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barking the real

May 14, 2012

In 2007, representing South Carolina in Miss Teen USA competition, Caite Upton infamously responded to a question regarding a fifth of Americans inability to located the United States on a world map. Her answer did not cross any political or social redlines and neither was offensive to any particular racial or class entities. It was a wall of words that filled a pocket of time designated for the participant’s response in the show. The words do not follow one another in order to create meaning, but rather they present response as such. Later on Today Show, Upton mentioned how she did not comprehend the question correctly, and used the opportunity to answer: “Well personally, my friends and I, we know exactly where the United States is on our map. I don’t know anyone else who doesn’t. And if the statistics are correct, I believe that there should be more emphasis on geography in our education so people will learn how to read maps better.” Her revised answer is not necessarily more “meaningful” than her previous collection of words, it is merely an apophantic statement.

Mark Callahan, 24 Hour Miss South Carolina, still frame

A similar glitch on live television was Rick Perry’s famous “oops moment,” where he forgot the third government agency that he was going to dismantle in his first day of presidency. While most pundits marked the incident as the end of Perry’s campaign, some mentioned that in fact the lapse in fact opened a key hole into the candidate’s humanity and portrayed him as a human being rather than a machine i.e. we do not want a person to merely hit the right words as a machine could be programmed to do so, but rather we want to see a soul behind the talking head, where presence makes a surprise appearance. In 24 Hour Miss South Carolina artist Mark Callahan expands this transient moment of pure presence to 24 hours. Pointing to Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho and the media attention devoted to Upton’s speech, the piece recoups this moment of authenticity and stretches it into a gesture. While the correct answers would go unnoticed, it is the unscripted moment that represent the soul and this soul’s incarnation is in the form of farce. In these moments presence wags its tail at us and barks from a milieu beyond textuality. The only outlet of the real in the media is farce.

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