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Satellite Space's Video Art Panopticon

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Tucked away in a nondescript strip mall on a back street in Santa Monica, there is an office space that quietly houses an Internet service provider to Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. Pass through the unmarked front doors and you'll find yourself first in an innocuous waiting room, and next in a darkened chamber reminiscent of a scene out of "2001: A Space Odyssey." There's a conference table surrounded by springy swivel chairs, and beyond that, a huge bank of work stations and large video monitors. The monitors track the state of the company's wireless and satellite networks and also show what the weather is like in regions where the company does business. Welcome to TigrisNet.

It is in this highly unlikely location that artist Natalie Labriola, daughter of TigrisNet's CEO, hit upon the idea to open a temporary exhibition platform called Satellite Space. Consisting primarily of weekend evening events that take place when no one is working in the office, Satellite Space utilizes the awkward specificity of the place to put on an intriguing mix of video art showcases, film screenings, performances, lectures and other happenings. Labriola envisioned it as an opportunity for her and other artists to engage with a more theatrical environment that is the exact opposite of the typical white cube gallery space.

"While clean, white-walled galleries serve an important purpose, I think as an artist sometimes I felt frustrated by these fetishistic images of floating, de-contextualized artworks constantly circulating the web," Labriola reflected in a recent series of phone and email interviews. "I was drawn to the idea of having a space that would provide almost an excess of context, as a challenge but hopefully also an inspiration for artists to engage with."

The show "Breached Contact," which took place in November 2012, was a nuanced meditation on "the nature of command centers and the production of personal fantasy that emerges from the structures that contain and control access to information." Writer and professor Jason Brown, who is known for his cybernetics lectures, presented a talk that focused on Santa Monica's role in the creation of the Internet, cold war architectures and the history of command centers as portrayed on film. On the video monitors, Labriola showed a selection of photographs from Luis Gispert's decepción series, which blended shots of custom car interiors with sweeping views of exotic landscapes, evoking a personal fantasy world of total control.

"Breached Contact" also included an iteration of Berlin artist Aram Bartholl's "Dead Drops" project, which installs USB drives into walls in public areas, allowing anyone to upload or download content. "Dead Drops" is an open project that provides detailed instructions for anyone who wants to participate. Labriola decided to load a set of "unofficial company photos" -- showing TigrisNet employees installing equipment, taking meal breaks, traveling to remote locations, striking funny poses, etc. -- onto a USB drive that she then cemented into the wall outside of the office. The same photos also became a permanent scrolling image display in TigrisNet's waiting room.

Another memorable Satellite Space event was a night of video art screenings cleverly titled "AME/ALE/PLE/PME," after the scientific abbreviations identifying the multiple eyes of insects (i.e. AME = anterior median, ALE = anterior lateral, etc.). Video works by six artists were screened on several monitors simultaneously, conjuring something of a bug-eyed viewing effect, even as other monitors in the space were tuned to international news channels. This embedded, multi-channel viewing experience beautifully showed off some of the more formal work by Jon Rafman, Oliver Laric and Lindsay Lawson. Cheekier contributions from Roxy Farhat, whose 10_18_2011 (2011) shared an awkward text exchange with a lover, and Chris Coy, who hilariously detailed a craigslist transaction with "SELLING PICTURE OF BRITNEY SPEARS - $150 (CANOGA PARK) (2010)," used TigrisNet's absurdly hyper-mediated environment to excellent comic effect. J. Patrick Walsh III contributed "Coexist Bitch (Corporate Version) (2012)," a series of hostile New Age logos that were shown on one desktop screen, like workspace screensavers.

Satellite Space - Kate Berlant/Natalie Labriola -

More recently, Labriola collaborated with her childhood friend, the New York-based comedian and performance artist Kate Berlant, to create the satirical video "Satellite Space," now featured on YouTube's MOCAtv channel as part of their Art + Comedy series. The video makes beautiful use of Satellite Space's panopticon-like setting to create a surreal, dream-like meditation on identity and personal satisfaction. Berlant plays a yoga ball saleswoman who continually tries to convince herself of her own happiness, only to be told otherwise by her own online avatar. As she talks and then launches into a dance number, Labriola's off-kilter graphic collages populate the video monitors, recalling the soullessness of corporate screensavers and acting as a reflection of the Berlant character's failure of imagination.

Due to Labriola's other commitments, Satellite Space's programming tends to be occasional. There will be another video screening soon, to be curated by artists Skye Chamberlain and Cooper Jacoby, then the space will go on hiatus for the summer while Labriola is away at school. In the fall, there are tentative plans for a month-long residency by a German artist, who is interested in using it as a performance laboratory and eventual stage for her students.

To stay abreast of happenings, visit the website, where you can ask to be put on the Satellite Space mailing list.

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