Category: Reviews

Bodies for a Future yet to Come

Signal‘s Without a Body is a compelling exhibition featuring the work of Ivana Bašić, FlucT, and Sable Elise Smith at Andrea Rosen 2. Looking at social, political, and psycho-spiritual dimensions these artists offer definitions of the body beyond its biological structure. The exhibition explores philosophical meditations on how to think about a body, rather than how to be a body that thinks. Our bodies are defined as much by our engineered physicality as our conscious, unconscious, and conditioned psyches. Not to say that a body is always married to its psychological master, as evidenced by dysmorphic disorders and the bizarre phantom limb, a condition where a body feels an appendage it no longer has, among others. While some of these dissonances can be diagnosed as “malfunctioning” hardware, the artists in this show explore how other dissonances are the result of lasting trauma caused by random violence and systemic oppression by asking, “How does the state exert its sovereignty over a body?” Through corporeal punishment on a criminal or through more subtle means, against the psychological well-being of its people? Decades after Foucault’s Madness and Civilization and Discipline and Punish traced our relationship with mental illness and our relationship with the state, we find the answer within ourselves: still subjugated by and indoctrinated in a culture that uses stimuli and simulation as weapons to render a body a shell of itself, like a zombie in a barely waking life — Foucault’s nightmare.

Ivana Bašić’s work is that nightmare. Imagine if some dark overlord put your body in a blender, turned it on, and then, like a starfish, your body reassembled into some tortured mass of bone and flesh just trying to get back to its original configuration, presumably in an elemental or gaseous state. Bašić, born in Belgrade, Serbia rips the body from itself by breaking its assumed limits. The sculptures appear tenuous and impart a sense of unfolding that rejects the supposed permanence of the body and instead highlights the forces of its own making. It should be noted that weight and pressure are listed as materials on the gallery checklist. The degree of exchange and power between a body and its total environment is drawn into question by the cold, rigid and institutional apparatuses that support Bašić’s forms. It is unclear what is a crutch and what is a restraint – an apt metaphor for the relationship between the state and the body.

In 1,000 Plateaus, Deleuze states that an artwork is a monument if it has the ability to “confide to the ear of the future the persistent sensations that embody the event.” Bašić’s sculptures, particularly ‘Population of Phantoms Resembling Me #2’ and ‘Stay Inside or Perish’ are the monuments of our modernity. They reflect our current collective psychosis, the slow bleed from culture in the incessant crunching of capitalism, memes, and nihilism where everybody is assaulted by images that continually rupture the spirit from the body in a tortuous cycle as we try to return to a safe, warm interiority only to be violently flung out again. It is as if a Francis Bacon painting emerged from the ether to fuck you up. There is more to this comparison than their aesthetic familiarity. Bašić and Bacon share a psychological perspective, a glimpse into a discrete dissociation in which a wretched encounter between interiority and external forces impedes the potential for spiritual, physical, and emotive emergence. But where does the dissociated body go? Is it even a body? Bašić suggests it dissipates as an active force within its environment. This thinking is inspired by the artist’s attempts to trace her body’s transcendence (breath) within its environment through handblown glass sculptures titled ‘Breath Seeps Through Her Tightly Closed Mouth’ (#1 and #4). Breath is life, and in this way, Bašić has given her body a new form. As the title suggests, each glasswork is a portrait of the artist, outside her body in a gaseous exchange with its surroundings. These works are unassuming, but potent in their ability to materialize an imperceptible interaction between our bodies and our nebulous atomic home. Ultimately, Bašić’s work is less about death and more about reemergence from contingency and learning to see the body as an entity outside itself with the potential to be individuated yet still conducted by forces exerted through violence, phenomena, architecture, culture, and politics.

