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Matt Marello
Still from The Pollock Project, with Marello as Pollock
at Pierogi

Marello as John Bonham in The Pollock Project

Marello as Bruce Lee in The Pollock Project

Matt Marello, "The Pollock Project," installation view,
with the vitrine containing paintbrushes, nunchuks and drumsticks
Roots of Spectacle
by Jill Conner

Matt Marello, "The Pollock Project," Sept. 6-Oct. 7, 2002, at Pierogi, 177 N. 9th Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211

Matt Marello, a video artist who has been showing in New York since 1996, ushered in the new art season at Pierogi in Brooklyn with a four-part video installation titled, "The Pollock Project." Perhaps better described as "The Pollock Projection," the piece takes footage of Jackson Pollock, John Bonham and Bruce Lee in action, but replaces the images of the original stars with that of Marello himself. So we see Marello as Jackson Pollock dripping paint, Marello as John Bonham performing a drum solo, and Marello as Bruce Lee spinning nunchuks from hand to hand.

Unlike the sophisticated video projections of Doug Aitken and other contemporary artists, Marello's presentation is rather bland and straightforward. Three old, portable movie screens sit in a half-circle in the center of the gallery space. Despite his obvious use of high-tech digital video techniques, Marello also embraces the code of nostalgia as part of a search for the beginning of the "spectacle" within America's mainstream media culture.

By altering the likenesses of these three superstars, Marello exposes the personal fictions that collectively manufacture 20th-century pop mythology. Pollock, Bonham and Lee are telling subjects for such an investigation -- all three met untimely deaths that truncated their careers but paradoxically seem to have bolstered their legends. Their continued presence exists only thanks to a collaborative social process of memory and longing. Lying at the intersection of myth and memory, Marello's videos reflect the projection of one's self into the spectacle of the other.

Marello himself is not part of the cult of fame, of course, so his use of his own image within these retroscopic video loops carries little meaning. The spectacle is a closed network of commonly recognizable signs and symbols of which the artist is not a part. However, his own destruction of the breathtaking thrill that underlies these celebrated, historic moments reveals how the concepts of "genius" and "legend" are both created and defined by the individual mind through the hopes, aspirations and desires that one projects upon another.

Marello's "Pollock Project" fails to carve out a real individual identity but rather hovers within the realm of narcissism. Marello as Pollock, for example, does not succeed in elevating himself to the legendary status that Pollock acquired in the wake of his death. Instead, the artist comes across much like those Elvis fans who find their own identities within the act of personifying another.

A fourth video projection appears near the floor on one wall of the gallery and depicts the repetitive motion of car headlights moving across pavement. This piece was created by Marello as he drove out to the area where Pollock ended his life in 1956. Here, Marello succeeds in demonstrating that the historical significance of specific artworks is largely contingent upon the memory of an artist's persona.

The final pun of this installation appears within a vitrine which encases the "Tools of the Artist," that were used in the creation of each video. The carved paintbrush, drumsticks, and nunchuks were made from trees that grew near the site of Pollock's fatal car crash.

Such a claim to authenticity not only appears brash but also attempts to transform these objects into contemporary relics. The obvious need to ground material objects of the present within earlier moments in history reveals the artist's attempt to own fame, even though fame as a concept is largely based upon subjective memory which is vulnerable to change. In Marello's hands, notions of "artistic genius" become nothing more than a euphemism for "artistic fiction."

JILL CONNER writes art criticism for NYArts, Sculpture and Contemporary Magazine.