Text by Richard Haden

At dawn, on November 9th 2016, the majority of the nation woke up from the electroshock of a political nightmare to face a critical hangover, caused by the consuming early morning broadcast calling the US Presidential election – an electoral college victory – for a monstrous, pugnacious, sexist, racist, xenophobic authoritarian bully whose anti-intellectual, narcissistic attributes turned out to be an asset rather than a liability.

The theme of this article channels the affection of the monster, not one monster but the embodiment of a political Hydra, a monstrous body with many heads. Resonating with a warning about political monsters – I want share an excerpt from an article I read recently at Hyperallergic, titled The Future, by Linda Francis.

“The more that our gaze is diverted from the monster of humanity, the more monstrous it becomes. The more culture is called upon to manipulate society, the more irrelevant it becomes, an avalanche of toys, towers of candy, entertainment seesawing between extremes of neurasthenia and barbarism.”

Taken from a much greater context, Francis’s words speak to the immediacy of staring down the darkness at Monster’s gate. Such language warns of the appropriation of cultural production as a tool for distraction when put in service of the monstrous “affective turn”. That art can be the tool of monstrous transgression is to be warned.

The White House has put a roof over the head of several great and lackluster presidents as well as the deplorable. But this time, the white House has become the dwelling for more than the usual sordid suspect. This time, reality television gave us a head of state — a figurehead surrounded by many monstrous heads – lead by the vacuous head of gangster rule with crony and nepotistic family values that has no particular ideology or agenda other than to self-serve the narcissistic pursuit of gratification from vanity and egotistic admiration of one’s own self-aggrandizing attributes.

The White House has been repainted into a toxic black hole – a place where psychic poison meets behind closed doors to plan our future – from toxic swamp to scorched earth policies – 1600 Pennsylvania avenue is darker than black. It is the reification of horror vacui, filled as it were, by the gilding of balloons filled with methane. It is has become the nations capital of fear the seat of empty space – of loneness that from the New Year aspire to wrought values of scorched earth policies over the value of humanity.

kennardphillipps is a collaboration between Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps
Reimagined image of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World image credit: kennardphillipps

Before being sworn in, the president elect had already achieved infamy by inverting every oppressive intersecting human character flaw, into a repugnant badge of honor. The new president elect, who I shall refer to as Agent Orange from here on, managed to ascend to his new post as CEO of the U.S. with the aid of a résumé highlighted by four bankrupt [dis] qualifications alongside the charmed credential of being a failed Casino operator – having driven his heavily leveraged billion dollar Atlantic City casino, ironically named after the Taj Mahal, into junk bond insolvency. But what does this really mean? Well, it means that Agent Orange had already failed ‘To Make Atlantic City Great Again’.

Character flaws aside there are far more troubling characters that enhance Hydra – guardian of the underworld – Agent Orange’s bunker. First off, Mr. Orange has become a full-fledged lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry – representing the special interest of yesterday’s technocracy. Agent Orange is also obsessed with reinvigorating the special interest of self-ingratiating anachronistic ideas for greatness on loan from the 1950’s and before – the gilded age.

That a U.S. president, in the 21st century, would claim that climate science, confirming that anthropogenic climate change or Global warming, is real — is a Chinese hoax — is more than ignorant skepticism it is a desperate effort to keep the oil and coal industry as the dominate profitable source of power – keeping the growing industry of renewable alternatives at bay.

As expected, there are also the growing relationships between the White House and the usual neoconservative, war-hawking interventionist and the neoliberals who support global free trade. These two traditions make for strange bedfellows with Agent Orange’s base, the White Nationalist (rebranded the ‘Alt Right’) whose ideology is contrary to the neo-conservative and neoliberal, in that Nationalism preaches economic isolationism and non-interventionism and with added salt to an old womb, white Nationalism recuperates ethnic supremacy as social value — hence the placating bond between Orange and White Nationalist proposed round up of millions of undocumented people, to be deported. This is an awkward mashup of ideologies that as the tensions flare amidst the chaos; the state of permanent domestic and foreign war will inevitably erupt and degenerate into even more, off the rails, misanthropic marginalization, affectively turning all that isn’t white privilege into the monsters target.

