Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I Hope Taft's Not On Top

The link is probably inappropriate for work, but artist Justine Lai is working on a series of paintings showing her having sex with the American presidents, in order of succession. She's as far as Grant I think. Here's her explanation:

In Join Or Die, I paint myself having sex with the Presidents of the United States in chronological order. I am interested in humanizing and demythologizing the Presidents by addressing their public legacies and private lives. The presidency itself is a seemingly immortal and impenetrable institution; by inserting myself in its timeline, I attempt to locate something intimate and mortal. I use this intimacy to subvert authority, but it demands that I make myself vulnerable along with the Presidents. A power lies in rendering these patriarchal figures the possible object of shame, ridicule and desire, but it is a power that is constantly negotiated.

I approach the spectacle of sex and politics with a certain playfulness. It would be easy to let the images slide into territory that's strictly pornographic—the lurid and hardcore, the predictably "controversial." One could also imagine a series preoccupied with wearing its "Fuck the Man" symbolism on its sleeve. But I wish to move beyond these things and make something playful and tender and maybe a little ambiguous, but exuberantly so. This, I feel, is the most humanizing act I can do.

While I'm not really qualified to judge Lai's work from an artistic standpoint, I like the principle of it. Humanizing presidents is a valuable service, particularly the most mythologized. The painting of her and Lincoln is probably my favorite because of its shocking humanization of a man that seems so unlike us. It reminds me of the greatest bit in John Stewart's book, the pin the clothes on the naked Supreme Court justices. That was one of the most juvenile jokes, but also the most profound.

Via Tomasky.