Pony Players' Review (2018)

Pony Players’ Review (2018)

Starring Chris Bean, Ashley Harris, Cathy Lu, Aaron Rosenstreich, Laura Schadler, Steve Shearer, Leuwam Tesfai, Tanna Tucker, Whitney Watts.

Pony Players’ Review looks at the popular representation of the Pony Express, a 19th century messaging system. The 25 video reenactments that make up Pony Players’ Review are accessed via a Disneyland-style map that contains critical images of current events alongside QR codes that viewers can scan. Essentially, viewers bring their own screens to this “installation” via their phones and tablets.

Above are a selection of scenes included in this project.

The Pony Express was the fastest long distance messaging system in the US during the 18 months it was in service. Using the Express a letter could travel from New York to San Francisco in ten days – unprecedented for 1860 – however, the transcontinental telegraph would soon replace the messenger with its almost instantaneous information relay. Looking back at the Express can give the process of information relay – something that we are totally dependent on nowadays, and perhaps take for granted – a form through which to imagine what it means to send messages, and how those messages are altered depending on who carries them, and the stories we attach to those messengers and messaging systems.

A viewer scans an AR code embedded in the map to watch a video vignette.

A viewer scans an AR code embedded in the map to watch a video vignette.

With this project, I want to draw attention to the process of messaging, asking viewers to consider the different kinds of stories that get told (or, more importantly, which stories do not get told) to explain abstract or complex systems that we rely on everyday, but which, for the most part, remain invisible in the face of desires for functionality and instantaneous connection.

The Pony Express is a particularly good example to think about this since its history and its popular image are so deeply embedded in myths of the American West (for better or worse). With the rise of the tech industry in California, myths of American entrepreneurship and technological exceptionalism, which were alive and well during the time of the Pony Express, remain alive, and unproblematized today. This project seeks to interrupt the usual heroic images through which we have come to know the Pony Express, by layering images of the Express that have been disseminated in popular culture with reenactments of those scenes, re-cast and reconstructed in cardboard sets/environments.