If Bašić’s work demonstrates the horrors of a body isolated from the self and dismembered by culture, then FlucT’s work offers a way to heal the body through movement, relational, and interrelational aesthetics.* FlucT is a collaborative endeavor, started in 2011, between New York-based performance artists Sigrid Lauren and Monica Mirabile. Their relationship is at the crux of a practice that combines community building as well as narrative musical compositions, spoken words, and props aimed at confronting societal standards of the other by connecting the body back to itself through movement and touch. FlucT’s performance, entitled Alienated Labor, is shown through a rear projection on a large, frosted glass panel. The frosted glass turns their bodies into specters that appear and dissolve in your periphery as you move about the space. Their movements are violent yet tantric but are neither sexual nor plutonic. It is this vagueness in the work that dissolves the codes of accepted interactions between two bodies in western society and opens up the body to a number of new ways of establishing connections with one another. FlucT presents us with an unfolding scene between the body and psyche in the deranged playfulness between Sigrid and Monica as they flail on one another, connected, twisted, and tangled into a single creature only to break down into two distinct yet connected bodies locked in a dance between animal and human. At one point Monica shows her belly to the camera and reveals a drawing of a fetal pig.

German theorist Curt Sachs described the dancer as one “who lives at once in time and space” because “the creator and thing created are still the same thing.” In this way, FlucT’s work is an attempt to manifest in the present alongside another body and to mitigate isolation through collective individuation. Their strangeness is seductive and evokes a certain longing for corporeal love; however, that daydream is broken by a call to action when the duos’ movements sync up to glitched out snippets from the Marxist manifesto: “workers of the world unite!” and “what do you have to lose but your chains” decays into “what do you have to change.” As much as performance can be about spectatorship, FlucT is not interested in voyeurism, but rather using the body as the epicenter of a revolution through a radical intimacy.

Now we must ask, How do we achieve a radical intimacy in a digitized age of communication where we touch less and look more? What are we to make of the resulting isolation coupled with institutional propaganda geared towards demonizing bodies that don’t subscribe to the standard white male code and therefore inherently exist in opposition to a racist, vindictive, and unforgiving state? The state does not only instigate through propaganda but actively subjugates and removes agency through unfair law enforcement in the name of public safety. It is well documented that black people are incarcerated at higher rates and endure harsher sentencing than white people. This is an American tradition that can be traced back to slavery. Sable Elise Smith’s work is centered on exposing these conditioned and systematic biases against black people by recounting her familial history as it relates to racism and mass incarceration in the United States. Two small letter boards, like the ones used for school menus or camp schedules, are locked behind glass with the key in reach. Smith does not serve lunch but, instead, serves the viewer inescapable truths like ‘My Father Was a Drug Dealer and He Loved Me’. Those ten words are outrageously potent and chisel away at the projected identity of what a drug dealer, a criminal “is”: hard, undeserving, and damaged. Instead, Sable reveals her father, the “drug dealer,” to be a human, a man who loved his daughter and whose daughter felt loved. We are forced to ask, Is the state the only thing that makes Sable’s father a criminal, and does the state make criminals? In The Three Ecologies, Guattari states that individuals are “captured” by their “environment, by ideas, tastes, models, ways of being”. Sable expands on Guattari’s thinking in her other untitled wall work which details the jarring and dislodging sensory experiences of visiting, presumably, her father in jail. Sable notes the fluorescent lights, common to many institutional buildings, with their constant buzzing that “can’t be drowned out.” She goes on to say that “if you think [the buzz] ceased it’s because the buzz has now become a part of you. You walk around with it. I walk around with it. Becoming.” Sable’s words reflect the recurring elements of stress related to trauma but also show how the state is able to fundamentally impact a body and its future through a psycho-physical inscription that becomes a part of the body and is thus integrated back into the state through stimulation, lived experiences, control, and memory. The power of language is used to bridge an understanding that does not demonize victims of the state’s perpetual injustice. This sensitivity and understanding is crucial to breaking down the rigidity and supremacy ingrained in us over centuries. In this way, Sable’s work might be the most “real” work in the show, despite it being formally poetic, because it has the ability to boil down experiences to an animalistic viscerality and, in turn, to act as a call for a future yet to come.

But what is yet to come? In order to answer this question, we must have a better understanding of our present. We must think deeper and examine the complex systems of connections and machines that dictate our present and future if we are to be hospitable to the human and non-human forces that sustain us. How else can we heal (or cut) the state from the inside? We must help others to understand the same, for a failure to do so will result in a future that will never come.

Without a body is open until February 4th at Andrea Rosen Gallery 2 in Chelsea.

