One of the best perks of my job is getting to work alongside a substantial collection of formidable makers and thinkers. There are few times that this is more publicly evident than when the MIAD Faculty Exhibition rolls around. I just missed participating last time around due to lousy timing and a conspicuous lack of work coming out of my studio.
I wasn't going to let that happen this year.
I have a tendency to get wrapped up in facilitating the work and vision of others. It's why I teach, and why I love to work collaboratively with other creatives. I think it helps keep my mind out of echo chamber that can form when only focusing on my work. However, lately I've been increasingly compelled to express my voice exclusively. Enemy of the People (tweet, tweet, tweet) is the first work I've shown in over a decade that is non-collaborative, and entirely motivated by my concerns and sensibilities. You can see it in the rather excellent 2018 MIAD Faculty Exhibition on display until October 8th.
I got a little political.
Since this my first solo work for a while, I feel I should talk about the way I choose to deal with politics and art. In conversation with people about my entry in the exhibition, many expressed a desire that I post a statement explaining what the work is doing, in mechanical terms. (The work emits sound, and the method of generating the sound certainly contributes to the meaning of the work). Up to now, I’ve been reluctant to explicitly explain all the components of this piece, fearful that it becomes a definitive statement on my personal politics regarding one person, rather than the result of an ongoing topic that I’ve been struggling with for a while.
So if you will be so kind as to indulge me, I’d like to start by talking about my approach to art, activism, and polotics first. At the end of the post, I‘ll explain what the thing is doing in terms of mechanics.
My work has always been the result of a personal inquiry into power structures. Specifically, my relationship with power as an American born, middle aged, hetero, cisgender, white dude that lives in a suburb in the mid-west. I have opinions, struggles, and lots of conflicting thoughts on the matter. I also have no interest in even suggesting to other people what their politics should be. I have even less interest in making art that preaches (to the choir, or anyone else) in an attempt to persuade.
Mostly, I don't think it works.
I find that a great deal of Political work (capitalization intentional) tends to be a blunt object that bludgeons the viewer with a particular message or intent that leaves no space for them to question their position. Making art that simply says "The Pro-Life movement is rooted in misogyny." or "Capitalism is destroying the planet.", with no room for negotiation or exploration, is really only asking one thing of the viewer: "Agree with me."
When confronted with this type of work, one of two things tend to happen.
Both scenarios are equally beneficial for the reputation and career of the artist, and neither really changes anybody's mind about anything.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with this. We humans take great comfort and find power in communing with those we agree with. I do it all the time at dinner parties... "I can't believe that [Public Figure] said / did [something I don't like]." Others at the party will agree, tutting along with how the world must surely becoming to an end, all thanks to [Public Figure] and the people that support their agenda. At the dinner parties I tend to get invited to, dissenting voices are rare. Not because the statements are true, but because of the whole "birds of a feather" thing.
I'm cool with that when hanging out with friends, but I don't want my work to function that way.
This doesn't mean that Political work can't precipitate change. It certainly can, and has. It can provide a forceful, self - evident voice to the disenfranchised, or act as proxy for those who aren't in a place that can make these kinds of statements publicly. I'm not saying this kind of work is bad, simplistic, or unnecessary. Quite the contrary. I very much admire artist - activists that produce work from a place of sincerity and genuine desire to make a specific point.
It's just not me.
Having said that, I'm compelled to say something, even if it's only to myself. That's what Enemy of the People is. This is me expressing that I'm uncomfortable being a middle aged white male being confronted with the seemingly inevitable erosion of power I hold in society. I'm also uncomfortable with the manner in which many of my fellow white males are react when dealing with this trend.
I think of it as a hangover. Essentially, white men have been throwing one hell of rager for the past 1500 years or so. Like most raging parties, a lot of people had a pretty good time, but a lot of stuff is trashed, some people got hurt, some are in jail, and almost everyone feels like shit the next morning. When waking with a hangover, people tend to either make a pledge to themselves to never drink that much again (I swear!) or, head to the fridge for a little 'hair of the dog'...
This work is an attempt to express all this without getting preachy, and without telling anyone what to think, or how to think. This is me, attempting to apologize for grinding nachos into the carpet, and for obnoxiously hitting on pretty much every girl at the party.
I wasn't myself. I was drunk with power.
Okay, on to what this thing is doing.
The device is a 3D printed object that looks a bit like the kind of bombs that were once dropped out airplanes during the first and second world wars. There is a small computer Inside the device that reads the twitter feed of Donald Trump. When it reads a tweet that refers to the media, fake news, the failing New York Times, etc., It translates those tweets as Morse code. This is the ticking sound the device produces.
This work isn’t intended to be about Trump. I want it to be more about what I mentioned earlier, and function as part of a larger series of work (that hasn’t been made yet). Trump is a foil to the intent to this body of work. This is why haven’t explicitly explained how the work is doing what it is up until now. I say the words ‘Trump’ and ‘Twitter’ and the work becomes a comment on his presidency, and it absolves the rest of white men in power (including yours truly) from their responsibility in contributing to the mess we’ve made.