Studio: 2017-The Democracy Project

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"Democracy": Study for ceramic floor mosaic, Casein on paper  19' x 9'

OPENING THE STUDIO AFTER 15-YEAR ABSENCE :  Reentering a studio artist mindset, created both reservation and anticipation. Reservation- in that the "art scene" was 15 years down the road from my last creative focus.  Both mind and body needed a renewed and disciplined creative reset.  Anticipation-I had been collecting interesting things over the years and it was time to do something creative with them. These things collected had interesting form/function/signifier identity as well as a potential for simulacra manipulation.

From a very formalized fine art training, I looked at the visual world as existing of three basic elements (Beings/People, Places, Things). Before closing the studio, my portfolio had explored both Place and People in various ways. It felt natural for a creative challenge focused on "things". I had also decided to revisit my deconstruction past and challenge art's prime tennent that form follows function and approach the studio working off the idea that function follows form to see what would happen to the creative process. Things (various forms) had been stored for years were brought out and placed around the studio as a way of getting their visual presence into the creative space and into my stream of consciousness so that a function could be created for each thing/form.

 

Among the things that were placed in the studio were:

1. Old heavily used leather work gloves

2. Rusted tin cans

3. Alder tree bark

4. A burnt out part of an orchard ladder

5. An old American flag from the WWII

6. A beat up marching band color guard fake rifle

7. Ancient Church bingo set

8. An old fashion water heater skin

9. Cardboard box full of used pencils and erasers

10. Sleeping eye mask

11. A 1920's truck 4 piece motor hood

12. Sledge hammer head and heavily used wedges

13. 25 lbs. of anthracite coal 

14. A rotting 60's soccer ball

15. Ceramic tiles

While the studio was getting set up in 2016 with "things" spread around, and the work space uncluttered and cleared out, America was becoming focused on the newly elected President Donald Trump. As his approach to leadership began to unfold, his processes and decisions were quickly being questioned. Concern was beginning to surface in the media over the way his administration seemed to be operating on the fringe and outside the rule of law as an established norm. It was alleged that Trump had broken campaign laws in order to be elected by eliciting the assistance of foreign powers. As I read and listened to accusations and responses coming from all sides, the "things" around the studio and the media news began to meld and collide within my stream of creative consciousness. Studio time and  energy was beginning to focus on American political disorder that was to later evolve into social disorder towards the end of the Trump presidency.

 

Ideas about putting function to form gathered momentum through the summer of 2017. Confrontations between President Trump, the democratic party, and the media was becoming a daily joust over the networks. The media had concentrated its reporting on every facet of the Trump administration and it was beginning to spread into its coverage of congress and the balance of power set out in the Constitution. Trump accused the journalists of being on a witch hunt calling their reporting "fake news" even though they were presenting factual events being gleaned from his administration and by Trump himself. The media accused Trump of lying to the people and abusing his powers as President. Trump called the media "a national threat to democracy". The Democrats in congress began to press for investigations looking for truth. Republicans pushed back using the "witch hunt" battle cry. The political atmosphere began to escalate to the point that lines were drawn and both sides were in attack mode claiming each other of lying to the public. I found this turmoil fascinating to the extent that my creative process was colliding with reality on a daily basis.

Before 2016, I was preparing to explore human communication beginning with the premise that all human communication could be understood as a streaming dialectic between truth and lie. The premise was that any communication uttered has a 50% chance to be the truth or a 50% chance to be a lie. It seemed to make sense that both forms could be equally weighed as both served an outcome. If valid, then the notion that communication as truth should be challenged since it is only half of the probability. But, it would threaten the institution of law and order since truth is at its foundation.  This thought process continued through the summer of 2017 while considering the "things" for creative potential. It was late August when the media exploded with non-stop analysis and criticism of the Trump administration's activities. Creating a collision with my thesis of a balanced dialectic and  morphing it into an investigation of how the lie was becoming a preferred  form of communication and opening the possibility that there was no further need for truth. By January I had become obsessed with watching my democracy weakened by a constant stream of lying from the Trump camp and their intense rebuke of anyone who disagreed their narrative.

I had volunteered to teach art to refugees in Greece for three months starting in January 2017. It was to be a safe place to journal, formalize studio ground rules and work out ideas already taking form in my journal. While volunteering on the Island of Lesvos, there was a museum that had restored ancient ceramic floor mosaics from both Greek and Roman eras. The use of symbology in the floor patterns as both aesthetic and social instruction caught my attention.  I also explored preserved artifacts of early Athenian democracy. Both were influential in journaling through those cold months. The Greek economy was struggling and many Greeks had to make sacrifices.  The house I rented a room in was a good example. Having limited income the for meeting expenses, the owner couldn't afford to have heating. The months from Jan. through to March were bitterly cold. It was a miracle I thought to bring my down sleeping bag with me. As a result, I would spend most free time at a pub or coffee shop thinking, journaling, and meeting with new found friends, or huddled inside my sleeping bag waiting for mornings to come.  

Throughout the stay in Greece, the communication dialectic worked its way through nightly journaling. Being alone and without social responsibilities, I was completely free to think and scratch out ideas. One night at a favorite pub, I got into a discussion with the owner Apostoli, who was curious about my constant journaling. During the conversation on dialectics, he remarked that the journal seemed to be focused on the lying side of the dialectic and that my thinking might be one sided. Going home that night, I realized that my Greek friend was right. The journal was not a balanced dialectic weighing the yin and yang of communication. It lead to the realization that the social fabric in America was out of balance and trending dangerously toward chaos. It seemed to be succeeding.

 

This was the turning point for how I looked at the "things" in the studio after returning from Greece in March 2017. I resolved to explore the use of lies as the "function" of the things waiting in the studio. The first work started was "Democracy Mosaic". The experience in Greece influenced the idea to explore a tiled ceramic floor mosaic form to function as a representation of  American democracy by using color, shape, and juxtaposition symbolically. I researched symbology in "The Secret Language of Symbols" A visual key to symbols and their meanings: David Fonatana  to resource how symbolism has been used in the past. From notes taken, I began to create a symbolic representation of democracy in the form of a classic floor mosaic. The outer boundary of red and blue rectangles represents the coming together of two equal perfect squares and the two main parties. Inside that boundary is a second layer of equilateral triangles representing male/female as well as holy heaven and earth referents, as well as the three branches of a balanced government. Within the triangular boundaries are found 50 squares made up of 50 small rectangles being the union of individual states. There are, as part of the union, 5 blank squares that represent the unknown future. They represent perfection, unity and balance. Squares containing rectangles created by the union of two perfect squares. The corner stones of the mosaic are four black squares comprised of nine smaller black squares. They represent the supreme court and the nine justices. Etched upon each black corner is a labyrinth representing the difficult journey needed to find "the way" to truth.

 While completing "Mosaic", things were heating up through investigations of the Trump leadership exposing deepening threats to our democracy. Elements within congress on the Democratic side were finding that President Trump's exercise of his office was manipulating the rule of law with disregard for the checks and balances of our Constitution. It was during the Mueller investigations May 2017-March 2019 that the title for the whole body of works became," Canary". The idea was that our 45th leader was a canary in the coal mine whos singing would keep the workers safe (they thought they were safe from his singing/lies). But, if the canary went silent, the workers would know that their lives were in danger and they could respond by getting out of the mine. Unfortunately the canary kept on singing and the miners were duped into thinking the environment was healthy. This body of work is about a canary, who's nonstop singing, has made the workers feel safe failing to realize that breathing conditions had become deadly.