The 2004-05 Season at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco has proven to be an intriguing one. The center has featured programs supporting outsider art and street culture, Chicano/Latino art, form and architecture and art and politics. This past Friday, my friend Vani graciously offered me the opportunity to attend DJ Spooky’s "Rebirth of a Nation," which was originally commissioned by The Lincoln Center Festival and has been performed in Paris and Vienna in addition to various performances in the U.S. NPR did a piece on "Rebirth" last October.
Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid is a NY-based musician, conceptual artist, and writer. As a musician, Miller has collaborated with diverse and reknowned musicians and composers, including Ryuichi Sakamoto, Iannis Xenakis, Pierre Boulez, Steve Reich, Chuck D.,Yoko Ono, Kool Keith/Dr. Octagon, the Wu-Tang’s Killa Priest, and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. As a media artist, Miller’s work as appeared at the Whitney Biennial, The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany to name a few. Miller’s well received first collection of essays was published a year ago. In other words, Miller has a pedigree.
I mention it as a backdrop to the sound and image blitzkrieg that is "Rebirth of a Nation," a multimedia piece in which the artist has manipulated the racial and political images of D. W. Griffith’s silent film The Birth of a Nation, turning it into a reflection of the United States in the early 21st Century. Contrasted against the United States of 1912, when Birth of a Nation was made, it isn’t unsurprising that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Miller addressed the audience briefly before unleashing his work on us, and his comments helped fill some of the gaps that emerged during the performance. When Miller began cutting and splicing Griffith’s film, the news of today "dominated by broken treaties, ethnic oppression, raw power grabs, and security threats," was on his mind. In the program notes he writes, “What Griffith did with cinema was create a context of mythic propositions—of a nation occupied by foreign troops, of laws imposed without concern for the populace, of exploitation and political corruption…. I invoke a parallel world where Griffith’s film acts like a crucible for a vision of a different America…. The past is prologue.”