Updated: Oct 12, 2020
‘Hollywood dreams’ – I mean, think about it. Close your eyes and what does it mean, visually? It means a ray of light, actually, to me, rather than a success story.
Life before COVID, like many lives, was insanely different. That said, it wasn’t exactly a sane world. 2016 feels like it was decades ago instead of merely four years. I remember posting a post-presidential election Instagram photo I took in Palm Springs of wind turbines delicately dancing with the sky including the Morongo Native American Reservation as a ‘picturesque’ black and white backdrop. I thought of Ed Ruscha, a contemporary American pop artist who painted Los Angeles and Southern California landscapes, some including with what seemed as arbitrary snidbit texts laid atop the piece in a familiar tapeworm type font. I decided to quote a visual quote on a backdrop that celebrated Ruscha’s technique with pop art and his ‘sublime California’ vision. “NO I WILL NOT SET MY CLOCK BACK 300 YEARS” was my response-quote that I later titled “Ruscha Ripoff,” in which I apologized to Ed himself for posting.
I approach this memory before I embark on a similar and familiar trip with a similar and familiar mentality. I am broaching very familiar questions; how do we approach the United States now, a time during a global and historical pandemic that has a death toll, at least now, standing at 210,000 American lives? How do we respond to an administration that deliberately paints themselves as evil clowns selling candy to kids on the street, taunting, “There is nothing to be afraid of!” I think about the many pieces of art that I, myself, delved into personal political topics, only to abandon them completely to evade politics in fear of what exactly?
It seems that as an artist in the year 2020 I find myself serpentining between political pieces aimed to punch you in the face only to move back to a more visceral approach and avoid political topics entirely. Why is it that I, and/or many artists, embrace and embark such statements, only to shift direction and hesitate? Is it the stench of social mediums that make us feel so transparent that at any given day we can look up a friend to see what side of history they are on only to find ourselves in fear of playing the offensive? Is it the anger that brews and begets as we age, to watch Americans fall to their knees begging to find comfort in our government, to be able to pay our bills, let alone our healthcare and insurance premiums? How do we keep our jobs or collect unemployment and/or our stimulus checks, to then succumb to a paralyzing fear of the police, who were designed to protect us only to literally suffocate people and take shots with rubber bullets and tear gas- then to saunter off and endlessly scroll through every person on our social networks to hear what they have to say about all of this? How is that voter’s rights have always been obscured making it easy for white folks to partake yet excruciatingly challenging for minorities? As I blacken the circles on my ballot that I will happily place in the mail tomorrow morning before I hit the road, I realize that these ideologies actually exit hyperbolic statements. I risk sounding like an alarmist, even though there is, in fact, the sound of a relentless incessant cacophonic alarm!
I realize I am self-projecting and asking a slew of questions, mostly directed at myself it seems. I have found that self-involvement doesn’t have to come from a self-centered mind. Self-involvement can be juxtaposed with self-awareness, harnessing such a transitional trajectory to find ourselves at the very statement in which we contemplate, perhaps celebrate and convey. Why not set out on a road trip designed as a conduit to examine others in this time of history by utilizing a car and the road as a vessel? This takes me back to Ed Ruscha’s vernacular paintings of the LA sprawl and its urban designs, an approach, at the time, that was deemed as visceral rather than the literal. And in Ruscha’s own words, “It is just visual.”
I digress. Let’s step back a few inches and put on a wider lens. This is not Hollywood. It is not the western US landscape that I have called home for the past decade. I am not aiming to simply be ‘visual,’ but to concoct an idea that not only reflects the current mood and modes of rural and urban American behaviors, but poses a slew of new questions- not only for myself but to vast lands embodying the United States, one being, “What the fuck are you thinking?” I don’t aim to ask “which side are you on?” I don’t aim to proclaim politics over people either. I’m also not posing underlining subliminal messages of my own personal politics disguised as a Trojan horse to infect, conquer and/or change a person's beliefs. I know who the ‘evil clowns’ are and I know which side I’m on. I am more on a quest for information and education. It begs a reverend phrase, a shift in a paradigm that encapsulates a voting system that was invented to lure some and to reject others. I often think back to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Loving Your Enemies” sermon in November 1957. Lately Dr. King’s statement echos and burns on my brain during this election year, “The success of communism in the world today is due to the failure of democracy to live up to the noble ideals and principles inherent in its system.” — WHOA!