The neoliberal and neoconservative industrial war machine waited in the wings, posturing in plausible deniability, while the Alt-Right – The White Nationalist dug a deep cynical, awfulizing trench that became the founding stage for Agent Orange to profess the steeling con – a performance of high-tension, self-scripted brinkmanship, whose coup d’état succeeded by riding a right wing populist wave by exploiting and occulting the commodification of desperation.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by Architect Maya Lin, honors service members of the U.S. armed forces who fought in the Vietnam War. (image edited by Richard Haden)

The Neoliberal and Neocons – derogatorily referred to as “Elite Globalist” by the Alt-Right, are already influencing the direction of foreign policy backed up by its militarized wing. That the Neocon and neoliberal took a backseat to the Nationalist was predictable, as the dueling Neo’s have smartly been embedded deep within GOP campaigns for decades.

Awkwardly following in the tradition of conservatism, the new regime ghosts its atavistic and gnostic forebears taste for extreme zealotry reminiscing political philosophies of the John Birch Society. The Birch’s share similar values with the new regime: a correlation is inspired by shared ideas of limited government, opposition to wealth redistribution and economic interventionism. The hard right also takes issue with civil rights enforcement – detest immigrants from non-occidental origins, especially the undocumented, appose collectivism, socialism, communism and totalitarianism and will most deliberately, expedite the creation of any of these isms as monster myths, when convenient to create straw man arguments as the need arises to oppress imaginary enemies – especially when that enemy speaks against the power of privatization and war mongering.

Past exploits by groups like the John Birch Society led to the misanthropic influence of the second Indochina War, particularly the Vietnam War, that led to the estimated deaths of 1,353,000 military and civilian people overall. The new “Family” elect appears to be following in the same militaristic path but has to invent new enemies – instead of fighting the red menace, the new and improved threat is terrorism – real and imagined. What does power need when power fades? It needs a war to reinvigorate the necessity for its existence.

From the Indochina wars to the disastrous foreign policies that fueled the thirst for middle eastern sweet crude, the nation has once again to deal with the upsurge of the industrial war complex, the industrial lying complex, emboldened befuddling trolls, bat shit crazy pundits, tin hat wearing policy wonks, all dancing along side the inspired whirling devilish, two stepping it deep into ideological dung.

A renewed war for global dominance is once again being sustained by the extremities of right wing neoconservative tribunes whose propagandized spin sanctify the values of a privileged ethnicity, Christian faith, privatization, patriotism and military dominance supported by regional “homogenous zones” mediated and orientated by the algorithmic vectors streamlining through the conservative echo-chamber, professing the virtues of bleached out androcendric jingoism.

Greenpeace activist close British Museum with BP sponsorship protest
Protestors climb the museum’s neo-classical columns and unfurl banners, to highlight “stunning Irony” of the oil giant’s support for ‘Sunken Cities’ exhibition. The replaced banners carry the names of cities and regions it by flooding, storms and rising seas.

Click to Watch Video

Running up to that ill-fated November day, the blustering orange skinned grifter, drifted across suburban and rural America, surrounded by a phalanx of acolytes high stepping it in the wake of passing methane clouds bellowing behind the anachronistic fermentation of the GOP – The Grand Outdated party and its tired mascot – the elephant — borrowed from the circus this time.

The campaign dawned a scheme to wake up the a-political virility of the dislocated suburban and rural electorate to sell tickets, to the Promised Land, pickled nostalgia for American essentialism and white Zion while renewing fascistic enthusiasm for a nationalist workers party. This contrived and consumed yarn overwhelmed the gullibility of this demographic into experiencing the never before felt maelstrom of hallucinatory projection and blind solidarity and while stirring still in isolation.

Having been overwhelmed by PPTSD (Post-Political traumatic Stress Disorder) many of us are repeatedly left jaw dropping stunned, as we witness the newly elected regime sink to new lows to wreck havoc on the modern republic by attempting to dismantle, the Great Society, the New Deal, health and safety, federal educational standards, science and the humanities and environmental regulations, through wanton disregard for environmental and social sustaining values.

