My artwork “God bless #Amurika”, on display at the Ludwig Museum (Cologne), explained
I have often criticized artists who hide behind “my work speaks for itself” or “it’s up to the viewer to interpret my work”. Nice try, but that’s bullshit.
Of course, anyone can interpret anything when exposed to an artwork! But the artist should at least make an attempt to explain the meaning behind a piece. No matter how self-explanatory (or obscure) it might be. It’s not “restricting the viewer”, it’s guiding; suggesting is not imposing.
I don’t buy “that’s not my job” or “I’m not good with words” either. Because if you can’t eloquently and intelligently express your thoughts and actions, I may enjoy your work under that framework (Art Brut, Outsider, or whatever), but I want to know. And no, I don’t want your dealer, curator, or critic to speak for you. Don’t let the establishment sequester your voice, your genius, your creativity, with the promise to make it shine and propel it to heights you can’t reach yourself: anything you do yourself is genuine, and therefore it has the maximum value… unless you are talking about money, of course. But that’s a whole different story. We are talking art here, expression, not market or money.
So back to my own work.
Like David Shrigley, an artist whose work I really like, I often find myself using hand written words all over my pieces.
I created “God bless #Amurika” on the invitation of Ludwig Contemporary Art Museum’s Art Lab in Cologne (Germany), November 9, 2016. Of course, I woke up with the nightmare news of Donald Trump being elected President of the USA. I could not think about anything else, I had to let the thoughts, feelings, fears and anxieties that the news provoked in me, out. I needed to fix them down, to exorcise them out of me, and to share them with a world that for the most part does not seem to be listening, and does not seem to care.
First I took the silhouette of a flying dove, symbol of peace and freedom, and added a cardboard cutout of spectacles pencil-painted green over it.
Notice that the spectacles do not have lenses (in the form of a different color, reflection, or any other hint suggesting their presence), so they are an intention, a symbol, rather than an actual mechanism that may be manipulated or become a restrictive thought framework.
But the spectacles themselves are the key: they are commonly associated in most cultures with science, education, knowledge, and culture.
That’s what the “dove” desperately needs, in order to fly high and above, to soar to the clouds. In order to remain free.
Inside the dove silhouette I wrote:
- God bless #Amurika: “God”, in its broadest sense, not as much as spirituality, but as an undefined deity. That to which the irrational mind appeals (“bless”) to try to participate in a development over which it feels it has no control, but it wishes it did. Note the use of the “hashtag symbol” to denote current communication affected by social media, particularly the 140 character restriction imposed by Twitter, and the “subject ontology tagging” brought by the hashtag, which both focuses and narrows our conversations messages. “Amurika” is another reference to current departures from traditional communications, where proper form is superseded by intentional (or not) spelling mistakes and phonetizations.
- #WhiteLash: the main real reason for Trumps’ Electoral College (not popular vote) victory. The extreme and irrational Republican Party opposition to Barack Obama’s presidency, amplified by ultra-conservative media, received by millions of latent (and even open) racist Americans has generated the perfect environment for a “WhiteLash” reaction.
- #Trumpf: in reference to John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show covering Trump’s family name and how it changed upon entering the U.S. from Drumpf to Trump, so #Trumpf became a calling for further inquiry into Trump’s (and his family’s) past. More info here.
- Misogyny votes / Fear votes / Racism votes / Ignorance votes / Short sightedness votes / Selfishness votes: all those negative states of mind, personality traits, ways of thinking, ways of life… however you want to characterise it, is nothing else than, in the end, people. People fear. People are weak and vulnerable. People have fear. People are irrational and aggressive. And people vote.
- But don’t attack voting, invest in education: and as the last line says, it is not necessarily voting that represents the problem. Voting is just an expression and tally of a choice (albeit a limited one in the case of a two-party election). Representation IS the real problem: when the vote goes to an intermediary. When your choice, your individuality, is aggregated, reduced, limited, and kidnapped by those who, enshrined in the “representative role they have been chosen to play”, amass power to abuse those whom they are supposed to represent, which again produces fear, anger and… here we go again. How to break that vicious cycle? Education. Educate people, and once they are educated, they can inform, debate, and choose freely, and directly, without the need of any intermediary. Direct Democracy. True Democracy.
Where is that dove, the embodiment of our aspirations, a quasi-spiritual figure, is trying to fly to?
In Cloud 1 I wrote:
- Philosophy: the highest achievement of human self-consciousness. So lacking in political or scientific debate. So necessary as guiding light and principle of our social contracts and personal aspirations.
- “Beliefs”: in brackets because it is a double-edged sword of a concept. On the one hand, beliefs are what hold us together through the gaps in knowledge. It’s what completes our rational structures to make a polished whole of each one of us. It’s nothing short of our identities. But at the same time, any gregarious movement of organized abuse (call it religion or politics) has often referred to “beliefs” as the reason and driving force behind their actions.
- Pursuit: because no cloud is a destination, and there is no destiny other than to pursue. Or like the Zen koan puts it: the journey is the reward.
- Improve: it is what should happen in that journey, constant improvement, aspiring to go higher. Not to trump anyone, but to gain perspective and understanding.
- Aspire: what will drive that improvement. Not “ambition”.
Pride: not the kind that gives us a wrong and rotten feeling of superiority in an artificially stratified society, but the kind that we feel inside, when we overcome challenges, when we improve compared to our previous self. As “we” are always changing, for we are what we want and mean to be.
Inspire: because, in the end, we are a group (society, species, family, ‘hood… however you look at it). And our well-being can only come from the well-being of all the members in the group. We should and must take care of each other, helping propel each other higher and higher.
In Cloud 2:
- Happyness (I always thought it should be spelled that way, so I wrote it the way I like it): so personal, so clearly recognizable, so important, that it should drive all our actions. But not only our individual “happyness”, but ensuring the “happyness” of all.
- Facts / “Truth” / Data / “Reality”: we could go on and on about Epistemology, but at the end of the day, if we do not share a common illusion, we can not work together.
- Debate / Science: to me, both are the same. To science needs debate, and there is no debate without science. But that is the only way for us to coordinate and move forward.
- Equality / Share: Didn’t they tell you as a kid? Share. When did we stop thinking that was a good idea? When did “the other” become someone to be worried about, or even scared of? When will we realize that there is no “other”, that we are all “we”?
At the bottom, inside a “speech balloon”, I wrote:
Thank you Obama, but it was not enough
Because if we are to remain in a representative democracy, Michelle Obama might make a great president.
I added my signature, and for the date I wrote:
The day the USA woke up to reality: Nov. 9, 2016
Notice how in the picture I wrote all that in ALL CAPS to reflect the common online practice of using all caps convey a scream. A scream because this election has been more about shouting than it has been about reasoning. And because I want to shout, to scream in a different way: to reach the world, to spread the message. Finally a scream as a primal instinct. A shout because it hurts, because I’m angry, because I need to shout.
That’s, in a nutshell, what I meant, what I wanted to say.
Good luck and good night.