Reading Juhasz this week, and specifically focusing at least first on the construction of the image, I decided to use Adobe Photoshop this week. I figured it was the program most likely to give me the most amount of control (while still being free as it was loaded on my computer as part of an "education" package), while still, as Juhasz describes, forcing me "to struggle with skills," which is something that I wanted to challenge myself with (299). I refused online tutorials and poked around the software, restarting the project nearly a dozen times because I could not figure out how to undo actions past the most immediate change. The exercise in repetition, in change, in failure was important. I wanted to gain skills through trial and error, and to see what I could struggle with in order to succeed.
Looking at the ACT UP posters, I knew that part of my message would be the appropriation of particular image, a reworking of it to the original purpose, and placing a cry for a more inclusive message on top. Being that I also wanted to think about the "spreadability" of the media, and engage with concepts of whether or not my activist message could come through while still remaining comprehensible to the Popular/"Masses," I needed to pick an image that was current, and topical, while layering meaning through the appropriation of other artists. For this piece, I found one of Jenny Holzer's Inflammatory Essays (1979-82) and one of Barbara Kruger's pieces Don't Be A Jerk (1996). I wanted to specifically engage with the piece of "pop up art activism" that was disseminated throughout 5 major US cities in public settings by the group Indecline, titled The Emperor Has No Balls. This art piece has been picked apart by news outlets and private blogs, praised and condemned, protested. As this story unfolded, and discourses around the body that the Trump statue mocked, I was reminded of a passage from Eli Clare's introduction to their book Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation, that "the body as home, but only if it is understood too that language lives under the skin...the body as home, but only if it is understood that bodies can be stolen, fed lies, and poison, torn away from us...Some bodies are taken for good; other bodies live on, numb, abandoned, filled with self-hate. Both have been stolen" (12-13).
|Sean Brody, San Francisco 2016|
What does it mean when activist art alienates minority groups in the spirit of mocking a terrible, narcissistic Presidential Candidate? Who are they trying to reach with this message? With this particular installation piece, created by a mainly male, white, and seemingly cis-gendered collective of self proclaimed anarchist individuals, their message becomes blurred with the overtones of dominant hegemony, and ends up only reinforcing issues of toxic masculinity. By mocking Trump for his body, they not only reinforce stereotypes, but further place trans individuals at risk for violence. What does it mean then, when activist art inspires violence against marginalized communities?
To move back to my particular piece, in light of these questions and ideas, I wanted to push back against not only Donald Trump's particularly vile rhetoric, but to take part of the message that the original statue espoused (mocking people for their bodies, specifically their non-normative bodies, small phallus/no phallus) and obfuscating it from the viewer's gaze. The only parts of the background image that are clear to see is the hand pointing towards the blurred object, and a laughing face in the background. Donald Trump uses fear as a tactic to mobilize his constituents, but in light of the debates surrounding Trans individuals and their rights, the high murder and violence rate against them (especially trans women of color), I want to point to the viewers responsibility and how it is reflective of a culture at large that is fearful still of the non-white, non-abled, non-skinny, non-heterosexual, etc. To do so, utilizing both the text of Kruger and Holzer forces the viewer to come closer to the piece to try to see all of it, blocked by text to remind them of the culpability of them as the consumer.