The New Museum is pleased to present “The Rub,” a new commission for First Look by poet Cathy Park Hong and video artist Mores McWreath.
Cathy Park Hong and Mores McWreath, “The Rub,” 2013 (screencap). Courtesy the artists
“The Rub” is an e-chapbook of GIFs and haiku that explores shame and failure in stand-up and online comedy. Poems explore the viewer’s obsession with witnessing humiliation—whether harmless bloopers, online bullying, or abject sexual humiliation. The GIF, the perfect visual effect here, freezes failure into an infinite loop and captures theorist Sianne Ngai’s concept of a “noncathartic aesthetic: art that produces and foregrounds a failure of emotional release…and does so as a kind of politics.”
Viewers are first introduced to a main page that acts like a Boschian world of GIFs. The following slideshow series, “GIF Haiku,” cobbles together allusions and direct quotes by stand-up comedians, such as Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, and George Carlin, as well as original material indirectly inspired by GIFs. The haiku appropriately captures the brevity and miniaturization of GIFs—not to mention the brevity of attention we give GIFs. In addition, the haiku’s syllable count is similar to the character count of tweets—also perfect for the short attention span. Furthermore, the haiku’s brevity coincides with stand-up comedy since humor is so much about concision and compression. At the same time, the GIF image is contained in a circular frame reminiscent of a glory hole, a navel, a punctum.
“The Rub” is also an experiment on how a book can be digitalized using animation. Oftentimes, text and moving image compete with one another and the text invariably becomes an afterthought. The GIF, since it is lo-fi, quick to load, and on a repeated loop, complements the poem without overwhelming it.
Cathy Park Hong’s first book, Translating Mo’um, was published in 2002 by Hanging Loose Press. Her second collection, Dance Dance Revolution, was chosen for the Barnard Women Poets Prize and was published in 2007 by W.W. Norton, and her third book of poems, Engine Empire, was published in May 2012 by W.W. Norton. Hong is also the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. Her poems have been published in A Public Space, Poetry, Paris Review, Conjunctions, Lana Turner, McSweeney’s, Harvard Review, Boston Review, the Nation, and other journals. She is a member of the artist/writer’s collaborative 2-UP and is an Associate Professor at Sarah Lawrence College.
Mores McWreath has had solo exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles and has been included in group exhibitions, performances, screenings, and festivals both nationally and internationally. He studied at the Cooper Union, New York, the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and the Whitney Independent Study Program, New York.