*Interrelational aesthetics is a study of artworks that actively engage the body through sensory and spiritual stimulation and prompt healing, introspection, and reclamation of power.

Enter the World of Omer Fast’s Post-Terror Hysteria

Berlin—Talking is not always the answer, the title of Omer Fast’s newest solo exhibition at Martin Gropius-Bau, examines the communicative turn in freeing oneself from war trauma. The act of talking through trauma is linked to catharsis, often associated to the modern turn, to Freud, who proposed talking as a way to move through trauma.

Talking is also a tactic to set a clear narrative, but not always an actual existing narrative; often the narratives that are constructed through reflection are entirely fictitious. Freud’s theory, “fort-da,” based upon watching his nephew as a baby role an object back and forth, is a game played by children to master the initial fright of loss, often cited in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) cases. Freud’s response to why PTSD victims dream of their trauma at night: in order to convert fright into an anticipated fear, rather than eliminating the traumatic event itself from memory. As such, Fort-da is a type of self-deluded mastery that subjects play to coat reality in fiction. These self-deluded games are where one finds the films of Omer Fast, imbued with characters anatomized by war drama, pornographic references, and Oedipal fantasies.

Fast’s films function within the genre of the art film, but often deal with heady, political topics, such as war trauma and terror hysteria. Based in Berlin, Fast was born and grew up in Israel and was educated in the United States. The first work one encounters upon entering is Fast’s first known work, CNN Concatenated (2002), which is installed in a type of waiting center, similar to the likes of governmental and immigration buildings in Germany. This specific piece shows different clips of CNN broadcasters speaking and looking into the camera. Their speech is fragmented, which Fast than cuts and intersperses with narratives of his own, dovetailing into lugubrious runs on sentences like, “you are afraid of dying alone, but you are even more afraid of dying in public.” The CNN broadcasters all vaguely reference 9/11—even in seemingly unrelated broadcasts like weather forecasts—in a kind of post-terror hysteria aesthetic bricolage of contemporary neo-McCarthyist diatribes. In Fast’s politically discombobulated world, talking literally becomes parsed, fragmented and personal fears develop into strange and anxious truisms.

The next work in the exhibition, Spring (2016), is far more ambitious and is also exhibited cinematically in a ciphered off dark room, with loud base sounds. It shows Fast’s development over the years from a DIY video artist as he slowly developed a more cinematic language. The work is about a homecoming. It is a follow-up to Continuity (2012), whose narrative shows a son coming home from war. Both Spring and Continuity are set in Germany. Each uses the same family unit as actors. Continuity shows a husband and a wife welcoming a long-awaited absent son who, the viewer learns, was deployed in war. However, which war and whose war the viewer is never directly revealed. Continuity tells the story of a couple, who, initially, seems to be stereotypically grieving and welcoming a family member back after a long hiatus. The narrative follows the couple as they drive to the train station to pick their son up. On the way, they encounter strange beguiling incidents: a camel who crosses their path on the road and leads them to the discovery of mass graves. Whose trauma do they encounter? They do not speak, they do not answer. In the film, the couple eventually meets their son at the station. After their arrival back home, they engage in tidbits of normal banter, seemingly set to an everyday domestic routine. The couple, anticipating the eventual return of their son, leave the room exactly how he had left it. The narrative of the homecoming builds slowly in intensity: the son, who appears addicted to drugs, begins to see visions in his food. His parents, whom the viewer begins to question, react emotionally; the mother gets up and storms into the kitchen. In the next scene, the couple is seen driving to the exact same train station. It is revealed they are picking up another unknown soldier, delivered to them like a UPS package. The previous evening’s events repeat, but this time, the son/soldier has forgotten to do something according to the script. The events then repeat themselves again, almost like a role-playing game designed by Fast, with odd sexual nuances revealed in the built up domestic intimacies between the family.

In Spring, however, the viewer encounters a full spectrum of events playing out. Aspects of the filming are literally displayed in disjointed realities throughout the five channel video. For instance, a scene filmed in a different location, with the same actor, is projected in one corner of the image, illustrating a different aspect of the story and representing an alternative reality.

