videos that could be viewed on YouTube, downloaded under Creative Commons licenses, exhibited in galleries, or screened in cinemas and other venues. The videos cut between four cameras, but included no voiceovers, archival footage, interviews, or other means of contextualizing the reenactments. I wanted these works to function as documentation rather than as documentaryas ambiguous actualities that raise questions while providing few answers. The videos have been exhibited as looping single-screen projections at several venues, including the National Center for Contemporary Art, Moscow, and Trinity Square Video, a media art space in Toronto. They also received cinematic screenings at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Dance Theater Workshop in New York City, and the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
For a 2008 exhibition on a giant high-definition video screen in Times Square, I made short videos of the reenactments featuring close-ups of the speakers and cable news-style graphics. This format was dictated in part by practical considerations: the crawl, closed captions, and other on-screen text compensated for the venue's lack of sound and curatorial context. But, by presenting these speeches as if they were contemporary news, I also foregrounded the question of how radical politics are represented in mainstream media, and how these representations have changed since protesters appeared on the evening news programs of broadcast networks in the late 1960s and early '70s. These videos were later exhibited as Port Huron Project: The Whole World Is Watching (Times Square Edition) at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, a New York City gallery, and at the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore.
For "Democracy in America," a 2008 group exhibition organized by Creative Time at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, I made a panoramic installation featuring two high-definition video projections. Each projector corresponded to a stationary camera at the performance, displaying a single unedited shot. By matching angles of projection to camera angles, and scaling the projections so that the figures on screen were more or less life-sized, I produced an effect of spatial correlation between the installation and the event site. The panoramic aspect ratio afforded by side-by-side, high-definition video projections created a quasi-immersive experience which, because of the sculptural presence of the screens and the gap between them, remained fractured and incomplete. The installation's symbolic form thus suggested a parallel between gallery visitors and reenactment participants, while at the same time reminding those in the gallery that, like the installation, the reenactments were mediated fabrications.
As in conventional cinema, the screens functioned as virtual windows onto a coherent space. But by presenting two different camera angles simultaneously, arranging the screens in an asymmetrical V formation, using rear projections (so that visitors did not cast shadows), and eschewing cinematic techniques of camera movement and editing, I encouraged spectators to engage the video with a kind of bodily involvement different from that afforded by conventional cinema: to zoom in by approaching the screen, pan by turning their heads, etc. The net effect of these formal structures was to draw attention to the embodied performativity of the spectator and, by extension, to the significance of the body in protest, both as performing subject and, via the mediating apparatus of video, as spectacle. And bodily performance, I would argue, is crucial to understanding the roles played by protest and its mediated representations in the public sphere. Protest functions not only through words but also through deeds and images. The public sphere is not only a discursive realm of rational-critical debate, as formulated by Jürgen Habermas and others, but also a space of embodied actiona performative space in which human bodies play a decisive role.
The final incarnation of the project was a book, The Port Huron Project: Reenactments of New Left Protest Speeches, published by Edizioni Charta (Milan) in 2010. It includes the full texts of the speeches, archival photos of the original speakers, photos of the reenactments and installations, and essays by Rebecca Schneider and Nato Thompson, Chief Curator at Creative Time. I conceived and edited the book, and wrote the introduction.
My work, like that of other contemporary artists whose audience straddles academia, the art world, and the broader public, has generated commentary in scholarly publications, specialized art magazines, and mainstream periodicals. The Port Huron Project was the focus of an article in Framework: the Journal of Cinema and Media, a peer-reviewed, international journal, and discussed extensively by Rebecca Schneider in Performing Remains. It was reviewed or featured in Artforum, Frieze, Flash Art, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times. It has been included in 20 exhibitions and screenings, and was supported by the Creative Capital Foundation ($50,000) and the New York Foundation for the Arts ($7,000).
The Dystopia Files (2010-2011)
The 1999 protests surrounding the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Seattle, Washington, marked a turning point both for political protest and for the ways in which the state attempts to manage it. Protesters developed new models of organizing, such as affinity groups and spokescouncils, and new tactics of direct action. Governments, in turn, heightened security measures by denying protest permits, surveilling and infiltrating activist groups, preemptively detaining activists, creating militarized security zones, and deploying "less-lethal" weapons such as tasers, tear gas, and Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs). The policing of protest intensified again after 2001, as laws preventing domestic spying were repealed, anti-terrorism funding flowed to law-enforcement agencies, and larger patterns of militarization and control emerged. Activist groups responded to this new environment by adopting "security culture" practices intended to prevent infiltration and avoid surveillance.
In 2009, I began work on The Dystopia Files, an archive of video clips depicting public interactions between police and protesters in the United States and Canada between 2000 and 2010. Typically shot on city streets during protest actions of various kinds, this footage portrays scenes of public conflict that are by turns familiar and shocking. I shot some of the material myself; the rest was recorded by activists, observers, police, journalists, and other artists.
In the course of assembling this archive, I attended many protests and spoke with activists, civil-rights attorneys, scholars, and journalists. I also spent dozens of hours watching videos. I was fascinated by the storm-trooper gear, weaponry, and choreographed movements of the police, as well as the costumes, signage, chants, and gestures of the activists. The performance studies scholar Baz Kershaw has argued that protest became increasingly theatrical in the decades following 1968, due in part to the ways in which the media frame politics as performance ("Fighting in the Streets: Dramaturgies of Popular Protest, 1968-1989." New Theatre Quarterly 13 : 255-276). I realized that the footage I had been collecting reflected not only the spectacle of protest and discipline, but also the changing relationship between protest and mediation in an era of proliferating video cameras and social media. I came to see protest as a kind of public ritual, in which activists and police play socially defined roles and perform unscripted yet predictable actions for imagined audiences (from YouTube watchers to judges) represented by video cameras.
