rockford illinois entertainment guide
Date: 03/06/2003
Paul Harvey Oswald -- The Myth behind the Man.
by Patrick McDonough
Who is Paul Harvey Oswald (PHO)? The truth is, he is not a person at all. The question should actually be; what is PHO? It seems as if there is as much a mystique about the name as there is about what PHO does.

PHO is an artistic collective that ranges from two to ten different individuals at any given time. These artists use a combination of still images, video and audio taken from different forms of mass media in order to create new meaning out of everyday images removed from their predestined contexts.

PHO was founded nearly 10 years ago by Engine Studio's Doug Connell and Kevin Cronin. It was Cronin that came up with the moniker and image for their artistic endeavors. The name came from a character that he had developed during his days as a disc jockey at the Beloit College radio station WBCR 90.3. He saw the character as a right wing radical. The first half of the name, Paul Harvey, is the right wing, and Oswald is the radical. According to Cronin it's, "two great things that taste great together." The face of PHO is an image taken from a 1940's Italian novel entitled "Mannequin." Cronin and Connell thought the picture was exactly what they were looking for because it was, "the perfect un-person." Local artist and PHO friend, Scott Long, used the two-dimensional image in the novel to sculpt the bust shown at right.

Each piece is self-contained and usually produced by one person. So far they have a total of 30 to 40 shorts. July 8, 1993 was their first performance, and they are now performing at a number of film festivals in the Chicago area. They have been at On the Waterfront, ArtScene, Charlotte's Web, and others.

Over the years PHO has grown up and moved away from home. In fact, they moved so far from home that there are actually three different geographic divisions of PHO. There is the Rockford division, the now defunct Mountain division (Member Scott Snyder moved temporarily to Colorado), and the latest: the Far North Western division that was formed when former Rockford College educators Jenni Taggart and Matt Conroy moved to Seattle WA. The latter is still more commonly referred to by most in PHO as the Late Night division. Cronin said they were given this title because the movies that they create are sometimes of a nature that can only be viewed after the children are tucked nicely into their beds. For example, one of their parody laden short films entitled "A Natural Thing" was a spliced together combination of a plumbers' instructional guide and a sex-ed manual.

There are a couple of different methods by which PHO artists use to distribute their work. One approach is what they consider guerrilla art. PHO member Amy Town heads up this aspect of what they do. She explains it as performance art with kind of a prank appeal to it. They have participated in a number of these acts over the years. One example was a nationwide money drop contest hosted by "Ad Busters" magazine. What they had to do was go to a public place, drop money from somewhere, catch the event on film and then the magazine would send them a check for $100. They chose to drop the money from a balcony in CherryVale mall. What this consisted of was 3 or 4 members armed with PHO masks, $100+ dollars in cash, and a large PHO banner. There was another team of people with both still and video cameras whose job was to catch it all on film. During a busy time of the day the members went to the edge of a second floor balcony in the mall, hung a banner with a large image of PHO on it over the side, and then they started throwing money down to the unsuspecting crowd below. What happened next could only be described as predictable. Children and adults alike stopped what they were doing to grab as much of the money as they could. As a matter of fact one woman was so excited that she left her baby stroller off to one side to grab the money. One of the photos from the event made it into the magazine and was actually chosen as the magazine's representation of the contest.

Another method by which PHO displays their work is loosely defined as performance art. According to Connell they, "use a soft hammer to get [their] message across." He went on to say that they feel, "there is a message in any visual that can be used to teach or influence." He pointed out that they try to stay away from political, religious and timely topics. They prefer to use humor as a vehicle to educate or persuade.

One of these humorous teaching sessions was held September 13-14, 2003 in the famous display window at the Right-On Futon shop for the annual "Around the Coyote" arts festival in Chicago. The show was entitled "Pre-Selected Choices", and the theme was that of a fast food restaurant. Except, instead of ordering food, people ordered movies from a tri-fold menu with the listings of the choices on it. The customers gave their orders to the waiters and waitresses who in turn gave the orders to the short order cook (Cronin, properly attired in an apron and paper hat) who served up the movies onto a large screen directly from an Apple G4 computer while in plain view behind the glass of the display window.

PHO has performed locally at "On the Waterfront", "ArtScene", Charlotte's Web, and in local museums and galleries around town. PHO's movies run the gamut as far as topics go. One of their better-known pieces, "Fair Use" by Doug Connell, does a good job of helping to explain the group's philosophy of using captured sound bites and video clips for the sake of parody. As a matter of fact this video was recently part of a traveling "Illegal Art" show in NY and Chicago. Other themes of their work range from consumer over-consumption films like "Phood" and "Consume This" to direct comments about corporate America like the parody of fast food giant McDonald's in the film "McPusher". So far they have a total of 30 to 40 shorts. These video shorts, run on average 2-3 minutes long, are self-contained and are usually produced by one person.

In closing, I think it is important to inform the Rockford Public that according to Cronin, PHO's philosophy is (which he says with a smile), "Everyone is in the groove. Everyone is subject to being a part of our work unless they write to us and ask us not to." Laughing, Cronin reports that the only person he has received a written request from is his father.

(For the interview I had the opportunity to meet with PHO at an "Inside Rockford College Series" event sponsored by the Society of Artsy People (S.O.A.P.). They led a "show and tell" video workshop and screening about the processes and techniques they utilize in their adaptation of "Illegal Art".)
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Paul Harvey Oswald
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