The video contains two distinct coinciding narratives: that of an older son who is coming back, falling into addiction and drug dealing. And that of a much younger son who is acting, trying to replace the couple’s lost son. Here, the trauma of the homecoming is juxtaposed against the trauma of war, queer desire and brutal war ravished rape. In one of the very first scenes of the film, a soldier is running away in a desert landscape. In another, he is seducing another male soldier, the seduction turns into deception and forced anal sex. The same character encounters debt collectors who also threaten his life, beat and tie him up. Sounds of all of these actions accompany the video, in a cacophony timed perfectly to jump cuts and the camera moving in and out.

Other works such as Everything that Rises Must Converge (2013), a 4-channel video work, looks into the life of Los Angeles-based porn stars. Another work, August (2016), chronicles analog film technologies. Both of these works get lost in overly produced art film tropes, a type of techno-fascism likely made possible by the budgets of Fast’s growing and formidable gallery base. All in all, Talking is not Always the Answer creates a strong visceral feeling of confusion, fright, and sadness within the viewers. The characters, which Fast has portrayed on camera and scripted, appear caught in some type of search for their own identity, and also that of Fast’s. Like in Luigi Pirandello’s famous absurdist metatheatre, Six Characters in Search of an Author, where the characters wander around in search of their author and their unfinished and unwritten selves, Fast’s actors seem caught between searching for answers and finding pleasure in the act of searching itself. These sadistic impulses for vacancy also tie the viewer up, arresting the body within a kind of psychotic dualism: to empathize or to kill empathy itself. Omer Fast: Talking is Not Always the Solution is on view from November 18, 2016 to March 12, 2017 at the Martin-Gropius-Bau.

The Perversion of Myth at PAN Palazzo delle Arti

It is an impressive show: “Superanturalis Historia: A Saga on the Divine Nature of Power Bioaristocracy” can leave us horrified, delighted, perturbed – but definitely not impassive.

Superanturalis Historia has been designed specifically for the PAN exhibition space after careful research conducted by the artist Maurizio Elettrico and curator Eugenio Viola. They look back with wonder: “We performed a miracle.”

It was not an easy task to transform the artistic Palace’s halls in the bourgeois area of Naples. Arranged with difficulty, the rooms eventually allowed themselves to convey an exhibition that would tell a multi-sensory story. Irreverent, blasphemous, provocative, it catapults the viewer into a dimension where myth, eros, and fantasy all coexist.

The theme of the show is the epic seven-volume erotic saga “The Squirrel and the Grail”, whose author is the artist himself, Elettrico. Even for those who have not read the text, one can easily recognize the pivotal characters. Ambiguous drawings greet the visitors upon arrival. The floor is covered with salt, stones, earth. Embalmed butterflies are interwoven with resin pumpkins and pomegranates; orange is the predominant color.

From the very beginning, there is the impression of following two tracks: one natural, one artificial; different, but both easily approachable. The logic and philosophy of these two worlds blended together, seem to enrich each other to create a new, panoptic language.

Through a variety of mediums, the seven works on show – each corresponding to a volume of “The Squirrel and the Grail” from which they are inspired – include paintings, sculptures, drawings, installations, and tableaux vivants. Together they provide a perverse mythology populated by self-celebrating characters, supported by an overflow of religion, fanaticism, and intolerance.

Past and present meld together. Consider the fact that the title of the exhibition makes an ironic reference to Pliny the Elder and his Naturalis Historia (A.D. 77-78). Different stimuli converge in a playful and seductive imagery. A sensual Cervandro looks at the viewer with cold eyes and a boyish beauty. He is posing for a shot, not surprisingly, within the atrium of the Morra Foundation – a promoter of the show.


The narrative overflows with theological, philosophical, heraldic, esoteric and alchemical references that are perhaps not easily understood by everyone. Within these walls, the artist describes a futuristic world with, at times, excruciating stretches of the imagination. It is a world inhabited by wars, love, sex, political intrigue, and religious extremism; the world in which often human limitations and, more generally, the limitations of nature, are widely exceeded due to the effects of magic or science. This is a hyper-humanistic and dystopian future where Earth undergoes supremacy by the new human species, the result of sophisticated genetic manipulation: the “Bio-Aristocracy”, who will dominate the earth.