Since the installation of the regime, we have witnessed an awkward amalgamation of resolute disregard within the bold corruption of the [mis] anthropocene. We see overenthusiastic inebriated Trumpeters’ speaking convulsively in tongues, celebrating recuperated vagaries of nostalgic cons as gas lighting sycophants continue to shadow reality with confused mediated smiles, macabre laughter, alternative facts, anti-science and mind numbing synaptic misfiring, as socially atomizing digressions contagiously become vogue.

Despite the extreme polarization of political hubris that has rendered the practice of political dialectics useless — there still exist a deeper human solidarity that shares the same universal qualities that span the immeasurable distance from the center of each of our being(s) – to infinity. There also should exist the shared realization that there exist a distance from the center of our bodies to a worsening dystopian socio-environmental storm approaching from the horizon.

To overcome this abysmal disaster we need to look beyond the contemporary Utopian—Dystopian state of mind, look past insurmountable extreme binaries of party affiliation and put political autopsies to rest. We need to resist the annihilation and privatization of a progressive society and demand we be allowed to find solutions to contemporary problems through taking oppositional stances to renewed anachronistic policies, made mainstream once again.

Republican presidential candidate supporters’ parade an elephant in front of a rally in Sarasota, Florida, Nov. 28, 2015. REUTERS Image edited by Richard Haden

We need to resist the selling off of the commons and construct and occupy diverse alternatives to counter oppressive systems by constructing new forms of social sustainability for a post-industrial society –not build walls. We need to work toward something akin to a default, a “political homeostasis” that works towards some kind of speculative prelapsarian existence – what ever that might look like.

Homeostasis is the principle that points to “the tendency of the body to seek and maintain a condition of equilibrium or stability within its internal environment when dealing with external challenges.” However, in today’s political maelstrom the vagaries of trauma have since erased much of our genetic memory or stunted our intuitions that allow us to sense the inherent nature of physiological, psychological or existential equilibrium.

A call to resist, to artfully make small changes wherever we can are where we start. In the arts or not, we must all utilize the inherent creative capacity that we all possess. We also must realize that we cannot immediately change or solve the systemic problems of our time. However, we we can start repairing problems we will face in the future. Furthermore we cannot expect to change those deeply entrenched misanthropic minds that confront us daily but we can, no less, make it clear to the offenders that – yes — bigotry is protected speech but it shall not be entitled to a privileged platform or be granted a legitimate status to oppress others anymore.

Artful intent and activism: First be aware of that which does real harm to the body, the community and beyond. Be aware of all those intersecting negative forces that erode democratic principles that edify, at least, a minimum quality of life — a social safety net, if not more, that we all deserve. Be aware of and anticipate a healthy body politic. — Make things positive.

The art of activism by design is made up of many forms — as well many tactics. Not to prioritize but to reference one of many notable political organizers, I point to Saul Alinsky’s book titled “Rules for Radicals”, as an example of how activism and tactics flow conceptually into one of many methodological processes: Agitate + Aggravate + Educate + Organize.

Political activism involves protest, demonstrations, petitions, boycotts, canvassing, sit-ins, speak-outs, street theatre, volunteering, selective purchasing, ethical investing, economic sanctions, grassroots activism, letter writing and petitions, direct lobbying, litigation, consumer boycotts, civil disobedience, “monkey wrenching” and other direct action, judicial activism, legislation, culture jamming, internet activism, environmental activism, design activism, or whatever makes up the greater industry of activism.

Alfredo Jaar, Geography = War, 1991. 5 light boxes with color transparencies, 63 metal barrels, water Photo: Petri Virtanen Finnish National Gallery

Art as the visual arm of protest employs “concepts” and “affects” in tandem. Architectural Design activism configures or reconfigures space into positively charged ambiance — human friendly mise en scène for real human theatrics.

