Half way through Rod Dickinson’s 45-minute video installation ‘Who, What, Where, When, Why and How’ one becomes unsure as to whether or not individual elements are being repeated or whether in fact one’s heard it all before. Both are true. Written in collaboration with Steve Rushton, Dickinson’s work is constructed in the form of a two-handed, televised press briefing, presented by two middle-aged men, one in civilian and one in military dress.
Their statement, made in appropriately solemn tones, emphasises the necessity for both aggressive action and the need to protect peace and freedom, and often the former is used as a justification to protect the latter. The dialogue flows fairly seamlessly, but the words are, in fact, a cut and paste of short paragraphs of actual presidential and press speeches from the 1950s onwards, from among others, Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, Ariel Sharon and Ratko Mladic. We know this from the two synced autocues, also present as part of the installation, which annotate the speaker and date of each excerpt. All that has been removed are too-specific references to the individual events, hence the title of the work.
The structure of this piece may not be revelatory in our PR-savvy age, but Dickinson highlights not only the ease with which the media event has now become the source of information, rather than the reporting of it (described by Rushton as the ‘feedback loop’), but the ease with which something can seem to make sense, even when it’s really saying nothing at all.