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CNN Concatenated 2002 is a single channel colour video lasting approximately eighteen minutes and composed entirely of excerpts from the American television news channel CNN. Displayed on a monitor, the work incorporates footage of news anchors, guest commentators, reporters on location and weather forecasters. The extracts are edited so that each presenter speaks only a single word, but collectively their words form seven monologues of varying lengths that are suggestive of emotive personal conversations rather than conventional news broadcasts. These monologues appear to be directly addressed to the viewer (‘I need your attention. I need to know I’m being listened to’) and often imply a satirical critique of television news (‘You recycle anything older than a day. Anything that carries a history is dangerous’). The montage moves at a rapid pace, but also includes short pauses and intakes of breath by the presenters. At the bottom of the screen CNN’s logo and the changing news headlines flash past. Tate’s copy of CNN Concatenated is the artist’s proof, which was produced alongside an edition of five.
CNN Concatenated was completed in Berlin, where the Israeli American artist Omer Fast moved from New York in September 2001 and where he continues to live and work. To make the video the artist recorded hundreds of hours of CNN footage broadcast during 2001 and 2002, which was then catalogued by a computer according to content to form a database containing ten thousand individual words. Using this database, Fast assembled the presenters’ words into a sequence of monologues, a process referenced in the work’s title, as the word ‘concatenate’ means to link different elements into a chain or series. CNN Concatenated was exhibited as part of Fast’s first solo exhibition, which was held at gb agency in Paris in 2002.
By taking the words of television presenters out of their original context in order to create new narratives, Fast’s film can be seen as a comment on the way in which news programmes manipulate footage to generate emotional reactions from viewers. The rapid succession of images assembled by the artist also parodies the non-stop nature of twenty-four-hour news channels and the urgency with which stories are presented. The notions of attention and distraction that the work raises may also be seen in the context of Fast’s own practice as a video artist. As he remarked in a 2012 interview,
The space where artists show involves a degree of mobility and freedom that does not exist, for example, in a cinema, at least not according to conventional decorum. This presents a challenge for an artist who works with narrative. Do you make a linear work that has a beginning and end? What happens when somebody comes in two minutes before the credits roll? For me, the prime imperative is to try to capture people and keep them there.
(WexBlog 2012, accessed 2 December 2014.)
The monologues in CNN Concatenated also maintain absurd or comic overtones, as the curator and critic Mark Godfrey has observed: ‘As well as being incisive, the work is also very funny: the slick and slimy anchors are made to utter sentiments quite beyond their sensibilities but appear absolutely unruffled, their manicures and fake tans always immaculate’ (Godfrey 2006, p.132). The personal tone of the monologues seems to mock the false intimacy offered by many television presenters, with lines often suggestive of a romantic attachment between the reporters and the audience: ‘I love you. I miss you. Even though we hardly spend any time away from each other’.
Fast’s video can be viewed in the context of debates surrounding terrorism and security in the United States that emerged following the attacks of 11 September 2001. While the monologues in CNN Concatenated often touch on issues of personal anxiety (‘Look, I know that you’re scared. I know what you’re afraid of’), the headlines running along the bottom of the screen frequently refer to news stories about terrorist plots and the US military’s actions in Afghanistan. Fast’s combination of these elements seems to point to the media’s role in creating public fear.
This work can be considered within the broader history of artists responding to the form and content of television programmes. Godfrey has compared it to Television Delivers People 1973, a video by the American artist Richard Serra featuring a scrolling list of statements concerning television’s ability to manipulate its audience, set to a soundtrack of banal music (Godfrey 2006, p.131). The video montage techniques employed by Fast are also a central feature of the work of other contemporary artists such as Christian Marclay (see, for example, Video Quartet 2002, Tate T11818).
Stefano Basilico, Cut: Film as Found Object in Contemporary Video, exhibition catalogue, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee 2004, pp.34–5, 60–5.
Mark Godfrey, ‘Making History’, Frieze, no.97, March 2006, pp.130–3.
‘Omer Fast and Kris Paulsen: A Conversation’, WexBlog, Wexner Center for the Arts, 10 July 2012, http://wexarts.org/blog/omer-fast-and-kris-paulsen-conversation, accessed 2 December 2014.
Supported by Christie’s.