Over the last four decades, Dara Birnbaum (American, b. 1946) has created a vital body of video art. Her earlier work adopted the images and sounds of television, only to reconfigure them—or, in the artist’s words, “to manipulate a medium which is itself highly manipulative.”
Birnbaum’s pioneering and influential earlier videos dissect the values and ideals embedded in television often regarding gender representation. In Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman Birnbaum excerpts and repeats, over and over, the instant when secretary Diana Prince becomes the superhero Wonder Woman. By isolating this moment from the greater narrative— and multiplying the number of spins Wonder Woman performs—Birnbaum calls attention to the cultural cues associated with this iconic transformation. Through Wonder Woman’s emergence, Birnbaum invites viewers to consider more broadly the ways in which mass media representations of female power engage gender and sexual stereotypes.
MTV: Artbreak, which originally aired on the eponymous television network, continues Birnbaum’s critique of visual representations of women, this time through a witty and subversive history of animation that depicts an alternate transformation: at the start of the 30-second segment women are rendered only as cel animation outlined drawings from different decades; by the end they are the designated producers of images.