It’s not always possible to sort out fact from fiction, but to believe that everything is a lie is to know nothing. —Jill Lepore, “The World That Trump and Ailes Built,” The New Yorker. Alternative facts are lies. Fake news is propaganda.
Both are indicative of the aestheticization of politics that Walter Benjamin warned against. The media is tightly molded and controlled, beginning in the White House Press Office and algorithmically landing in our feeds. The truth is exaggerated with ideological results in mind.
alt-facts is a politically charged response to today’s mediascape. Spanning both gallery spaces, the works therein propose that the politicization of aesthetics—propaganda’s opposite—can offer profoundly powerful alternative truths.
Art condenses its message into objects; meaning is extrapolated. It lends itself to constructing fictions: Painting is illusion. Sculpture is fabrication. Virtual reality is unreal reality. In alt-facts, conceptual and material interventions produce fictitious narratives, alternative histories, objects and images both real and virtual. Poetic license does not have evil intent. It is a departure from reality because reality bites. Hello, you’ve reached the winter of our discontent.
If fiction is more credible than truth, and if building a world only requires making things up, we are equipped to build the world we want.
Meriem Bennani’s FARDAOUS FUNJAB, Episode 1 (Pilot): Fardaous is a mock reality show that follows the life of Fardaous, the designer of the high fashion hijab that makes piety fun: the Funjab. A selection of Faradous’s designs are featured in the show, like the XTRA POCKET Hijba, which doubles as a purse, and a hijab with mechanical hair extensions. Your Year, a printed lightbox, reads like an ad for the designs. Both works simulate two constructed formats: the reality show and advertising.
Two paintings by David Diao feature in the exhibition. 40 Years of His Art takes the invitation design from Picasso’s retrospective at MoMA in 1939, curated by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the only change being Diao's name appears in lieu of Picasso's—and, of course, that Diao's show never happened. Dancing 1 pictures a costumed Diao posing in front of Matisse's Dance, as one might expect a 20th century Matisse to appear. Self-deprecating and earnest, Diao playfully portrays himself as canonized artist. The silkscreened square image operates a geometric formal device—a pivotal example of how Diao came to blend New York school abstraction with identity politics beginning in the nineties.
David Herbert’s monumental sculpture The Phantom of Liberty comprises twelve-feet of scaffolding around the Statue of Liberty—except the Statue is missing. Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free... The memory of the message remains but its vessel is gone. The icon has been replaced with its void, its negative, its opposite.
Matt Johnson’s meticulously carved wooden sculptures look like trash—literally. Untitled (Amazon Box) and Untitled (Avocado Box) are trompe-l'œil objects, where wood appears to crumple as easily as cardboard, and hand-painted surfaces transform expertly crafted objects into disused boxes.
In Eva and Franco Mattes’s No Fun, the artists staged Franco’s hanging to be broadcast on Chatroulette, an online chat and video website that was particularly popular when the work was made in 2010. The video contains both the constructed action and real reactions: Franco hangs on one side, with viewers’ responses to the scene on the other. Reality and fiction are dependent on one another.
Scale is one of the basic lies of photography (think: William Eggleston’s "monumental" tricycle), perhaps only second to cropping. In Jennifer and Kevin McCoy’s series of photos related to BROKER, a film about the insidious illusions of luxury merchandising, we find a smaller scale replica of the set. And in place of BROKER’s Gillian Chadsey, we find a smaller scale human, too. None of this is totally obvious, though, as scale shifts and becomes increasingly difficult to navigate with each image.
William Powhida’s Didactics comprise past and sci-fi advertisements and news clippings. Arranged in a chronology, the series begins with the first Art Basel Miami Beach in 2001, canceled following of 9/11, and ends in 2024 with Art Basel Thieland (yes, you read that right). Crumpled, the works appear as ripped out, discarded pages from the likes of Artforum and the New Yorker. For the future-looking content, this locates the works in the present.
Kenya (Robinson)’s newest works are sex toys and sensual objects designed with prisoners in mind. Severe limitations in prisons serve to dehumanize inmates; having sex is a crime and access to anything beyond the already limited commissary is bleak. (Robinson)’s objects, made with bodega or 99-cent store goods like curlers, marbles, and condoms, envisage what inmates might design in this space, instilling prisoners with deserved humanity and urging the viewer to remember all the lives—and human needs—that occupy prisons. Rachel Rossin brings the explosive denouement of Zabriskie Point point into contemporary focus. In Scrubbing 1, Maquette, VR enables a participant to enter a scene and become the narrative agent, setting off explosions or spinning these actions into reverse. Like Antonioni’s cathartic explosives that blast away every pristine and empty promise of consumerism, we find a similar impulse in Rossin's work, located in our current moment.