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Paper Rad - Trash Talking

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Artist: Paper Rad

Album: Trash Talking

Label: Load

Review date: Aug. 6, 2006

Cultural pundits tend to look at revivalist trends as happening in somewhat regular shifts, with a gestation period of 15-20 years. When this point has been reached, styles begin to resurface, media artifacts reenter the public consciousness, and parents everywhere spout their disbelief that kids these days are bringing back the trends that they’d often rather forget. It’s an interesting phenomenon, ripe with the dissonance of youth culture paying (often) unintentional homage to their predecessors, long thought lame, and the slippery slope of hipster irony and fashion regurgitation. The world of art is no stranger to such cyclical trends, with resurgences of kitsch and camp imagery providing a genesis for high/low art arguments that will likely never reach their resolution.

Paper Rad, a three-person collective operating in Easthampton, Mass. and Pittsburgh, work in just the richly nostalgic fare described above, mining the late '80s and early '90s for not just inspiration, but also concrete imagery and artifacts. But where others have picked up on trends, or worked in the glow of a collective synergy amongst like-minded artists, Paper Rad seem to simply work with what they know. The Ciocci siblings, Jacob and Jessica, as well as Benjamin Jones, have been part of gallery shows and various underground art tours since 2001, though their work as a trio stretches further back, over a decade, according to some press materials. Paper Rad work with the cultural detritus of their youth in a world of bright colors, hyperactive visuals and mischievous reconfigurations of the era's more prominent figures in children’s entertainment. Their work taps into the collective childhood of an entire generation, making use of both their own artistic creations and visuals culled from what must be an impressively large collection of TV footage – from the 90-second barrage of Saturday morning advertisements to clips of obscure, long forgotten children’s programming.

The DVD Trash Talking is a confounding piece of work from the start, beginning with an extended, menuless piece in which our guide/protagonist ambles pleasantly to a Midi version of “Jive Talking” before expounding on CD-ROMs and their usage. Aside from a music video (for Providence's Wizardzz) and the unaired pilot starring a creature named Alfe, much of Trash Talking slides by in non sequitur explosions of color, movement and sound. Mini-plots come and go, but the majority of the disc is a non-stop blur. The restless pace of the hypnotic visuals is offset only by the languid, deadpan behavior of most of Paper Rad’s signature characters, both bastardized and original. The Alfe episode slows things to a crawl, with plenty of expressionless humor and exaggerated monotony. The vaguely triangular gent who introduces the disc makes a return appearance, and cameos abound from such Paper Rad favorites as Tux Dog, Gumby and Garfield, but Trash Talking tends to leave the viewer without footholds, like an amusement park ride whose erratic motions make all attempts at sensible consideration of one's surroundings absolutely moot.

Paper Rad seem to discourage intellectual or theoretical interpretation of their work, instead hoping the visual and audio stimuli are encountered on a more basic level. It’s easy to find fault in their particular style, especially when one takes the former approach. But there’s an undeniable element of Trash Talking that draws the eyes screenward, and whether it’s a latent nostalgia in the viewers, or Paper Rad’s expert manipulation of the modern human need for near constant stimulation, the trio are capable of captivation. Argue, if you must, with their aesthetics; accuse Paper Rad of cheap thrills and mining their generation’s retro-happy subconscious; complain that their technique doesn’t hold up to repeated viewings…you won’t be wholly erroneous in doing so, but, if you stop thinking for a moment, just one, you’ll see where the trio succeeds, and why their work has been causing such a fuss. It’s sensory overload on a grand scale, and outside of any conceptual statements about the American childhood or the power (and danger) of children’s media, Paper Rad, at their best, can be just plain fun.

By Adam Strohm

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