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Tana Hargest: Bitter Nigger Broadcast Network (2002), Ronald Feldman Gallery

This essay is still in-progress. Please email me your suggestions!

Gallery-based art rarely makes me laugh out loud. Hell, much as I love it, any art rarely makes me laugh out loud. Tana Hargest's web/software piece BNBN (Bitter Nigger Broadcast Network) (2002) is bitter indeed, but it's wrapped in so much airy wit that I couldn't help laughing... multiple times. What nerve!

I actually came across this piece two years ago at the MIT Media Lab exhibit Race In Digital Space , but I got sucked into another software work, Keith Piper's oddly mesmerizing TRANSFORMER: Tracing the Automaton's Bloodline (2001). But a few days ago, when I visited the AmeriŠan Dre@am survey exhibit at the Ronald Feldman gallery, there was Hargest's piece, set up to demand any visitor's attention: running on one of those attractive new Emacs, set against a display of "medical" packages that the Bitter Nigger pharmeceutical network advertises: a melotonin cream designed to make insults and injury slide off black skin, a pill designed to increase young black complacency. All these products, as well as the Bitter Nigger software itself, are design with vivid colors that cheerfully offset BNBN's underlying commentary against racism, corporations, and media.

One of my favorite parts of the BNBN was "Bring Your White Friend," set up to look like a romp through Candyland, that ubiquitous childhood boardgame. But it's really not a game at all: when I chose to be the "colored" playing piece, I was pretty much dragged through several mundane scenarios (renting and apartment, going to the store) where I was urged to "bring my white friend." My "white friend" (a peach-colored playing piece) always refused to come with me, saying things like, "Why do you always need me to come with you? Why Why Why?" And I always got stuck going by myself, forfeiting to implicit racism. For instance, when I went to rent an apartment, the landlord says, "Oh... we thought you'd be someone... older."

In most cases, art that so baldly lambasts the ugly side of American society gets on my nerves-- I often wonder why the artist uses such a heavy hand to target such a well-trod subject. But Hargest's effectiveness lies in her light yet thorough touch (her artist's statement is a 'shareholders message!') and her ability to easily imitate the media she's satirizing.

Related Links:
AmeriŠan Dre@m at Ronald Feldman. http://www.feldmangallery.com/pages/home_frame.html
Race in Digital Space CD Roms. http://cms.mit.edu/race/cdrom.html

KAON NA @arlduc.org > WORD