But what does it mean? How much pretentiousness can be found in a single word: this “Bio-Aristocracy” is arguably lacking. Flashback quickly, perhaps off-track, to biopower. This term, similar to biopolitics and coined by French scholar and social theorist Foucault, refers to the capacity of the agents of power, and to incorporate and control the processes of life, including corporeality.

In fact, the “Bio-Aristocracy” here is equivalent to a rather artistic demiurgic vocation. Given their “divine nature” the bio-aristocratic reigns over the other two human-like species that inhabit the earth: the “Naturals,” similar to existing men, and the “Wild,” who look human but have animal intelligence.

The works on display are complemented by a generous arrangement of a textual nature that encompasses the first three volumes of the saga, installed in such a way as to compose a monumental storyboard, a potentially infinite set of meta-narratives.

Nature and guile, femininity and masculinity, the primal and the divine – all move us constantly between alternate destinations. There is an almost reassuring triumph of colorful fruit and nature; a modern Bacchus arises, able to generate even an eau de toilette, whose packaging is nothing short of the original since the spray comes directly from the backside. “I’ll let you try it,” says the curator, taking my wrist.

I would have preferred not to have that scent bestowed, accompanying me for the rest of the day. However, it’s not every day that you can wear an artist’s fragrance, right?

Tom Sachs’ Boom Box Pseudo-Social Experiment at the Brooklyn Museum

Americans have a peculiar way of incorporating other cultures and subcultures into their own. Largely by using objects, fashion, language sometimes religion, and sometimes media American culture forge and/or reinforce certain social stereotypes when it swallows “the other” whole. Often times the marriages are forced, or loud, or messy.

Take for example the boom box, a heavy, anti-aesthetic, kitsch object with a blatantly non-positive meaning. Not something typical of the museum, but a cultural object that caught the imagination of New York-based sculptor, Tom Sachs. His Boombox Retrospective, 1999-2016 at the Brooklyn Museum (April 21–August 14) is designed to provoke and intrigue, offer a short history of the boom box and an essay on its cultural impact musically and socially.

Boom boxes were originally conceived to play AM/FM radio frequencies as well as audio cassettes. But these large objects are essentially the elephant ancestor of our pocket-sized iPhones; fabricated from several pounds of plastic, a mass of electronics and perhaps a half dozen pairs of speakers, they function like sledgehammers in the world of sound, allowing their owner to overwhelm all other voices.

But their day came and went. When first launched they were smaller versions of what they morphed into giants in the 1980s. And these music boxes ended up as symbols of hip pop culture; they were the mobile entertainment systems of less monied people. Boom boxes were carried around on their owners’ shoulders like sex dolls, and of course only spoke (or sang) when turned on. The metaphors were pregnant: here was an electronic machine gun that blasted music and all that content represented. Clearly, our desire to ascend to a more powerful version of ourselves with an ongoing roar of sound was packaged in the boom box. And those who brandished boom boxes were largely poorer minorities – urban blacks and Latinos – who used the boom box to draw boundaries within city spaces.


So how, exactly, does Tom Sachs’ do-it-yourself aesthetic fit in this scenario? What is he actually (re)building with the 18 works on view? How is street culture our culture? And how does the Brooklyn Museum take street culture off the sidewalk and into the temperature controlled gallery?

Sachs’ boom boxes attempt to reinterpret their original social-cultural purposes and essentially re-write history. It might be fair to say that the artist’s implicit anarchy manifests itself mainly through innovative juxtapositions of materials and concepts which – almost traveling in a wormhole through space-time – “comes from and goes back to” History. This is achieved with a range of found and common materials to make the boom boxes on view appear more than what they are – a dash of anthropomorphism and garage aesthetic gets them there.

Sachs’ works appear to travel on their own timelines but, most importantly, they challenge conventions – if by “conventions” we mean our own “visual habits” – what we’re used to/expect to see in a work of art.

Perhaps calling Sachs’ works “assemblages” or “bricolages” does not do them much justice, because he’s trying to erase the past by dressing these objects up into a better, more fanciful version of their former selves.

The 18 boom boxes built, designed – and “culturally (re)designed” – by Sachs are each characterized by an intellectually challenging unique “personality.”

