A spotlight shines on an empty red-carpeted platform awaiting a speaker, the words of the next president of the United States. The heavily scripted theater of national elections packaged for our immediate consumption form the essence of 2004–American & The Globe. Multi-media artist Jon Winet, writer Margaret Crane, and lighting designer Dale MacDonald have created a hybrid art form, part journalism and part non-partisan public service, that points to the ‘art” of the democratic process.
In this exhibit, the artists seek to capture the anxiety and excitement of an unfolding event in American history. Red carpets line the entrance to political events and consequently this show. Blue, white, and pinkish red (because they look better on TV) dot the carpet as if they have just fallen from above. A video of slow motion confetti flying through the air accompanied by a score of droning sounds served as reminder of the brainwashing qualities of election propaganda. The video footage and the photographs were 12 days old at time of the opening. In fact, the entire exhibit amplifies a sense of haste.
The tenor of the installation is one of an “event,” either one that has just happened, or about to happen. And it’s difficult to know exactly which way it’s heading. There is a makeshift interview set-up with the equipment boxes left open and the rigging not quite hung. Within this set are two microphones sitting on a small round table and a camera poised to record those at the table. A large screen encloses the opposite side of the set upon which an array of ordinary people respond to election issues. One interviewee reminds us that “God loves John Kerry too.”
A website serves as another limb, and in some ways, the hub of this project. The frequent updates on the website speak to the rapidly changing circumstances of election terrain. Visitors can enter the conversation by contributing to a thread, connect with major newspapers, read numerous articles by Winet, Crane, and others displaying a variety of viewpoints, view rotating images from the campaign trail, and mostly importantly, up until the deadline, register to vote.
A stunning photograph of the clever platform conceived by the Republicans to put the president in the middle of the arena resembles a mix between a layered wedding cake and a cryptic crop circle. Emptiness is the subtext here, pointing to the unnamed next contender, or the intellectual bankruptcy of the packaging of the presidency. You choose.
Note: This review of 2004-American & The Globe originally appeared in the November, 2004, issue of Artshouston Magazine. I include it here as a reminder to dancers of the artfulness, drama, and yes, dance on the political stage. I had the opportunity to interview Jon Winet and was left both baffled and inspired by his optimism. “I can’t wait to get up in the morning and read The New York Times, he said. Confused enough for this dour, defeated, democrat to volunteer to be trained and serve as a poll watcher. On November 2, I got up at 4:30 in the morning, dragging my own chair and provisions, to precinct 623. I sat for hours on a stage, no less, watching one cantankerous election judge go to extreme lengths to protect voters’ rights. I consider that day both an act of citizenship and performance. Currently Winet continues to wrap up the project with the plan to re-launch The Conversation, the bulletin board/blog component of the web site.
Photo by Jon Winet and Margaret Crane