Bjørn Melhus’s video The Oral Thing is a parody of the type of talk show broadcast every day on television in which guests tell their most intimate secrets to millions of viewers. The semi-religious setting of The Oral Thing is reminiscent of a Last Judgement, with two “accused” figures visible from the chest up clad in shapeless strait-jackets of material resembling children’s pyjamas, one on the right and the other on the left. The film opens with the host, a sort of high priest in a white robe, descending a flight of steps. During the show, he devotes his energies to extracting confessions of incest, sex and violence from his “guests”. Shown at regular intervals as a uniform grey and somewhat voyeuristic mass repeating the same phrase over and over, the audience of identical monk-like figures expresses its disapproval of the acts committed by the accused.
Bjørn Melhus focuses primarily on the power of film and television scenarios, and especially the formats typical of the American and Hollywood media culture. In accordance with the spirit of early video art, he dissects the messages transmitted by the mass media so as to unmask their alluring and illusory nature. His characters – who have remained the same since 1991, the year of Das Zauberglas (The Magic Glass) – speak with the original voices of popular films and television programmes. Fragmented and extrapolated from their context, the words lose their original sense and are unmasked as inventions of the media industry. One hallmark of the works of Bjørn Melhus is the use of the same face with no change and the constant repetition of the same fragment of text. His collages of words and sounds lend rhythm to the images and often recall video clips and trailers in their structure. The monotonous cadence of the repetitions further emphasizes the uniformity but also the appeal of the parallel world of the mass media, thus prompting the spectator to take sides.
Bjørn Melhus (Kirchheim/Teck, Germany, 1966), one of the most important video artists of the last twenty years, has been teaching media art at the Kassel Academy of Art since 2003. His works have won numerous prizes and been presented in solo shows at the MoMA in New York, the Kunsthalle in Bremen and the Denver Art Museum as well as group exhibitions at the Witte de With in Rotterdam, the Chelsea Art Museum in New York, the Art Museum in Pori (Finland), the Museum Ludwig in Cologne and the Serpentine Gallery in London. Bjørn Melhus lives and works in Berlin.