In “Clusterfuck” (2014), for instance, a white boom box made of porcelain and other materials – including bull’s horns – are cobbled together in a taxidermy style composition. There is implied in this piece a sense of the Old West, and the work riffs off the American Native Indian – the horns as a headdress. In some ways, this boom box wears a kind of “cultural mask,” a rewritten version of the former cultural context of boom boxes. It is a stylized modern warrior, a shaman, a spiritual entity and fills the gallery with unintelligible natural landscapes – the same paths we walk in our dreams when our spirits awaken.

As Tom Sachs explains in his interview with Time Out Magazine, the work “Guru’s Yardstyle” (1999) refers to a snowball stand on Lafayette Street where he used to have yard parties with DJ Nova. This work, however, in its guise of a transfiguration of an old recollection of the artist, turns out to be emotionally colder and less engaging than the humanoid boomboxes such as “Sarah” (2014) – which carries a sword embedded in “her” head almost like a metaphorical weight she’s been forced to bear in the name of contemporary art – or “Phonkey” (2011), which at first glance looks like a droll robot that just landed on planet Mars.

“Defender” (2000) is another emblem of America’s lost youth, a video game for obsessed teenage boys who skipping school would toss quarters into its maw as they manned pixel battleships and saved the universe. Perhaps young Tom Sachs also used those massive boxes layered in motorcycle tattoo drawings, to defend himself from a difficult reality while playing in a virtual reality. This image reminds me of Rosso Malpelo, a character of one of the most iconic Italian verist writers, Giovanni Verga. Malpelo is a poor boy left orphaned by a mine explosion where his father was working. To overcome the pain – and since all he knows are those mines – he spends hours working in the same mines where his father died. The result: total immersion in a lost world, and a detachment from the present.

Altogether these works point to the fundamental relationship between men, order, and symmetry. There are, indeed, countless references to painstakingly re-arranged futuristic architectures and designs that might deceive us into believing that Sachs’ work would be purely aesthetic, yet whenever he shares his vision and artistic process with us – take a look at his Vimeo channel, for instance – he’s never disappointing. Sachs is a master in creating interdisciplinary connections between the original objects and memories from which he takes inspiration. (I still remember viewing his work in person for the first time in Bologna, at the Maramotti Collection, next to works by Alberto Burri and Enrico Castellani, and thinking how his altered objects were simultaneously from the present, the future, and the past.

I’m left with a pair of questions after viewing this exhibition: are these boom boxes meant to resuscitate the voices and sounds of American minority cultures, or are they rather meant to trigger a discussion about the objects that made our history regardless of our social-cultural roots? Or better, how is it that Sachs’ works, based on historically relevant objects such as boom boxes, will one day turn into a poignant expression of today’s present history?

Tom Sachs’ Boombox Retrospective can be considered interesting and even educationally useful in virtue of the secrets it hides and reveals, and the invisible concepts and references it points out. A success for the Brooklyn Museum curators, too in both mixing up old and new with creativity, boldness, and the more than the latest trends in popular culture – indeed some of the defining notions of what a trend really is, or was.

Trust Issues: “Rush for President” and the Pitfalls of the American Electoral Process

The Presidential Election season in the United States never fails to provide an abundance of rich material for artists, journalists, and anyone participating in the cultural conversation to engage with. Yet, to say “this election is no different” would be a gross understatement. With a bigoted former reality TV star leading the imploding Republican Part, and the instant fame of average red sweater-wearing citizen Kenneth Bone, it is safe to say the 2016 Presidential Election is quite unlike any other in history. Gallery Bergen in New Jersey has responded to the current political climate with their group show “Art VOTES: Visualizing the Democratic Process,” on view until Friday, November 11th, 2016. The exhibition features works by twenty-three artists from across the country, all of which relate to government, the electoral process, or specific themes and issues surrounding the current Presidential Election.

Among the multi-media works in the exhibition is Arlene Rush’s “Rush for President,” a satirical interactive installation for which Ms. Rush envisions what her own Presidential campaign might have looked like had she decided to run in the 2008 election. “Rush for President” features a large campaign poster with Ms. Rush in a fine suit and pearl necklace standing beside a man she identifies as Derek Adams, the gallery director who has endorsed the artist’s bid for the Presidency. Mr. Adams wears a clean white button-down shirt with a “Rush for President ‘08” t-shirt pulled on over it.

