A cheering crowd surrounds the boxing ring and news photographers line the floor. The word "Everlast" can be clearly identified on the ring's corner posts and the ropes strain and slacken as the boxers move into and away from them.
The boxers, however, are missing.
Now on view at the List Visual Arts Center, Paul Pfeiffer's The Long Count (The Rumble in the Jungle) is the second of three video works featuring Muhammad Ali's boxing matches in which the fighters have been painstakingly removed. The installation, the artist's first in the Boston area, is based on the famous 1974 bout between Ali and George Foreman, in which Ali regained the championship title which the World Boxing Association stripped from him for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War.
By digitally erasing the boxers, Pfeiffer allows the viewer to see only their shadowy forms, the movement of the ring's ropes as the bodies carom and the crowd's response. Although List Center Curator Bill Arning quotes fight commentator David Frost's assessment of Ali's technique -- "that was no phantom punch" -- in Mr. Pfeiffer's hands all the punches and participants are phantom-like.
"When one considers the fight within global cultural history of the time and what it means to replay history minus the protagonists, one can start to excavate its most profound implications," Mr. Arning said. He noted that Ali's career parallels events such as the fight against racism, the emergence of the Black Power movement, antiwar demonstrations, the effects of colonialism, and the emergence of the multimillionaire sports figure and its effect on black male youths.
"For Pfeiffer to represent the fight without the pugilists calls into question the relationship of any one man... in the face of inevitable epochal changes," said Mr. Arning. "Perhaps the bodies of the fighters are not clearly discernible in the ring because their effects are visible everywhere."
The Boston Globe's Cate McQuaid wrote that "Pfeiffer throws the back story into vivid relief" and the Boston Herald's Mary Sherman called the show "visually riveting."
Born in Hawaii in 1966, Mr. Pfeiffer is based in New York City, where he uses a variety of media to investigate the human body and psyche and racial identity through popular iconography such as athletes and movie stars. As a participant in the 2000 Whitney Biennial, he received the inaugural Bucksbaum Award, presented to a living American artist whose work demonstrates a singular combination of talent and imagination. In December 2000, the New York Times proclaimed Mr. Pfeiffer "the artist of the moment" noting that his "mesmerizing video pieces made him an overnight sensation."
This fall 2001, Mr. Pfeiffer will return to MIT as artist in residence, working with MIT faculty and students from the Media Lab, the Program in Comparative Media Studies, Athletics, GAMIT (Gays at MIT) and other programs to investigate aspects of racial identity or race as a concept and how it can influence and disrupt the artistic, cultural and academic worlds.
The Long Count (The Rumble in the Jungle) is on view at the List Center through July 1, as are Johan Grimonprez's Inflight, a spinoff of the airline magazines found on commercial flights; Race In Digital Space, featuring the work of more than 30 artists using film, video, new media and web techniques; and two films by Isaac Julian: The Long Road to Mazatlï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½n, a modern cowboy tale created with Venezuelan-born choreographer Javier De Frutos, and Vagabondia, which takes place in the claustrophobically eclectic Sir John Soane Museum in London.
On Friday, June 22, List Center staff will conduct a gallery talk at 6:30pm.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 23, 2001.