To contrast with ARTINFO’s previous video selection, Martha Wilsons 1972 pioneering piece Premiere — though curiously linked to it thematically — here is a short video that is utterly contemporary in its methods, meanings, and assumptions. Gertrude Bergs Pick Up Artist was shot in Brooklyn in 2007 at the conclusion of several days of street performance and was posted on YouTube last month.
Berg is an Austrian-born artist who completed the Diploma Program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 2003 and now lives and works in New York. The starting point for Pick Up Artist was her sense of the disconnect between her Bushwick neighbors’ diligent efforts to look attractive and stylish and their total lack of concern for the trash-filled streets of the neighborhood, which Berg says resembles a “war zone.” This observation developed into a metaphor for the gulf between most people’s self-interest and their failure to think about larger, communal issues, least of all the environment.
So Berg made herself a faux-fashionable outfit, with miniskirt and stilettos, and proceeded to pick up street garbage on metal spikes concealed in her heels. This behavior provoked unusual responses from her “audience,” whose behavior changed further once the video camera was present. “As soon as a camera is involved, people think you are shooting for a movie,” Berg told ARTINFO. “This gives you permission to do anything.” Whether it was her strange performance, her curious explanation for her actions (“I told people I was involved in a competition and needed to make it over the Williamsburg Bridge”), or the allure of being on film, Berg’s once-apathetic neighbors “got really excited, helping me to stick the garbage under my heels.”
Something else happened, as well. Berg found herself repeatedly propositioned — men wanted to pick her up — and it occurred to her that this was partly because her apparently crazy actions made her an easier target in some men’s eyes. Hence, the implicit pun in Berg’s title, which is made all the more obvious on YouTube. Type in the words Pick Up Artist on the site and most of the videos that appear feature men showing off their seduction techniques.
“I wanted to be feminine and sexy,” Berg concludes. “The work is about how I look, the pleasure of shopping, and the pleasure of luxury. It’s also about their opposites: the trail we leave behind, the things we don't want to see, and the things we dispose of as quickly as possible.”