Below the poster is a table draped with the early version of the American Flag attributed to Betsy Ross, brandishing a circle of thirteen stars representing the thirteen original colonies. Atop the table sits a bowl of “Rush for President” buttons for gallery visitors to take with them and a donation box, imploring viewers to contribute to Rush’s campaign and “world peace.”

The poster image of the mature white woman next to the young black man immediately recalls the disquiet of the 2008 Democratic Primaries, in which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off for the official Presidential Nomination from the Democratic Party. Although the DNC patted itself on the back for hosting such a historic primary between two ‘minority’ candidates, the racial and gendered tensions underlying that election were palpable. This only further illustrated to voters how far we still have to go in accepting and accommodating marginalized groups in our country.

Racial tension was not the only thing that gave voters pause during the 2008 Democratic Primary. After spending weeks poking holes in each other’s political careers in attempts to secure the nomination, Obama and Clinton quickly shifted gears once Barack had won out. As any candidate loyal to their party must do, Clinton went from questioning Obama’s level of experience to campaigning along with him, insisting he was more suited to the Presidency than his Republican opponent, longtime Senator John McCain. In return, Barack offered Clinton the Secretary of State position in his cabinet; despite the flaws of hers that he chose to highlight for his own political gain a few weeks earlier. Seeing Rush and Adams side by side below the red and blue “ ‘08” logo recalls the events of that year’s election and serves to remind us of the fickle nature of political relations, and the implications of that in the public’s ability to trust their candidates.

The ‘Betsy Ross’ flag ties into the dated theme of “Rush for President.” As a campaign for a 2008 Presidency taking place in 2016, the elements of Rush’s display that are seemingly stuck in the past serve to remind the viewer of the highly flawed and outdated electoral process we still rely on in 2016 to designate our leaders. However, the 18th-century flag creates an even more disjointed timeline, lending the piece an increasingly complex historical narrative. One can’t help but be reminded of Donald Trump’s hollow “Make America Great Again” slogan. The phrase refers to no particular period of time, nor any specific qualities that must be restored in order to ensure ‘greatness.’ The brilliance of “Make America Great Again” is that it doesn’t mean anything at all. The individual Trump supporter can project their own definition of ‘greatness’ onto the slogan, whichever time period in American history they’ve glorified, and convince themselves that Trump shares those same values. For some, that period of ‘greatness’ may have been as recent as 2008. Others pine for the days when thirteen stars on the flag were enough to account for every colony in America. “Make America Great Again,” means something completely different to each individual, rendering the phrase ultimately meaningless.


Rush drives home her point about the vague and often empty promises candidates make on the campaign trail with her donation box asking viewers to empty their pockets for ‘world peace.’ The ambiguous motive behind the donation box echoes the roundabout way politicians answer debate questions when competing for votes; talking constantly yet rarely mentioning anything of tangible substance. Viewers and voters are left to wonder what their candidate truly believes in, and what they will actually do with the money and power they acquire.

“Rush for President” does an impeccable job of underscoring some of the problematic aspects of the electoral process and how these pitfalls affect voters’ perspectives and faith in that system. In campaigning for a 2008 Presidency in 2016, Arlene Rush highlights how deeply out of touch many politicians are with the real issues affecting the public today. Yet there is an even more pointed observation to take away from “Rush for President” in the wake of Trump’s Presidential candidacy. The installation is meant as a satirical interactive art piece, but Rush actually is handing out buttons and collecting campaign donations like a real candidate would on the campaign trail. “Rush For President” begs the question, what is the difference between this work of art and an actual Presidential campaign? If the political climate of 2016 is such that a reality television host like Donald Trump can run on a campaign of outrageous bigotry and get as far as he has in this election, who knows? If Arlene Rush’s satirical campaign were to pick up enough momentum, anything could happen.