The turn, the “affective turn” places emphasis on bodily experience – on affects in an aesthetic terrain. For example, to function as an instrument of activism, art may begin in the reflection of social injustice, environmental degradation, from loss move towards empathy onto site specificity, a place for identity politics or social justice or just space for manifesting feeling, space for pragmatism and realistic anticipation and so on. The move towards anticipation might also be thought of as “future Realism or “speculative realism” — by any name it is a vision of how we work towards future decades devoting time to solving future problems rather than letting contemporary pessimism prevail.

To take an “affected turn” is to shift away from ideological traps that leave no footprint in corporal reality, and move toward a renewed interest in the real, the tangible, living and breathing thoughtful emotions into the concrete, thorough embodiment and the revitalization of the political conscious, through an experienced aesthetic aptitude of what we walk on, sit on, breath in, share in common and so forth.

From Aesthetic Activism to the “Affective Turn.”
“Recent work in aesthetic theory across multiple disciplines suggests that such political and ontological problems may be best addressed as aspects of aesthetic experience. An interdisciplinary group of philosophers, scholars, media theorists, artists, curators, and architects will speculate on how a reignited discourse on aesthetics is prompting new insights into our relationships with not only objects, spaces, environments, and ecologies, but also with each other and political structures in which we are all enmeshed.” http://architecture.yale.edu/school/events/j-irwin-miller-symposium-1

“In [the affective turn’s] wake, a common ontology linking the social and the natural, the mind and body, the cognitive and affective is beginning to appear, grounding such concepts as assemblage, flow, turbulence, emergence, becoming, compossibility, relationality, the machinic, the inventive, the event, the virtual, temporality, autopoiesis, heterogenic and the informational…” (Blackman and Venn, “Affect,” 7)

It is in our best interest to be preservers of the social as well it is the interest of survival to protect our planets biosphere. It is also urgently necessary to reexamine, develop, sharpen, keen insightful tactics that experiment and speculate from the future to inform the present — not returning to the past or even depending on contemporary sociotechnical structures that enframe and reduce psychic mnemic systems of individuation — but to the speculate from the future informing the present as forms of speculative activism conjures interventions from an inchoate post-contemporary future.

The “Affective Turn” meets the “Time Complex”.
Borrowed fro DIS Magazine: “Times are a changing and the idea that we now live in the “Post-Contemporary” is attributable to the basic thesis, that we are not just living in a new time or accelerated time, but time itself. According to Armen Avanessian: “the direction of time — has changed. We no longer have a linear time, in the sense of the past being followed by the present and then the future. It’s rather the other way around: the future happens before the present, time arrives from the future. If people have the impression that time is out of joint, or that time doesn’t make sense anymore, or it isn’t as it used to be, then the reason is, I think, that they have — or we all have — problems getting used to living in such a speculative time or within a speculative temporality.”

Following in the same interview, Suhail Malik adds: “Yes, and the reason for the speculative reorganization of time is the complexity and scale of social organization today. If the leading conditions of complex societies are systems, infrastructures and networks rather than individual human agents, human experience loses its primacy, as do the semantics and politics based on it. Correspondingly, if the present has been the primary category of human experience thanks to biological sentience, this basis for understanding of time now loses its priority in favor of what we could call a “Time Complex”. (The Time Complex. Postcontemporary *DIS Magazine)

To make a long theoretical story short, we must work to change systems and structures before we can improve one’s lot on this mortal coil.

“Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing for the known way is an impasse.”
― Heraclitus, Fragments

Art and design becomes a tool of activism, when it is centered in an arena of conflict and confrontation. Throughout this article are a limited number of images of artful interventionism that I think, succeeds at raising awareness. The politics of representation in activism often fails as much as it succeeds. Art works always work well when preaching to the choir, but it is an achievement when Art influences outside the congregation.

“Every act of rebellion is both against and for something”. Albert Camus

In conclusion – to engage Art with activism is not to disengage our gaze from the monster of politics. Instead Art activism should turn off the affect of monstrous cynicism. Art succeeds when art combats apathy and reverses atrophy in the body politic.