Focus Group, 2007
dry-erase board on easel and single-channel video
3:58 video loop
by Edwin Stirman
Jill Pangallo's performances over the last few years have given rise to a number of characters in her oeuvre. Her body of work consists of developing a character type and then realizing the presentation and exhibition of the piece through footage, photos, and/or other multi-media. These characters and performances have developed over time to allow Pangallo to embody the banal realities of persons from a variety of stereotypical backgrounds. In this situation I have looked beyond the pieces, My Twin (2007) and Focus Group (2007), in this exhibition. Instead I have focused on lesser known works that exist in the larger world of the internet.
One of Pangallo's most telling performances was delivered in 2006. Her "Some Lady…" series utilizes the highly ubiquitous website YouTube.com as the stage for a series of performances of anonymous women doing a variety of banal and poorly executed tasks such as "Some Lady Kickboxing," "Some Lady Dancing," and "Some Lady Tricking." These works are continuously accessible, and some have garnished public commentary ranging from the extremely vitriolic to 'getting' the inside joke of the performance. One aspect that distinguishes this piece is how it does, or does not fit, within the gallery because it is designed as a popular experience on the internet. Regardless of the debate, these pieces are incorporated into the mainstream allowing her as an artist to see a type of public reaction most artists never get to experience directly. This question of an audience 'getting it' led me to question how humor is so important in appreciating Pangallo's performances.
Trying to define Pangallo's humor is a very slippery thing.(1) A comedian has a sense of logic and timing that cuts in between common sense and candidly jars the logic. Comedy, in order to expose something from the undercurrent of meaning, reveals an underlying message. The delivery can be sensitive or acerbic. Pangallo has previously stated that she is sensitive to other people that become involved in her public performances. She is not trying to implicate anyone specifically through her performances, like in social commentary or satire. Instead, Pangallo sincerely tries, through the mundane aspects of her characters, to reveal the banal as something inherently ridiculous.
Historically, her work stems from a number of predecessors that looked at comedy to expose a slightly uncomfortable reality. Andy Kaufman blatantly penetrated comedy and performance art to hone in on social psychology. Being an unwilling participant to an Andy Kaufman performance must have been an alarming situation for those people unfamiliar with his work. One character Kaufman invented was a wrestler of women; he literally wrestled women and would not back down. Laurie Anderson, in her Stories From the Nerve Bible, recounts her participation in one of Kaufman's wrestler performances; she helped kick-start the audience's heckling. The joke was a twist, since the performance was intended to cull an uproarious audience reaction rather than produce a laugh. Pangallo has actively rejected implicating unknown audience members in her films. However, ironically, her films work in rather the same way. In the gallery these pieces can read rather quickly as satire, but in the larger world at hand it takes a lot more to process the fact that the joke might be on you.
(1) Julia Louis Dreyfus, from an interview on Inside the Actor's Studio, said that a comic needs to have an innate ability for comedy much to the same effect as it is essential for a musician to have a musical ear for timing and pitch.