On the screen of a mid-seventies TV set in the Triple Candie gallery on 126th Street, an actor stands before a stained-glass rose window, bellowing. “Television is not the truth!” he screams. “It’s a goddamned amusement park!” It’s part of Network: A Remix, in a scene that anyone familiar with Network, the 1976 Sidney Lumet film about corporate media and its corruption, will recognize; here, though, the man at the lectern is not Peter Finch’s angry old anchor but a young black actor who calls himself freedome bradley. The rest of the installation is similarly informed by Lumet’s film: The stage set from which bradley delivers his rants stands in the gallery, available to viewers who want a peek behind the scenes. (In a recursive turn, the exhibit was funded by CBS’s Ed Bradley—no relation to the actor.) And, most prominent of all, a 20-by-40-foot sand painting in the form of an Islamic prayer rug (pictured) covers the main floor space.
“The media has been forced to pay more attention to places like Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia,” says the artist, Sanford Biggers. “But usually those images are negative and used to raise fear. I wanted to present something that looks to the beauty of the culture. The aspects we don’t get to see on television.” So why filter that through a movie about corporate media? “Network dealt with media as God,” says Biggers, noting the film’s underlying theme of newsman-as-prophet. “This was before reality TV—now experiences are becoming harder to have because everything is fed to you by television. People can sit at home and watch other people’s lives. Even though we know it’s somewhat scripted, we still look and call it reality.” The Middle East’s media image, in particular, inspired the mandala-like floor painting, which required about 900 pounds of colored sand and endless patience on the part of Biggers and his assistants. “The sets represent that the world we see onscreen is fake—two-by-fours and Masonite,” says the artist. “The prayer rug is more about being engaged in a communal process. It’s intensive labor, but once you get into it, it’s like meditation. You’re out of yourself. Prayer is the truth,” then after a pause, he adds, “for some people.”