Josephine Meckseper

0% Down
German, born 1964

Video transferred to DVD
6 min., b&w, sound
Courtesy of Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York

Josephine Meckseper was born in 1964 in Lilienthal, Germany, and lives and works in New York City. She studied at the University of the Arts, Berlin, and received her M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia in 1992. Meckseper’s videos, photographs, and installations—which expose the conflation of politics and consumerism in mass media with biting, subversive wit—have been in solo exhibitions at the Indianapolis Museum of Art; the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston; the Migros Museum, Zurich; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Her work has also been in numerous international group exhibitions, including those at the Whitney Biennial (2006 and 2010), Prospect.1 New Orleans, and “USA TODAY: New American Art from The Saatchi Gallery.”

As a student in Los Angeles during the early 1990s, Meckseper found inspiration in revolutionary political practices, such as those of the Situationists and the Angry Brigade. She collaborated with students in provocative actions and projects that aimed to break down the barriers between art and life and intensify an already explosive environment heralded by the Rodney King incident in 1992. Since then, her art has reflected upon the collective unconscious of the contemporary United States. She utilizes commonly seen, readily available objects and imagery to capture a sense of the present. As Meckseper chronicles our contemporary reality, however, she also subverts it by featuring the commercial and political mechanisms that bring these materials into our daily lives. The strategic practices of advertising are a primary target, as they reveal links between American politics and its culture of consumption. Meckseper thus highlights the paradoxical ways in which political power and cultural information are articulated.

Meckseper’s works tend to possess a cool, neutral quality that was perhaps formed through her past employment as a photojournalist for the German media. Rather than aestheticizing politics or passing judgment on cultural values, she displays objects that matter-of-factly represent themselves. Her signature vitrines replicate museum and department store display cases, into which she inserts banal objects, such as lamps, plungers, hosiery, underwear, and soda cans. Detached from their normal functions, the commodities signify their underlying associations with politics, class, and sexuality. Meckseper also places such objects behind cracked mirrors that function as symbols of protest and visualize the moments in which demonstrators would attack them. Describing her work in 2008, she explained, the display cases are “targets for potential violence… [that] exist in anticipation of their own destruction.”

Her parodic high-octane video 0% Down (2008) also engages the politics of consumerism that undeniably extend to the automotive industry. Meckseper edited the most militaristic and aggressive sequences of campaigns produced by various manufacturers—including Ford, Saab, Mazda, Toyota, Mercedes, and Chevrolet—into a six-minute, black-and-white montage. Boyd Rice’s industrial noise anthem “Total War” accompanies the imagery. As a male voice shouts, “Do you want? Yes you want…Total War!” seemingly indestructible cars are glorified in implausible scenarios. A military aircraft morphs into an SUV, a truck drives through swinging metal beams in a rock quarry, and a sedan plays chicken with a fighter jet. While similar types of commercials run daily on American television sets, when grouped together in 0% Down, they appear absurd.

As a further challenge to normalized ways of seeing, the video also illuminates the darker political aggressions that lie just beneath the slick surfaces of the vehicles. Meckseper’s montage affirms what Saab’s “Born from Jets” campaign boldly asserts—that these commercials demonstrate a clear link between the manufacture of cars and wars dependent on oil. By infusing their commercials with militaristic elements, Saab and other companies appear to be selling more than trucks and SUVs. In addition to powerfully portrayed automobiles, American consumers can buy into a (false) sense of patriotism and a lifestyle that supports unseen, politically sanctioned violence in the Middle East. In light of this correlation, 0% Down satirically reframes the bravado and propaganda of these advertisements to reveal their corrupt and concealed interests. —Kanitra Fletcher