Any art exhibit positioning itself the definitive single response to Trump's election is -- pardon the reference -- an alternative fact. As the country undergoes a staggering shift, the scale of which becomes more evident each day, trying to count valid responses would be an exercise mirroring census-taking, each one different.
A new exhibit in Santa Rosa knows this. With the work of 30 artists in the narrow confines of Backstreet Gallery, The Art of Resistance feels like a town hall meeting of different voices, trying to make logical and emotional sense of this confusing national moment. The show, organized but not juried by artist Suzanne Edminster, came with only one rule: all art must have been created after Nov. 8, 2016.
At the opening reception, rain didn't stop shoulder-to-shoulder attendance. “There's been a cultural climate change now,” Edminster told attendees at one point, “and artists have to fight against that.”
At the door, I was handed a postcard to send to elected representatives; inside the narrow gallery, packed with people, a table offered Cheetos dipped in “shredded democra-cheese.” Yet little of the art was activist-oriented, like the postcard, or overtly humorous, like the Cheetos. Most of it simply captured an emotional reaction, and not necessarily to Trump himself but to a broken national discourse.
Take Kristen Throop's readymade cuckoo clocks, for example. At the beginning of last year, the Santa Rosa artist found herself fascinated with cuckoo clocks, buying them in various states of disrepair with the intention of fixing them herself. Over time, she accepted that their many moving parts were too complicated, or proprietary. Then the election happened. She realized that, like her dormant clocks, democracy had become overnight a fragile, beloved thing that she didn't have the means to fix.
In cards, each of Throop's broken clocks is titled with notes: Equal Justice, reads one, “Needs to have weight.” Gun Control (clock from Newton CT) reads another, “Bellows need to be reinstalled to be heard.” One titled Intelligent Political Discourse is “A musical clock, x-tra hard to fix.” With each purchase of a clock comes a bag of needed repair parts, along with a copy of the Constitution. (Until they're fixed, there's no telling how often they'll tweet.)
Among the more humorous pieces is Tony Spiers' I.D.K., showing My Little Pony’s Rainbow Dash in a classic ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ pose. And weren't we just talking about tweeting? There's a bird in the piece, too, and a young bobbysoxer from the 1930s. Spiers painted it immediately after the election: “This is me asking 'now what?' and realizing I don't know,” he writes. “But initial shock and confusion has rapidly morphed into resolve and resistance.”
Indeed, much of the show captures the moment of doubt and confusion. Max Dubois' painting Desultory Agenda U S A calls to mind a circuit board whose capacitors and resistors have yet to forge solid connections. Kate E. Black's Heart Broken is a painting peppered with words like “liberty” and “freedom,” all appended with question marks, which change the meaning of the entire piece.
Far too easy to overlook amidst all the work is Complacency is a Deadly Sin, a necklace from Michelle Hoting. Created with red-and-white star-spangled beads from 1945 occupied Japan, and three Hear No Evil / See No Evil / Speak No Evil rabbits carved of bone from circa-1940 China, the piece is a beautiful but weighty reminder of what can happen in the world when power goes unchecked.
Is The Art of Resistance an effective check of power? In its way, yes, it is, but the question is all wrong. More to the moment, one might ask: does it symbolize the unifying role of art at a much-divided time? Certainly -- even with its varying subjects and methods. Any lack of coherence on the part of the show is forgiven, welcome, even. Is there anything coherent about this time in our country?
'The Art of Resistance' is open Saturdays through February, noon-5pm, with a closing reception on Friday, March 3, from 5pm-8pm. Details and more information can be found here.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED