Artist Nina Katchadourian Talks about Monument to the Unelected
Public art enriches the experience of a place and generates all kinds of crazy back stories when people view an installation when they are definitely not in an artsy head space. That's the message from artist Nina Katchadourian as she visited the Washington Post building on September 10 to discuss the exhibition of her work Monument to the Unelected sponsored and organized by Washington Project for the Arts.
The installation is a series of 56 silkscreened election signs featuring the names of every person who ran for President of the United States and came in second. Katchadourian says, “During a time like this, signs endorsing various candidates begin appearing on people's lawns or in windows, and I thought it would be interesting to imagine an entirely different set of names in the landscape that might cause a viewer to do a double‐take." She's especially excited to present this timely and timeless project in DC less than a mile from the White House during the run up to the 2012 election. “Symbolically, as the country's capital and as the place that gathers a lot of American history into one physical space through its monuments and institutions, it made a lot of sense to show this project in DC.”
The signs look authentic because they borrow from the real thing. Katchadourian designed them based on actual signs from the 2008 election with the same visual conventions and language. It's a playful look at how candidates try to communicate competence and patriotism to a contemporary audience. That translates into a lot of diamond shapes, stripes and palettes of red white and blue.
Monument to the Unelected started out as a commission by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art for the exhibition Seriously Funny in 2009. At one venue, a suburban home was covered with campaign advertising making it look like the political version of neighbors who take Christmas lights too far. The strangest episode occurred at a venue on a highway off ramp where the entire installation mysteriously disappeared. Security footage from a nearby parking lot revealed a man in a white van methodically removing the signs with none of the surreptitiousness you'd expect from a thief. Turns out the city ordered all anti-Barak Obama signs to be removed in advance of a visit from the candidate. One transportation worker decided to take no chances. He removed any sign that didn't have Obama's name on it. The artist was amused by the reaction to a work she considered politically ambiguous.
Nina Katchadourian works in a wide variety of media including photography, sculpture, video and sound. Her work has been exhibited domestically and internationally at places including PS1/MoMA and the Palais de Tokyo. In 2006, the Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs honored her with a 10‐year survey and published an accompanying monograph, All Forms of Attraction. Katchadourian is represented by Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco.
You can visit Monument to the Unelected on view in the street level windows of The Washington Post at 1150 15th Street, between L and M Streets NW. The piece will be on display from September 10 to November 9, 2012, to coincide with the 2012 presidential election. Now that you know what's going on, you can challenge your knowledge of American history, contemplate the road not taken, and reassure anyone who looks confused about whether the Washington Post is endorsing dead candidates.
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