Ben Coonley is a sharp and very funny fellow. His Remapping the Apparatus lecture was hilarious and a great critique on corporate/academic speak as manifested through Powerpoint templates. I particularly enjoyed his developed sense of word puns, one of which included his cat Otto, who is also Coonley's Tech Support Guru, demonstrating his Ottomatic Powerpoint templates as a helpful tool for more powerful and effective communication.
Needless to say, the lecture went gloriously askew, even getting a bit raunchy with boob bouncing and butt flexing gif animations. But mixed within the laughter came Otto's life story, which I found to be surprisingly affecting and a wonderful extension of the ideas commonly expressed through the allegory of Plato's Cave. Otto's presence echoed a sweet little moment I experienced between the earlier screening and Coonley's show where I met on the street just up from the theater the most talkative cat I've ever encountered. If this had happened after Coonley's show I would have thought I was hallucinating.
Most of Coonley's work addresses media critique through humor. The strongest pieces included 3D Trick Pony, Valentine for Perfect Strangers (another Otto contribution), and Appropriation Piece. The Russian version of Perfect Strangers would have been fun randomly discovered online, but screened within this program it proved to be excessively redundant. Personally, I found The Best Gifts and The Future of Metal to be completely boring, even if I could reason out the point of their inclusion.
So a little more info about the pieces I liked the most.
3D Trick Pony, really created and screened in anaglyph 3D, offered up a great analysis of the supposed Kuleshov Effect–the idea that montage can drive our emotional response to the films we are watching. Much critical theory of this sort, especially when approached as an abstract concept, debases analysis to the point of absurdity. Coonley demonstrates this by applying the explicit terminology of the theory to a scene involving an expressionless stuffed pony intercut with a Dachsund running across an empty yard. By removing emotive intra-frame content (I am thinking here of the Odessa sequence in Battleship: Potempkin) and relying solely on Kuleshov's description of how one shot affects our emotional response to the next, Coonley demonstrates both how influential human expression is to our cognitive processes and how necessary "reading" a face is to our ability to communicate in any effective manner.
Valentine for Perfect Strangers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETQ0urHjSIk) moved into the realm of seeking connection through internet personals and hyper-idealized human connection as expressed in the horrible sitcom Perfect Strangers [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_Strangers_(TV_series)], a television show which made Three's Company look like brain surgery. Otto is again at his best here, and his efforts to appropriate the model provided by Perfect Strangers by placing his Rat plaything's head into scenes taken from the opening of the sitcom and other media extravaganzas is hilarious but ultimately quite vacuous, which might just be the point. Michael Almereyda dealt with the subject of online avatars more powerfully and subtly in his film Happy Here and Now, but Coonley's approach gets to the heart of the matter more quickly and in a more explicitly humorous manner.
Appropriation Piece, in addition to Coonley's lecture, was the highlight of the screening. In this video Coonley advises a talking garbage can on a class assignment to create a video demonstrating the concept of appropriation. This is a very funny and astute piece with great usage of puns and the ambiguity of words heard versus words said. I don't want to give away the jokes because that will destroy the pleasures of this piece, but Coonley deserves induction into Oulipo for creating this hilarious exchange.