Organized by Creative Time, Democracy in America is a national-based project investigating democratic tradition in the United States. This year-long umbrella project, curated by Nato Thompson, has several components, among them, a series of national art commissions, some of which were co-coordinated with host institutions, and a New York City convergence center and exhibition. At the invitation of Nato, I curated an international chapter for “Convergence Center” (September 21-27), the project’s umbrella exhibition, which takes place The Park Avenue Armory in New York.
This so-called chapter, Foreign Correspondents, approaches the notion of democracy in America from abroad. It includes artworks by four artists: Erick Beltran (Mexico City/Barcelona), Chu Yun (Beijing), Luca Frei (Malmo), and Magdalena Jitrik (Buenos Aires). The artists contribute works about positions associated to democratic ideals, struggles or sensibilities that have been ultimately put into question. With an emphasis on succinct text-based works, and how these work as image or create an environment, the selected artworks also bring into consideration the relationship between art and propaganda.
Using the space of a banner and leaflet associated to protest as well as promotion, artists Beltran and Jitrik use these forms to re-inscribe a haunting sense of history and present. Beltran prints a blue leaflet in a run of more than 100,000 copies that read “Fear,” which will be dispersed throughout the entire exhibition, carpeting the floors of the venue. More than a word a feeling that is tactically generated to the current state of exception in the US, which not coincidently begins again taking force after the events of September 11, 2001. Jitrik paints a monumental banner featuring a group portrait of the nineteenth century Native American leader Red Cloud with his peers. I posted an image of the work-in-progress, and briefly wrote about it here some days ago.
In different ways, artists Frei and Chu make use of source text now turned historical reference. Frei cites a line drawn from the published letters of the anarchist Nicola Sacco to his son, “In the play of happiness, don’t you use it all for yourself only” (pictured above). Sacco, an Italian who immigrated to the US as a teenager, was tried and executed in Massachusetts in the 1920s. Chu recites a mandatory speech in school about the life story of a heroic Chinese soldier. The recording is originally from 1984, when the artist was a child, and is appropriated by the artist as if were a readymade. Named after the year of its original recording, Chu calls attention to George Orwell’s novel of the same title about an imaginary totalitarian regime.
I will be posting images of these artworks and installation views of the exhibition. If you are in New York during that week, please visit the exhibition. Your comments, much appreciated.