PREVIEW The public furor set off last November by the imminent publication of onetime football star and Avis flunky O.J. Simpson's now-quashed book, If I Did It, on the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson, and Ron Goldman, demonstrates how pivotal the 1995 Simpson trial was to so many, just as Newsweek's recent publication of details from a key chapter shows how much it continues to compel and how tender the wounds remain on this country's notions of race, justice, media, and celebrity. To many TV viewers overseas, the trial might have merely summed up the insanity of stateside news priorities when the World Cup telecast was interrupted for the Simpson Bronco chase, but for Kota Ezawa, who had just transferred from the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf to the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) at the time of the trial, it was ripe, rich stuff.
The televised Simpson verdict announcement documented in the snippet Ezawa reworked for his brilliant 2002 short animation The Simpson Verdict, now showing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City "was really a shock to everybody, but a very different kind of shock," Ezawa said. "It was a real kind of shock and a very strange shock because it wasn't a bomb hitting the ground! It was just a court official saying two words, 'Not guilty,' and it was enough to send really huge seismic waves through the entire nation. That I find interesting that it was so psychological, a psychological event."
Sitting at a work table scattered with paper collage scraps of fallen soldiers intended for his 2006 "The History of Photography Remix" project in a spare, white one-room studio at the corner of 16th and Mission streets, the soft-spoken, even-tempered Cologne, Germany, native in a brown hoodie seems like the last person who'd gravitate toward incendiary subject matter such as the Simpson trial. Or the assassinations of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, which are paired in his 2005 animated short The Unbearable Lightness of Being. From the aforementioned pieces to 2003's Who's Afraid of Black, White and Grey, Ezawa's work boils history-making spectacle down to ultraflat pop shapes and hues adding another layer of commentary to the race cards dealt in The Simpson Verdict. Though Ezawa's works mimic the primitive, jerky moves of South Park, they rarely make light of history's dark corners rather they are minimalist meditations on memorable images, sampling, quoting, recropping, and editing visual pop ephemera and masterworks culled from our collective memory's moving-image files.
And Ezawa's reenvisionings, or remixes, have found a growing audience, eliciting an enthusiastic review in the New York Times for his current exhibition at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn. SF Cameraworks recently feted the new Nazraeli Press volume compiling Ezawa's "The History of Photography Remix" works, and this week the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art includes the artist in its biannual Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA) Art Award Exhibition.
"We were all enormously impressed by his practice its clarity and range, the distinctness of his vision," SFMOMA painting and sculpture curator Janet Bishop wrote in an e-mail. "He was a top contender from the start of the award process." As a SECA award recipient, Ezawa will show parts of "The History of Photography Remix" as well as a two-screen animation, Stereo Stolen Honeymoon, which he described as a trailer for a longer adaptation of the purloined Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee wedding and honeymoon video, which the Guggenheim Museum is in talks to show.
"The Anderson-Lee tape is really most striking for how mundane it is," Bishop continued.