In February 2001, Joey Skaggs was invited to participate in an exhibition to be mounted at the Espai D'Art Contemporani (EACC) in Castellon, Spain. The show, entitled "En el Lado de la Television" was to run from October 4 to December 1, 2002. It was intended to explore the relationships, contradictions and paradoxes between art and the mass media.
Skaggs proposed a concept dealing with terrorism, violence and the media that, even then, was considered very controversial for the museum. After September 11, they were far more cautious. But they still wanted him involved. So in February 2002 they invited him to Spain to discuss the plans.
During that visit, he convinced them to go ahead with his idea, which he adjusted slightly to address a chronic problem the museum was having in the community.
The museum, a little over three years old, was built with a marble facade. On one side there is a wide walkway that separates the museum from another building. Many people walk through here to get from one street to another. And, unfortunately, vandals have been damaging the museum by literally ripping the marble tiles from this wall.
They also have destroyed art installations placed outside. The museum security guards are unable to do anything about it because they are restricted to functioning inside and have no jurisdiction in the streets. By the time the police arrive, the vandals are gone.
Skaggs' installation consists of a video arcade game inside the museum which is wired to a surveillance camera outside (where the vandals do the damage).
On the arcade game inside, there is an animated loop of cartoon graphics of soldiers shooting at the player and inviting the player to enter his or her name (to identify the high scorers) to begin the game. The joy stick control is a 45 caliber hand gun. The number of shots fired is a measure of the player's level of aggression.
Once a name is entered, the player pushes the start button, the screen on the arcade game switches to the surveillance camera and the shooter sees live video of the outside walkway where passersby can literally be shot at.
The shooter has 45 seconds of fire power before the game ends and his or her aggression score appears. Visitors can participate, watch the shooter or watch the simultaneous projection of the surveillance video on a large screen.
The people in the street hear the gun fire played through concealed speakers. Every three minutes a loud speaker announcement repeats in several languages: "Attention, attention. You are in an Art Attack Zone. Desecrators of this building and art will be shot. Survivors will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
The City Council contributed metal police barricades which were placed along the entire length of the museum, six feet from the wall. Skaggs drew silhouettes of dead bodies in white chalk on the ground by the barricades.
While Skaggs was there, he observed groups of people coming in to shoot their friends outside. He watched the friends perform for the camera, falling down dead or wounded, and being dragged away by their comrades as others ran or ducked for cover.
All this was documented by Spanish news crews and Swedish Public Television which came to Spain to do an interview with Skaggs to air October 31 in Sweden as the first in a new series about the media.
Given the scenario with the snipers randomly shooting people in the Washington DC area, which ironically was happening when the exhibition opened, the piece became even more disturbing.
Skaggs' installation is designed to highlight many obvious and not so obvious psychological and sociological issues including:
The irony of ironies occured a week after the opening. The "Art Attack" installation was vandalized. The gun was broken and someone dismantled and stole the projector connected to the surveillance camera, effectively "blinding" the eye onto the street. The theft was witnessed by a museum employee. He ran down from the second floor balcony, chased the perpetrator for blocks and retrieved the projector. However he was jumped by several of the vandal's associates and attacked. According to the Museum's curator, he prevailed and triumphantly returned to the museum with the projector. Five days later, the piece was restored to working order. For how long, no one knows...