Here comes another slew of questions. — Can we 'love our enemies’ right now? Can we think of a better vision that doesn’t serpentine and evade our emotions, our objections, our disdains? What if, for once, we could succumb to the fact that we may never shake hands again with friends and families who object our ideals, but perhaps, dare I say, start a new conversation? Can we, for a series of nanoseconds, parish that thought?
“LASSO” is not so much a quest of American enlightenment. It is a project scheduled to corral and embrace the modes of operation in middle America. It was originally thought of to visit our families during COVID without traveling on airplanes. Only now I come to the thought of siting down with my family in their homes while wearing masks, unable to hug them and unable to unearth our personal political agendas. No, now we must listen to the thunderstorm approach us, where sirens ensue in the distance, and storm flags to warn us a that “a hurricane is a comin’." Where there are red flag warnings for wild fires in the west, tornados in the center, hurricanes to the south, an administration in the throws of yet another corrupting misleading campaign agenda, a pandemic looming on every goddamn street corner of every American city claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of lives, so soon that we haven’t even begun to conjure a moment of silence. What about a moment of silence for Black Lives? Which Dr. King speech shall I quote now? How did James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, Rosa Parks, and Fredrick Douglass conjure this ongoing centuries-old moment of silence?
Now we must go back three-hundred years to a time when Black Lives in America weren’t looked at as lives at all, and God forbid that three-hundred years from that past we are still concocting a statement to bring life to such an idea! Yes, “LASSO” is a road trip through America as a documentary approach using words, music and video. I am not thinking of a finished product yet. I am merely investigating an idea for something in the forest starting with a singular tree, and I cannot think of a better time to ponder such a notion. I will be driving from Portland OR to the Carolinas and back, heading out through the Columbia Gorge onto the high desert lands, then heading south through tornado alley that is currently being battered by hurricane Delta, all while avoiding the west coast due to raging wildfires. “LASSO” will be a glimpse of American territories such as Navajo Nation, Little Rock, Memphis, Asheville, Chicago, Kenosha, Minneapolis through the Dakotas and back. The trip is literally in the shape of a cowboy’s lasso. And with the risk of implementing a more bleak metaphor, it recently came to my attention that a lasso is designed similarly to a noose, where both share a similar exercise; to choke cattle for the future purpose of execution, to imprison its prey in fear only to be shipped off to the slaughterhouse. And with further risk of implementing an even bleaker metaphor, both the designs and purposes are subjected and performed for sport! Perhaps I am grasping for metaphorical straws placed on a very high shelf, but such a conclusion makes me ponder this idea even more. I don’t aim to view myself as the cowboy on my ‘high horse’ here or to extravagantly render myself as the self-righteous faggot touring the US; I’m just curious about people, and is it safe to do so? Will the lasso ‘choke’ this country resulting in an exodus of democracy? And will the lasso choke me as well? Was Dr. King so lucid that he could project and look unto the next three-hundred years?
So now my husband and I are set to pack up the car with my laptop to write, a video camera to film, a keyboard to compose with, and some blankets to sleep. We will pull in and out of territories, albeit, quickly, only to take a snapshot, to hear a voice, and to gain perspective before November 4th creeps upon us. I am not a journalist nor a professional photographer like so many American documenters like Diane Arbus, Gorden Parks, and Ansel Adams. I’m just a gay white dude who, like many of us, wants to find purpose in the meek of an alarming year in human history. But am I corralling cattle though, or am I just grasping to conjure a communal voice and response? — Perhaps all of this and then some. I will aim to blog my stories here as I continue through the trajectory, a trajectory that is subject to change at any given moment, simply because- well, it is the year 2020 after all, a year where everything is subjected to change.