EPISODE: "Power"

The artists in “Power” challenge authority, oppression, and control. Each artist humanizes difficult issues by acting as a witness to violence, working to heal communities, or achieving a balance between constructive and destructive energies. Introduced by actor and comedian, David Alan Grier, “Power” is shot on location in New York, New York; Washington, D.C.; São Paolo, Brazil; North Adams, Massachusetts; Williamstown, Massachusetts; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Boston, Massachusetts; Hiroshima, Japan; Tijuana, Mexico; and Austin, Texas.

My work is sometimes like the poppy flower. It has this almost romantic side, but yet it also represents a poison,” says Cai Guo-Qiang, who harnesses the explosive power of gunpowder to create epic works that are born in violent on-site acts of performance. For his show "Inopportune" at MASS MoCA, Cai explores catastrophe, pain and the meaning of terrorism in the world since September 11th with an installation of tumbling cars that follow a path through the air. In neighboring galleries, a video imagines a car bomb in Times Square and a series of stuffed tigers pierced by arrows elicits a disturbing, visceral reaction. “Behind all this is a very earnest and frank look at our society today,” says Cai.

Working in extremely detailed paintings that take months to create, Laylah Ali combines cartoon and folkloric aesthetics to explore notions of ethnicity and social violence. “I think when people say violence, oftentimes, we think of the violent act,” says Ali. “I’m more interested in what happens before and after.” In her studio, Ali demonstrates the tricky process of working with gouache on paper and speculates that the physiological effects of color and light on the eye may have real social effects. “Could racism be just attributed to bizarre visual phenomenon? There’s a question.” Control, a theme in much of Ali’s work, also informs her own creative process. She admits, “So much of the work is about me trying to control it...and yet it still defies me.”

Through grand scale audio-video projects in public spaces, Krzysztof Wodiczko transforms national monuments and architectural façades into “bodies” as he collaborates with communities to get people to “break the code of silence, to open up and speak about what’s unspeakable.” Born of a Jewish mother who escaped the ghetto in World War II Poland, Wodiczko has been deeply affected by the devastation of war and violence all his life. In Hiroshima, he works with tearful survivors of the atomic bomb, helping them “to open up and share with the world what is so painful” through a commemorative projection. In Tijuana, he projects the faces of women onto the spherical façade of the city’s cultural center as they tell detailed stories of being abused.

True to her fiercely independent spirit, Ida Applebroog invented her own last name. In similar fashion, her diverse body of work defies labels, spanning a dizzying array of media including drawings, paintings, books, photographs, sculptures, and installations. The constant that emerges is a trenchant social commentary expressed through images culled from mass media. “It’s hard to say what your work is about” she says, “but for me, it’s about how power works: male over female, parents over children, governments over people, doctors over patients.” Her work skews ordinary images into anxious scenarios infused with irony and black humor. Once “computer illiterate,” Applebroog recently decided to embrace technology and now creates enormous photographic prints.

Each episode for Season Three concludes with an original work of video art by the artists Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler. Known for their haunting video projections, Hubbard and Birchler’s work alters temporal, cinematic and architectural expectations of the viewer through the use of looping narratives. For Art in the Twenty-First Century, their first commission for television, they have created a series of beautiful and enigmatic short films. Each film uses the same setting—the interior of a police car at night—and begins when one officer brings a cup of coffee for another. Using recurring and non-recurring characters, interrelated dialogue, and ambient sound, the suite of films evoke not only the Season Three themes of Power, Memory, Structures and Play, but also sleep, dreams and longing.