I exhibited The Dystopia Files as an interactive installation at the 2010 DeCordova Biennial at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. I projected clips from the archive onto a frosted glass door that led to a small gallery space. The space was rigged with a system of sensors and switches that controlled the projection and the gallery lights. When a visitor opened the gallery door (onto which the video was projected), the projection stopped and the gallery lights turned on. The gallery was empty except for a set of locked flat files, the drawers of which were labeled with the names of protest groups and political art collectives currently active in North America, ranging from the relatively familiar (Code Pink, The Yes Men) to the obscure (Shadowy Revolutionary Cell, Zombie Flash Mob). The projection remained off, and the lights remained on, as long as the room was occupied.
The installation functioned as an inverted camera obscura, selectively revealing and concealing the contents of the archive. The archival video could only be seen from outside the gallery, where, because of the vertical proportions of the door, large parts of the video frame were obscured. When a viewer attempted to enter the archive, the system of surveillance and control responded by extinguishing the spectacle of conflict. The installation's operations mirrored the interplay of exposure and occlusion that has characterized the visual representation of protest in recent years: each group plays its part, rendering itself visible before the eyes of ubiquitous video cameras. But, because the video captured by each party serves an evidentiary function in legal skirmishes and public relations campaigns, it is carefully guarded, and released only under specific conditions of display. The few clips that find their way into public view, such as the widely circulated video of protesters burning police cars at the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto, tend to be presented with little context, as transparent signifiers that speak for themselves. My installation rehearsed this decontextualization by displaying what activists sometimes call "protest porn," without any background information, yet its interactivity suggested that state power functions as much through classification (e.g. the naming of suspects) as it does through denial of access (to images and information).
In October and November 2010, I showed The Dystopia Files at the Cinéma des Cinéastes in Paris, as part of a program organized in conjunction with the inaugural exhibition at Le Bal, a new venue for the "document-image." For these screenings, I made a 30-minute montage of clips from the archive, over which I superimposed vertical black bars of varying widths, which slowly traversed the screen. I invited Frédéric D. Oberland, a Parisian guitarist, to play a guitar solo during the screening. Standing between the audience and the screen, Oberland improvised in response to the video. His presence emphasized both the performative qualities of the actions represented on the screen and the performative nature of spectatorship. In January 2011, I invited Marcy Mays, lead guitarist of Scrawl, to play during a screening of the same video at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio.
In June 2011, I exhibited The Dystopia Files as an interactive installation at the Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic (G-MK) in Zagreb, Croatia. In this iteration of the project, I projected video from the archive onto three walls of the gallery: one showed footage shot by police, another showed video shot by observers, and the third showed video shot by protesters. I positioned the projectors at odd angles so that the images they produced had irregular shapes (two trapezoids and a hexagon) instead of the standard rectangles.
These projections were visible from outside the gallery through an exterior wall of mirrored glass. But when the gallery door was opened, the protest videos were replaced by monochromatic projections (green, blue, and red). The color fields remained visible as long as visitors were present in the gallery. When the gallery was unoccupied, or when visitors remained motionless for at least twenty seconds, the protest video returned.
As in the DeCordova installation, access to the protest video was governed by a system that sensed the spectator's presence and determined the conditions under which the video was visible. But at G-MK, visitors entered the gallery to find not locked files but fields of projected colora formalist gesture suggesting, as Herbert Marcuse argued, that even the most political art risks aestheticizing that which it aims to critique.
M.F.A., University of California, San Diego, 1994. A.B., Brown University, 1990.
Sole Honoree, 15th Anniversary Rhizome Benefit, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, NY.
2009: Artists' Fellowship, New York Foundation for the Arts
2001: Silver Award, Interactive Media Design Review, I.D. Magazine, New York, NY (for StarryNight).
2000: Honorary Mention, Prix Ars Electronica, Net Excellence Category, Linz, Austria (for Rhizome.org).
1998: Named by Silicon Alley Reporter magazine as one of New York's "Top 100 Internet Industry Executives."
1995: ArtsLink fellowship for Bad Humor, a collaborative art project in Moscow, Russia.
1990: Phi Beta Kappa, Brown University Chapter.
Board of Directors, Rhizome, New York, NY.
Honorary Board, Rhode Island Community Food Bank, Providence, RI.
2010 National Performance Network, New Orleans, LA. $2,730 for Star Spangled Cover.
2010 Experimental Television Center, Newark Valley, NY. $2,000 for The Dystopia Files.
2010 Karen T. Romer Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards, Brown University. Student research assistantship ($3,000) for The Dystopia Files.
2009 New York Foundation for the Arts, New York, NY. $7,000 fellowship.
2009 Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Studios Program, New York, NY. Two years subsidized studio space.
2009 Creative Arts Council, Brown University, Providence, RI. $3,000 for development of a new course on curating.
2008 Creative Capital, New York, NY. $50,000 for Port Huron Project.
2007 Karen T. Romer Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards, Brown University, Providence, RI. Five student research assistantships ($15,000) for Port Huron Project.
2007 Departmental Research Funds for the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, Office of the Vice President for Research, Brown University, Providence, RI. $1,974 for Port Huron Project.
2007 Digital Incubator Grant, MTVU and Cisco Systems, New York, NY. $25,000 for Osiris, a student-led digital art project.
2007 Wayland Collegium for Liberal Learning, Brown University, Providence, RI. $2,500 for development of a new course on radical media.
2006 Scholarly Technology Group, Brown University, Providence, RI. In-kind award to support Port Huron Project web site.