Sunday, November 13, 2016

Us Playing in the Ruins

They made a statue of us
Then put it on a mountain top

The tourists come and stare at us
Blow bubbles with their gum
Take photographs of fun, have/of fun

They'll name a city after us
And later say it's all our fault
Then they'll give us a talking to
Then they'll give us a talking to
Cause they've got years of experience

Living in a den of thieves
Rummaging for answers in the pages
Living in a den of thieves
And its contagious
And its contagious
And its contagious
And its contagious

Us by Regina Spektor
I call this photograph, “Us, playing in the ruins.” I made this picture while on a trip to Europe last summer. On a bus in the eastern part of France with a group of Andrew Marvell scholars (don’t ask), someone said that if the UK votes to leave the European Union, it’s more likely that the United States will vote to elect Donald Trump as president. I remember thinking, “We won’t let that happen.” My belief in this “we," while technically a majority, was not enough to prevent a Trump presidency. 

Sure many presidents, maybe all, have been sexist, racist, and xenophobic more or less, but we (yes this we) were better than that, better than those who mobilized because of Trump’s racist and misogynistic rhetoric. He bragged about assaulting women. What woman would vote for him? Apparently, the majority of white women who voted. 

I wanted to see the first woman elected president of the United States. The morning of November 9, I cried. Assholes, aka anyone on or watching Fox News, think we were whiny little children for crying. Every brilliant, intelligent, educated, creative woman I know cried that morning. Why? Not because we have emotional problems as one facebook friend claimed (a woman to my chagrin), but because any woman with any ambition knows what it’s like to be passed over. We know what it’s like to work harder and longer, to be tougher and more intelligent than your male opponents and to be told, “No, we don’t want you. Because. There’s something about you.” That something is called “ambition” and it scares the shit out of men. To her credit, Hillary didn't cry. When she could've been devastated, she consoled women and told girls they could do anything. 

We know from this election that misogyny, hatred, and distrust of women permeates American culture. This is definitively bad and heartbreaking. In addition to crapping on women’s rights, we’ve elected climate change deniers. I have very little hope we can stop these guys from deregulating companies that pollute our air, earth, and water. We were making progress there. Even the most cynical about politics can admit that. Now, it looks hopeless.

Back to Brexit.

I remember in Munich we were in a church, one that had been rebuilt because it was bombed out during World War II. In the church I saw flowers with a note, “UK Please don’t leave us.” By the time I read that note, the votes were in and it happened. Folks in the EU were genuinely heartsick over the decision. It seemed with the war in Syria and the refugee crisis, panic over welcoming refugees ignited isolationism throughout the western world. The bigots seized this and ran.

The day I took "Us, playing in the ruins," we were on the grounds of the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. Rather than pay and wait in line to get into the palace, we took Rick Steve’s recommendation to walk the grounds. We brought champagne, ate sandwiches and I lugged my large format camera with me. I am working on a new project tentatively titled “Dream Homes” so I set out to photograph for that project. But the palace wasn’t that interesting. I didn’t make a good photograph of it anyway. 

What did draw my eye was off to the side of the hill on the grounds, there's an arch. Two figurative sculptures, of a man and woman, seemed to duck away in the tall grass. It was unkept, wild, and the arch was in disrepair. The light was perfect.

When we travel, we visit public places where walking and gawking isn’t frownd upon. Typically there are a number of monuments and statues at these public spaces. And I always think of the Regina Spektor’s song, Us. “They made a statue of us. And put it on a mountain top.” Once you memorialize a thing, it’s pretty much dead, a view of the past. I think that is what Regina means when singing about being made into a statue. She's describing a relationship that no longer exists, that fell apart.

I’ve lost a lot of hope in the “we” I believed in so firmly last summer. “Living in a den of thieves. Rummaging for answers in the pages. Living in a den of thieves. And it's contagious.” Turns out, I am surrounded by this silent majority. 

There’s something about being in the ruins of your perspective and hopes. My friend wrote that her artist friends must continue to make art now more than ever. Making art is a way of playing, of investigating, of researching, of shaping. There's us, playing in the ruins and creating in the ruins. I only hope to continue to play in the ruins, with all my friends smiling and watching around me. And through the destruction and play, we give life to something new.

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