Monument of Lies
Monument of lies: Bisc ceramic on wood support and base. 14"x14"x 8'
Upon return from Greece May 2017, I was under the influence of experiences from exploring ancient archeological sites and many of the "things" being displayed. While going through the museum in the Athens Agora just below the Acropolis, I came across a display case that housed some pottery chards. That had names scratched on them. The explanation text talked about an event associated with early Athenian democracy called the ostrakiasmos.
In the early Athenian democracy, citizen participation was expected and most decisions were made through a voting process. Periodically, the Athenians would hold a vote asking the public to identify any citizen who was not upholding their responsibilities as an Athenian. The vote would be administered in the market square of the Agora under the watchful supervision of the elected body of elders. In order to vote, a citizen would find an old pottery chard (they were strewn all over the streets and pathways of Athens) and use its surface to scratch the name of an offender on it. The chard would then be thrown into a large ceramic container located in the Agora. After a certain time had expired, the elders would empty the jug record the names and the number of times that name appeared on chards. If an individuals name appeared on more than 2000 chards, that person would be banned from setting foot in Athens for a period of 10 years. There were some very famous Athenian leaders who had been banned from Athens as a result of this process. This is were the word ostracize in the English language comes from.
While starting work on the "Democracy" mosaic study, I was also thinking about how to recreate an ostrakiasmos and had come up with an idea using ceramic tiles. I wanted to make low fire rectangular ceramic tiles 1/4"x 1"x 2" and arrange them into 50 tile packages and mail each off to one of the 50 State museums. The museum would develop a program were the public could get the tiles and scratch the names of people they felt were not being responsible citizens. I would collect the tiles and place them in the center section of the "Democracy" mosaic.
I had manufactured around 400 tiles when two events happened that changed my thinking. One was the amount of time and effort dedicated to distributing and collecting 2,500 tiles from the 50 different organizations across the nation. The other event was related to the slow change in the media's attitude toward Donald Trump's prolific rapport with the public. He was about a year and a half into his term of office. The media's dialogue slowly moved from terms like, "disingenuous" to straight up "lies". Instead of writing "Today the President's comments were misleading" in an editorial, they would say "Today the President lied about".
Being curious about the emergence of the word lies as part of the national dialogue, I wondered if anyone was keeping track of his lies since the term "fact check" was frequently in the dialogue. There were many sources tracking Trump's public announcements and I found that the Washington Post's fact check was as accurate as any other. At the time (July 2017) the number given by them was around four hundred inconsistencies with the truth. Out of curiosity, I wondered what that would look like as a 3 dimensional visual if I began to stack tiles were each tile functioned as a lie told, what that would look like.
Once the tiles were stacked, I began to think about the shape, mass, and texture of the tiles and consider various possibilities for creating a sculptural work with the idea. The first thought was to compare Trumps lies to past presidents lies for perspective and found that all presidents were forced to lie to the public for a number of reasons. The book,"Lying in State" does a deep dive into this aspect of leadership. I found that Obama had around 37 lies in his tenure as president, George Bush had 935 times he lied. There is documented information on presidential lying that goes back to Abraham Lincoln establishing the lye as being part of politics. Confirmation that President Trump's lying was a statistical outlier, was being supported by numerous media sources. It was worth developing into an artistic treatment. Tracking Trump's lying started by checking the Washington Post's fact checker who was keeping tally. At the time it was reported that he was communicating 12 lies a day. While continuing work on other pieces, I fired tiles and stacked them as the tally of lies increased. As the stack of tiles increased in size and mass through the winter of 2018, the total number of public lies Donald Trump had communicated to the public was getting substantial. With that realization, an algorithm was created to mathematically predict how many tiles would be required to complete the project. I decided that the tally would end on January 20th, the day of the either Trumps inauguration of his second term or the beginning of some other person's presidency. If he won a second term, there would be a "Twin Towers of lies". The algorithm projected that I would need approximately 18,000 tiles (It is now Jan. 2021, Donald Trump lost the election, and he makes over 50 false claims a day adding up to over 20,000 lies for his only term as president). Calculating the size and the mass of that many tiles, I had to make accommodations to the project. The column of tiles was calculated to be around 8 feet tall and its mass would be around one ton. At this point there arose some safety and logistical questions.
1. Could the weight of the stacked tiles exceed the ability of the ceramic to maintain its integrity or would it crack and crumble under its own weight (I really liked the poetic of that happening)?
2. How can I make sure the tiles will not topple over?
3. How must I stack the tiles in a way that keeps them in place?
4. How can I transport the work so that it doesn't have to be disassembled and reassembled every time it gets shown?
Solutions were created through 2018 and 2019. The height was capped at 8'. On Jan. 20 the monument is a 18,230 tiles. All additional tiles needed will comprise a base around the bottom. A core wood support structure runs from the bottom to the top for stability. The wood column would supplant the interior tiles thus easing the need to manufacture tiles that won't be seen and ease up on having to add more mass/weight to the whole work. I also followed the brick laying procedure of cross hatching tiles so that they increased strength. Finally, I built a wood crate that was sufficiently padded to protect the tiles and keep them from shifting when in the crate and they could be shipped without disassembly.
If the work ever gets sold, the work will be grouted together and the center filled with concrete on site in order to make it a permanent work of art.
The construction accounting:
1. 268 layers of tiles
2. 72 tiles per layer
3. 19,296 total tiles in the column
Total number of lies recorded by Washinton Post "Fact Checker" department = 29,508 lies in his one term as President of the United States.
4. 10,212 tiles in the base.