In his new exhibition at Foxy Production, Michael Bell-Smith explores the ways in which the anything-goes-free-speech-zone of the internet can result in chaotic misinformation and mindless call-and-response.
The exhibition takes its title from the classic Looney Tunes short, Rabbit Season, Duck Season. Elmer Fudd is “hunting wabbits,” because it’s rabbit season. Daffy Duck is hanging around, feeling safe because it’s not hunting season for ducks, but wily Bugs Bunny decides to confuse Fudd by yelling, “Duck Season.” Daffy then jumps in and yells, “Rabbit Season!” Each time, Fudd points his barrel away from the character proclaiming the new hunting season, but Bugs turns the tables and yells, “Rabbit Season!,” confusing Daffy into saying the wrong thing and getting his face blown off.
Bell-Smith seems to be indicating that a similar fate could be on the horizon for our society. In the back of the gallery, he installed a video re-interpretation of the Looney Tunes bit that morphs from animated Chuck Jones-esque landscapes to a ping-ponging Newton’s Cradle. Each time a bouncing ball hits the three in the center, a subtitle says either “Marco” or “Polo,” until they are mixed up and rearranged.
The call-and-response confusion is echoed in the main gallery where Bell-Smith has hung colorful abstracts and acrylic pieces that resemble web pages. The same quote is written on each piece: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” Each time the quote appears, it’s attributed to a different famous person — just like all of those quotes your aunt emails you, or your friends post on Facebook.
Bell-Smith’s work recalls the collaboration between Edward Marshall Shenk and Brad Troemel in which they remix conspiracy theory memes until they’re complete nonsense. Shenk and Troemel make connections using the common conspiracy meme aesthetic — a black background, poorly edited photos of political figures, bad fonts, and red arrows — but they render the connections meaningless. The hilarious part of the project is that right-wing nuts started posting them on websites and Tumblrs, taking them seriously. The theories proposed are so insane, one assumes these conspiracy people just see a certain format with a picture of Obama beside Osama and they reflexively click share.
Both Bell-Smith’s series and the conspiracy series tell us that our new “informed” public consists of rapid fire assumptions, re-blogs, misquotes and error. The question that is put to the audience is, ‘are you already a member of this club that you would never wittingly join?’