Satellite Art Show: The Anti-Art Fair

The 2016 edition of SATELLITE Art Show placed art in all the rooms of a three-story South Beach hotel. SATELLITE Art Show is #notbasel and presented a number of exhibitions and performances that fostered art as resistance and critical reflection during a week generally reserved for reckless abandon (note: many beach spliffs were still enjoyed). As 2016 closes, it was nearly magical to be part of an art fair that did not shy away from the power dynamics and provided space for artists to confront the history of racism in the United States, gender bias in the art world, and climate change (shoutout to Laurencia Strauss’s Hope and Doom) through roaming performances, historical recollection, and installations.

Here is a synopsis of performances and exhibitions that tackled racism in America head on: Quinn Dukes, Director of Performance is Alive, and Satellite’s performance art curator organized a steady stream of performances that took over the entire hotel, spilled into the street, and featured performers predominantly engaged in timely political and socially charged topics. Quinn’s program was visceral and poetic. A particularly poignant piece was Ayana Evans‘ “Making a Way Out of No Way,” was a political and personal meditation on navigating the art world as a black woman. It involved the artist rolling on the floor, down the stairs, and through crowds of spectators as fellow performer Nyugen Smith repeatedly yelled “Get out the way! Black woman coming through. Please move. Step aside.” The title of the work and the ridiculousness of the act, coupled with the stark literalness of Smith’s repeated words create a desperate reflection on the impossibilities female artists of color face in a predominantly white, male, art world.

If Evan drew our attention to the hindrances artists of color face when navigating the Art World, Dominique Duroseau offered insight into the inverse by using her body as a vehicle to reflect on how mainstream culture actively appropriates and white-washes blackness. In “Mammy Was Here: To Plea” Duroseau dressed in all black and wore a black sculptural mask as she led a procession through the hotel while professing “It Ain’t Right!”. As Duroseau performed, she invited viewers to grab one of the hundreds of dime-bags, labeled “original blackness” and filled with black powder, gathered in her dress. Duroseau was immensely sincere, and as the performance came to a close her words turned to cries that echoed through the hotel hallways. Another highlight from Duke’s program included Joseph Bigley’s “Free Market Cannibalism” where the artist shredded a bleach-soaked copy of the full transcript from the Citizens United Supreme Court Hearings and then served it as “legislative links” from a hot dog cart outside the hotel.

In an un-Basel fashion, a handful of galleries at SATELLITE used their platform to support work that is not made for the market, but rather to educate through research-oriented exhibitions. These shows examined how certain aspects of the civil rights and other related movements have been forgotten over the decades. The aptly named Southern Gallery, from Charleston, South Carolina, presented “Inherited Truth / Inherited Pride” featuring artists Michaela Pilar Brown, Eliot Dudik, and Colin Quashie. Through design motifs, photography, and mixed media collages, the Southern Gallery transformed their room into an exhibition that forces viewers to consider history as it relates to slavery and the normalization of these atrocities at the intersection of tourism and the market. Brown’s collages and sculptural assemblages cultivate the power of materials and objects to echo the past.

The most successful of Brown’s work is “Battle Tomorrow.” A swing, lined with bullets and suspended from a ceiling of synthetic hair, turned a child’s pastime into a weapon. It brought to life the living-trauma still present for many people of color – even in the “safest” of places, like a playground. Dudik’s photographs of modern Civil War re-enactors called into question the precarious situation where people profit from history, while those who suffered still suffer. The most impactful offering from “Inherited Truth / Inherited Pride” was Quashie’s wallpaper titled “Frenchie Toile…Negro Toil” that framed the exhibition both physically and conceptually. Quashie’s wallpaper graphically depicts the vicious cycle of people of color sold into slavery and forced to live in abject servitude while making possible their masters’ domesticated leisure and opulence depicted on French Toile pattern wallpaper. “Inherited Truth / Inherited Pride” critiques the re-branding of plantations and other historically significant sites in America’s South.

Bibiana Medkova’s installation “Make America Great Again,” housed in Le Proveocetuer’s self-described queer-afro-futurist-taboo stripper club, featured a Make America Great Again sign and archival images from the Civil Rights Movement. Medkova’s literalness is not varnished in poetics but is powered by stark reality.

SATELLITE Art Show is anything but escapism. This was an art fair centered around the very essence of our humanness. Ironically, the final note was one of hope.

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