First, here you have it: a video of former US senator Mike Gravel, who is now a candidate for US President.
I need not say this is brilliant. And funny. And this and that.
Now what you need to know is that, contrary to what many news-desperate journalists claimed, this is not part of his campaign.
It is actually the work of two young artists and art teachers, Matt Mayes and Guston Sondin-Klausner. You have all the background explanation in this lengthy interview:
The funniest comment on this event appeared in the LA Times. My favorite part is:
Gravel's works confront us with our own existences and our deaths, the brute thereness of truth, the skull beneath the $400 haircut, the cellulite under the pants suit. His is neo-existentialist, post-apocalyptic, post-post modern art, a silence that screams and cajoles.
I suggest to you that a Gravel presidency would lead to an entirely new America, doing to us what cubism did to post-impressionism: dragging us moaning in glorious epiphanic pain into a new world.
(Some people actually didn't see the irony.)
It is amazing to see how even after they acknowledge that the video is not a political ad, commentators still analyze it as such. This brings about a few issues:
- The power of presence. No matter how many times you explain the context of your action, if you are facing a camera/the viewer, you are identified as yourself, and are thus, yes, creating a ripple.
- It's impressive how people find it difficult to accept that this is no stunt, no ad, no campaign. It might be pointing towards one, but, as Gravel says himself, he didn't even get the chance to buy the two artists a cup of coffee. Apparently, though, the (American?) viewers find it hard to disassociate a politician with his political life.
- There is room for art in politics. Also thanks to the net and YouTube and the like. You just have to be witty.
- If someone had an idea for promoting his product and decided to take a fairly known politician to do it, it could be difficult to execute. Especially if the idea was odd and came from an unknown individual who had a (seemingly) low social impact. But, and this is my thesis, because it is art, it was accepted. Meaning art at last has managed to become a political lobby! Or, to put it more calmly, there seems to be a space opening up for artistic/social games that extend towards politics.
- Mike Gravel himself has clearly underestimated the power of what he participated in. But he seems to be a courageous guy, fighting vehemently for many issues other politicians avoid. So this is not a random choice on the part of the artists, it is a deliberate participation in a political debate. Which brings me to another question:
- Couldn't we see this sort of activity as a narrowing of artistic perspectives? Yes, I mean by using them to a concrete political goal, making a very specific statement, letting go of so many other issues we could have... If you drop by here from time to time, you know my view: art is not just some golden puppy. Sure, it can be. But there is nothing wrong with opening up to a "broader audience". And letting in some fresh (political! social!) air.
The link between artists and the rest of mortals is a delicate issue, mined with all sorts of surprises and turn-arounds. Many works that at one point seem completely isolated from society (think Duchamp's Fountain, but also many films, actions, etc.) some time after are cherished as a wonderful expression of what "society feels" (heheh). But also, and this is the part many of us forget, many initiatives that are made with the goal and conviction of bonding with the world (think the Living Theater), when seem from a perspective look a little (or very) ridiculous, and certainly not attaining the utopic communion with the onlooker. So it is great to see a work that in a very simple way manages to convince people to stop a second and watch the ripples in the water. And, because of the particular context, help them make some sense of it.
Mayes and Sondin-Klauser also made another video with Gravel, Fire, which I find somehow less appealing, probably because the editing with a several-minute-long close-up of fire was to me, hummm, boring. And also, as often in minimalist works that never end, I find it slightly arrogant to have me there staring and waiting what will happen, just so I get the idea that this will last. I get it. No need to push the issue.