Ben Laloua / Didier Pascal, REHAB

January 20 / March 10, 2008

Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam

REHAB is a project about a recent media phenomenon. A growing number of advertisements, commercials, reports, TV programmes and even everyday news items have become pure entertainment. Their boundaries and links to reality are eroding: they are becoming increasingly autonomous. This trend is most recognisable in the global interest in ‘celebs’ like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Pete Doherty. People we have come to associate with the vapidity and emptiness of contemporary life. Nonetheless, they grace the covers of glossy magazines almost daily, and even pervade the serious media. Is this merely one of the traits of an aggressive omniscient media industry or something closer to a modern morality tale?

REHAB consists of objects, a book and a poster campaign by graphic design duo Ben Laloua / Didier Pascal. The exhibition also presents work by Christian Jankowski and Meiro Koizumi.

Photographer Nick Ût, who in June 2007 captured a sobbing Paris Hilton on her way to prison, took the famous photograph of the Vietnamese girl fleeing naked from a napalm attack exactly 35 years earlier. All that unites the two images is a weeping woman, without which the photographs are poles apart. The 1972 photo came to symbolise American defeat in Vietnam, while the mug shot of Paris is a portrait of interminable vapidity. It is a one-liner: Paris is going into rehab. And she’s not the only one. Britney Spears re-enters rehab almost every month and now the incorrigible Pete has reappeared – really and truly reborn.

With their background in graphic design and experience with communication, in REHAB Ben Laloua / Didier Pascal sentence the media to seclusion so they can shake the self-exhibitionism habit. The duo has created a poster campaign recasting advertising and media banalities as an abstract bricolage, then reinstating them in the public space. The images have nothing to advertise and have no commercial motivation: they refer simply to themselves and to the mass media that surrounds us – to the British Celebrity Big Brother, to the momentary leisure offered by Sudoku, to an advertisement for Hong Kong cable TV, to a photo of hurricane Katrina. ‘Soft media’ are also on display in the exhibition at SMBA – advertising images rendered as soft, protective textile objects that offer a gentle comment on the self-referential mass media images and the relatively aggressive underlying marketing strategies.