Max Almy

Platitudinous characterizations of the partner – one-dimensional descriptions of an ideal type – »You can do it… don’t give up, …. You’ll make it …« Since the 1970s, Max Almy has grappled critically and experimentally in the medium of video with the present-day, with problems of everyday life, and with the media.

Max Almy was born in 1948 in Oakland/California. She graduated from the University of Nebraska, and did her master’s at the California College of Arts and Crafts. Various fellowships took her for example to the Independent Filmmakers’ Program at the American Film Institute in 1984, in 1985 she was Artist-in-Residence at the West Coast University, in 1986 at the ORF-Landesstudio in Upper Austria. She had teaching posts at the School of Film and Television and the University of California.

Since the 1970s, Max Almy has grappled critically and experimentally in the medium of video with the present-day, with problems of everyday life, and with the media. She uses video works to document her own performances, installations and exhibitions. Almy has developed a pictorial language of her own, which feeds from various media, combining live-video actions, digital video effects, computer graphics, and animation (see Almy, Ars Electronica, 1986). For one of the early videos in 1977, Almy used four monitors, deployed in pictorial fashion, to represent narrative series. The tape I Love You (1976), which builds on this, assembles the TV screens into a pictorial configuration. Here the close-up picture of a mouth, which spreads the details of a love affair in cliché-like fashion, is confronted with the grey »noise« on the other screens, in order, eventually, to be configured in a complex four-part picture-and-sound ensemble of mouths speaking out of synch.

With the subsequent video works Almy stuck to her themes of social phenomena, political and economic contexts. She uses mass-media verbal and pictorial clichés for her critical questioning of advertising and television techniques. The picture and sound of the videos document, with close co-ordination of synchronicity and non-synchronicity, stereotypical everyday verbal and metaphorical communication. Time and again, the point of attack is language itself, but also the image of the mouth, which, in Almy’s works, is constantly used as a symbol of empty communication and information as fed by the mass-media (Deadline, 1980). Platitudinous characterizations of the partner – one-dimensional descriptions of an ideal type – ›You can do it… don’t give up… You’ll make it …‹, which Almy unmasks as an omnipresent formula, with which American society reassures itself of its (not only sporting) potential (Deadline, 1980), are important building blocks of her media-critical, linguistic-pictorial approach.

Thus Almy’s visions of the end of the twentieth century come across as prospects of television-dominated pictures and language that are transferred unfiltered directly into people’s heads (Leaving the 20th Century, 1982). This work, which is supported by a synthesizer stereo score, already makes use of computer graphics, digital video effects and complex voice-processing. The new computer aesthetic gains a foothold in Almy’s video-transmitted pictorial concepts and displays new technical and media variants of manipulation (Perfect Leader, 1983).

Since the late 1980s, narrative picture and sound sequences have been gaining in importance in Almy’s videos. The sometimes absurdly comical sequences of scenes make use once again of the stock pictures of commercial TV productions. Popular-science broadcasts or commercials depending on the media presence of a presenter and the engaging eloquence of a presenter or participant determine the narrative and now longer format of the works (The Thinker, 1989). In the video works of the 1990s, the use of computer animations and what appear to be menu contexts supports the impression of apparent interactivity and the ability to influence the simplest decision and selection criteria. Here we have a documentation of the simplicity and concreteness, questioned by Almy, of information and communication services disseminated by the mass media, which now manifests itself in the flood of digital images, the lining up of linguistic formulae and the actual loss of any scope for influence on the part of the user/viewer (Utopia, 1994) – it is all ›lost in the pictures‹.

Almy’s videos themselves were quickly disseminated via television and festivals, for example in the context of Ars Electronica or the Bonn Videonale. Exhibitions also featured Almy’s works, for example in 1977 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and in 1982 at the Longbeach Museum of Art. She has maintained a constant presence in the international exhibitions business ever since (e.g. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Kunsthaus, Zurich).

Max Almy lives and works in Los Angeles.

Selected Literature

Video drive-in: Max Almy, Michael Smith, Bill Viola et al. 3 programes de vídeo Americà: Cat. Ivam Centre Julio Gonzalez, ed. by K. Horsfield and C.A. Klonarides, Valencia 1989

Difference. On representation and sexuality. Max Almy, Ray Barrie et al.: exhib. cat. The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, ed. by Kate Linker, New York 1984

Andere Avantgarde: exhib. cat. Brucknerhaus Linz, ed. by. Linzer Veranstaltungsges., Linz 1983

Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014 Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen

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