Cleveland Area Artists Respond to “The First 100+ Days” of Trump in SPACES Exhibit

Michelangelo Lovelace: “United We Stand.”

Fri 5/5-Fri 6/30

The relationship between art and politics goes back into antiquity with the climate of the day always ripe for scrutiny and commentary.

Such is the basis for the new SPACES gallery exhibit The First 100+ Days, which opens May 5 and runs through June 30 in the Detroit Avenue venue in Ohio City.

Billed as an artists’ response to Trump’s immigration policy, the exhibit features work by Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association of Cleveland, Julia Christensen, Ryan Dewey, Michelangelo Lovelace, Home Affairs (Arzu Ozkal, Claudia Pederson, Nanette Yannuzzi), Tony Ingrisano, Kelley O’Brien, Darice Polo, John C. Williams and Megan Young.

CoolCleveland talked to SPACES executive director Christina Vassallo about “The First 100+ Days.”

When did you decide to stage the timely exhibition?

Actually, this time last year as we were gearing up for the RNC, SPACES put together a suite of exhibitions by artists who were using the political process as artistic material. We debuted those projects to run concurrent with the RNC. I was really fascinated by the way people responded to those shows and what we were able to learn from the artist perspective about politics. So this exhibit was completely going to be an investigation into whoever was going to win and how they treated their most productive phase of their presidency of their first term. There’s also the immigration policy aspect of it because our annual organizing theme for our R&D exhibition was Migration. When we came up with that theme a year and a half ago, the Syrian crisis was very much on our minds, and in a certainly less heavy way we were also thinking a lot about our move (to Hingetown). What does that mean moving on a small scale from one neighborhood to another? What kind of impact does that have?

Can you elaborate about what you learned from the artist perspectives?

One of the fascinating things, Roopa Vasudevan created software that would collect tweets geolocated to Ohio. Anyone tweeting about one of the presidential candidates, she collected all of them. She organized them by popularity and developed this hierarchy. Then she would create these campaigns objects by coopting the candidates’ graphic design identity. She’d make these yard signs using Bernie Sanders’ graphic design, but inserting the tweets instead. Some weren’t pro-Bernie. You’d see these yard signs with anti-Trump messages on them with Trump’s graphic design sensibilities. In the gallery, it was this really disorienting timeline of what people were thinking. The surprising thing about that was she was sort of scratching her head — Why is Trump so popular on Twitter? She kept trying to rationalize it, but little did we know Roopa’s data visualization project actually projected Trump would be the winner four months before Election Day.

What kind of pieces can visitors expect to see at The First 100+ Days exhibit?

There are a few pieces that deal specifically with how the media mediates what is coming out of the White House, and how the White House has really strict control. Julia Christensen, who lives and teaches in Oberlin, created this augmented reality piece where she’s printed out a photo mural of headlines and images of articles that are about specific groups of people or individuals. If you wave these customized iPhones over them, they will then call up clickbait that’s been sort of emanating from the White House that counters these human-interest stories. You’ll actually see somethings about people who live in Ohio. There was an Iranian intern at the Cleveland Clinic who left the U.S. and once Trump signed the first executive order, she couldn’t come back in the country. There’s a really beautiful piece about a General Services Administration employee, who works at the Federal Building in Cleveland. He’s a naturalized citizen from Mexico. It’s his job every four years to remove the portrait of the outgoing president and vice-president and replace them with White House sanctioned new portraits. I think that’s a really emotional piece.

Is the entire exhibit a statement against the Trump Administration?

It’s certainly more nuanced than that. I wouldn’t call it anti-Trump, but most of the pieces are certainly critical of Trump and his policymaking. There’s a lot of discussion in the works around his reversals on Syria. Also, we have a full calendar of events because we really want people to talk about the effects of shifting immigration policies. One in particular is called The Unofficial Global Barrier-Centric Design Competition where we’re asking artists and architects to send us their proposals for a border between the U.S. and Canada. It’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek way to think deeply about why are we building this massive wall to the south? And why on earth would we ever expect Mexico to pay for it?

It sounds like The First 100+ Days will push many different buttons for all visitors.

It’ll be an emotional show, that’s for sure. I hope they think deeply about how immigration policy affects all of us whether we’re citizens or not. Whether we were born in this country or not. There are economic and emotional and psychological and human effects to these shifting policies.

[Written by John Benson]

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