Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

How can we distinguish between music and its (mis)uses?

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a museum dedicated to the popular music form that opened in Cleveland in 1995; today it is one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions. It features permanent and rotating exhibitions that explore different facets of rock music, from the poppy to the subversive.

One focus of Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows is on music as a form of shared joy for bringing different people together. Yet as an insertion into the museum’s programming on music, the triennial presents an iconic video by Tony Cokes that examines how music has been used as a means to troubling ends: torture by the U.S. and other military agencies. In the words of the artist: “Evil.16 (Torture.Musik) animates excerpts from an article by Moustafa Bayoumi that was originally published in The Nation magazine. [...] [It is] a key and cogent text in a body of reportage and scholarship devoted to the military use of music and sound as a weapon, a form of psychological manipulation or torture. The [film’s] soundtrack features a playlist of songs or artists documented as being used in U.S. spy- ops and torture programs.”

In his work since the 1990s, Cokes has generated complex layers of meaning through the juxtaposition of basic elements such as language and sound. This straightforward format belies a larger intention to reflect on systemic issues of race, urban politics, musical histories, and community in multivocal, disjunctive ways. Cokes’s use of pop music and animated text allows him to tackle challenging social issues in a way that remains within reach.

At several other FRONT 2022 sites, Cokes presents new works that touch upon histories of artistic and musical production and their intersection with larger political questions.

Tony Cokes, Evil.16 (Torture.Musik), 2009–11. Color video with sound, 16 minutes 27 seconds. Courtesy of the artist; Greene Naftali, New York; Felix Gaudlitz, Vienna; Hannah Hoffman, Los Angeles; and Electronic Arts Intermix, New York. © Tony Cokes. Photography by Field Studio.

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Rock Hall Aerial Shot