LET'S GO TO THE VIDEOTAPE : Laguna's Look at the Subversive, Campy World of Public Access Cable

Cathy Curtis covers art for The Times Orange County Edition.

Too sleepy to catch late-night cable fare on TV? Why not settle down at the Laguna Art Museum during daylight hours to watch the mad, mad world of the Media Pranksters? When these artists aren't subverting the airwaves with videos offering outspoken commentaries on racial, sexual and political issues, they're camping it up with programs that obsessively mirror aspects of pop culture.

Presented in three compilations of hour-length tapes (each one repeats twice daily through Sunday), "Media Pranksters: Public Access Art Television" offers a smorgasbord of work by different artists.

Many of the tapes--which range from two minutes to about half an hour--are modeled after standard TV formats: talk shows, soaps, news, public service announcements, commercials. These formats offer countless details of style and delivery that can be imitated in an ironic way, for comic, deadpan or polemical effect.

Andre Dupuy skewers soap opera in "Barbra! No Tears Please" (Tape I, 19 min.). Barbra, a concert pianist, and Kent, a newspaper reporter, are Barbie and Ken dolls who fall in love against a background of crashing surf. Learning that she will die of "Steinway syndrome" if she continues her career, she chooses to persist at her calling and subsequently expires on stage while powerless Kent watches from the wings. But the tragedy turns out to be only a TV show or, as Barbra says, "a dream." Same difference.

Dupuy's loving attention to detail--from the '50s-style patterned backgrounds of the titles to the arpeggio-laden compositions Barbara bangs out on the piano--gives the tape a perky, tongue-in-cheek allure.

In an entirely different vein, bits and pieces of TV news, past and present, twitch across the screen in Jonathan X's "Art Maggot Hysteria" (Tape II, 29 min.), a group of brief videos that rage against war, inept political leadership and the treatment of blacks in the United States. X's style depends largely on rhythmic repetition and simple, hypnotic movement for its effect.

For example, in "Bad News is Good News," images of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan--the President waving to a crowd, the crowd ducking, police running--play over and over, subdividing into smaller and smaller units, until the event begins to seem utterly meaningless. The soundtrack layers repeated fragments of crowd reaction until the end, when one voice is allowed to have the last--dumb--word.

A couple of the videos use a talk show format. "Unwind with the Sweeties" (Tape III, 29 min.) features the unrelenting verbal warfare of a Los Angeles couple appearing incognito, muffled in woolly masks and eyeglasses with painted-on eyes. A dizzy dame with big blond hair--outlandishly bedecked performance artist and '70s enthusiast Craig Roose--is host for "Decoupage! With Summer Caprice!" He converses blankly with a numbing array of peculiar guests.

Among the other tapes are:

* Brian and Steven Kane's "The Leisure Channel: Why You Dream What You Dream"--a static image of an expressionless, seated man coupled with disturbing messages constantly feeding across the bottom of the screen.

* Nancy Buchanan's "Mouth(piece)," a denunciation of U.S. imperialism that uses oral imagery (eating, smoking, tooth brushing) to make its most vivid points.

Although many moments on the tapes are indigestible, nonsensical or just plain dull, others are likely to delight or provoke in novel ways. As with any sustained bout of TV-watching, viewers should feel free to drift in and out--of consciousness, or the video screening room--as the mood takes them.

From 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday--the final day of the show--cable "celebrities" Summer Caprice, the Sweeties, the Kane brothers, Jonathan X and Andre Dupuy will present their work and participate in a panel discussion on public access as a medium for artistic expression. The event is free with museum admission.

"Media Pranksters" is part of the L.A. Freewaves Festival, a March event at art spaces in Greater Los Angeles that also includes programming on several cable stations.

What: "Media Pranksters: Public Access Art Television."

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, through Sunday, March 24. (Program I plays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Program II at noon and 3 p.m., and Program III at 1 and 4 p.m.)

Where: Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach.

Whereabouts: The museum is at the corner of Cliff Drive and Coast Highway, just up the coast from the highway's intersection with Laguna Canyon Road.

Wherewithal: Admission is $2 general, $1 for students and seniors, free for children under 12.

Where to call: (714) 494-6531.

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