Are you overwhelmed by a crushing awareness of multiple existential threats bearing down on you at this moment in history? Which of the many shall I focus on? Perhaps it’s the threat to our very planetary existence from climate change, or severe, systemic racial injustice, or getting very ill and possibly dying from a global pandemic, or the potential meltdown of our very democracy, to name just a few? Or maybe (as if that’s not enough) you’re struggling with personal existential threats like losing your job, an economy that’s in ruins, not having enough to eat, feeling afraid of getting stopped by the police, or fearful of sending your children to school? Or maybe you’re neglecting your personal health needs for fear of the virus, or are vaguely aware of the massive pandemic of mental health issues that are simmering below the surface, knowing that there will be a great volcanic eruption of despair and grief and PTSD once this is all over? Maybe you’re afraid of the outcome of this election, an election that has the potential to expose vast fissures in our democratic voting system, hasten the demise of the great American experiment, and cause violence and uprisings that will make you want to leave the country and never look back? Maybe you’ve stopped reading by now, thinking that this is all just too depressing, and it’s best to just distract yourself with ice cream and mindless TV (while of course, avoiding the news). If any of this applies to you, (and it does, unless you’re a member of the microbial life form possibly living in the clouds of Venus), I have answers for you. Forget the ice cream and mindless TV. I actually have two antidotes, both time-tested and true vaccines against the deep well of fear about our myriad of existential threats.
The first is called Humor. And what better way is there to get your mind out of apocalypse mode than to laugh? Just forget the state of the world and allow yourself to engage in belly laughter. It’s good for you, and it’s quite the antidote. Try it. And even better, try laughing while looking at art. Art has the potential to take you far away, to another world, and laughter allows you to make fun of that scary thing that’s right in front of you, namely the entire world and our country in particular. Art and laughter together can carry you away on wisps of clouds to a gleaming rainbow of visual puns, tongue-in-cheek images, and irreverent campiness. Forget the gravity of our situation, as we slide down that magical rainbow and poke fun at one of the very things that feed our apocalyptic terrors: politics and the looming election. And there is no better place to bathe in the glorious sound of cackles and snorts and chortles than the upcoming InLiquid exhibit entitled Satirical Candidacy, on virtual display October 7- November 14, 2020.
Satirical Candidacy features the work of two Philadelphia-based artists, Deanna McLaughlin and Florence Weisz. Both artists investigate images of political candidates for the presidency, general politics, and world affairs. McLaughlin’s new work for this exhibit focusses on the current president and addresses the baffling questions of what in the world is on his mind. (Don’t get me started here, as I’m a psychiatrist and have pretty strong ideas about the layers of pathology lurking there.) McLaughlin has demonstrated previous interest in the themes of consumerism, power, and privilege and has in the past focused on creating aesthetically pleasing and whimsical designs from everyday items, such as shopping carts. In this exhibit, her playful games based on politics, and Trump, in particular, allows us to take a much-needed breather from the gravity of our political election. As the artist states: “We have a ‘game mentality,’ as people aren’t taking things as seriously as [they] should.” Unsurprising, given that we have a president whose claim to fame was presiding over a reality game show, The Apprentice. The Trumplemaker, a rendition of Trump’s brain replete with images of a few of his favorite things, is like a politically-charged vintage fortune-telling 8-ball. Yet instead of telling us our fortunes, it literally allows us to see and guess what’s on Trump’s mind. Viewers select Trumplemaker comments on a twenty-sided die embedded deep in the limbic portion of his brain. It’s available in Cheeto Orange and Midnight Glow in the Dark Twitter. It also comes with a silver platter and hair and golf club display base for collectors, along with a certificate of authenticity. There is even an option of getting it in a chicken carry-out container. Then there is the vintage Operation Game, with cut-outs of Trump body parts referring to aspects of his persona, and a literal sculpture depicting six feet of social distancing, among others. Well, you’ll have to see these humorous pieces for yourself!
Other items include Weisz’ retrospective of her forty-year series entitled Presidential Manipulations in which Weisz takes a likeness of a presidential candidate and alters it. Facial features or other bodily parts may be reimagined in repetitive patterns, reminiscent of Andy Warhol and Pop Art. Like the work of Warhol, a carefully curated photograph of a known political figure (such as Warhol’s Mao Series) becomes meaningless by virtue of repetition and decontextualization. Unlike Warhol, she utilizes presidential candidates (rather than popular figures or mundane items such as Campbell’s soup cans) in order to re-evaluate everyday images. She also plays with facial parts, moving them around to create an unrecognizable amalgam of disjointed, silly, or even repulsive images. By reimagining known, highly curated political images, she seems to be challenging the accepted aura of established icons. She seems to be asking whether these admired public likenesses hold up to closer scrutiny. At the same time, she pokes fun at the electoral process and transforms their image to one approaching just another curious commodity in a world of consumerism. These works transport us away from our current election and from the hardcore news and social media images of our daily life, to a humorous, silly, or even grotesque realm where presidential images can be altered, reimagined, and ultimately, perhaps speak truth. It allows us to see them with fresh new eyes and gives us agency to reimagine their importance. We need that sense of humor right now. It’s a good way to put that smile musculature back to work.
And the second antidote to our stark reality? This one is a no-brainer. VOTE! Vote as if your life depends on it, because it does. Who cares if there are nefarious forces sowing doubt about the integrity of this election? Each one of our votes can add up to make the difference between a clear, decisive win and the need for lengthy, exasperating, unconstitutional litigation. And get involved! Volunteer to support the issues you care about, whether it’s the election campaign, the environment, racial injustice, or any other of the myriad of issues deserving our attention. Donate to one of the many organizations supporting those whose lives are destroyed by wildfires, by floods, by unemployment or by illness. We’re not helplessly stuck in a doomsday scenario. We have each other, and the true American spirit of collaboration. We are, after all, a country built on the concept of unity. The simple act of voting and getting involved gives each of us agency to change the nightmarish reality we all live in now. And while art can’t solve our global ills, it sure can allow us to forget the weight of the world for a little while. As this virtual exhibit illustrates, there is still a wide-open world of rainbows and chuckles and snorts just around the corner.