Like some of you, I am thinking deeply about the part I/we will play in the coming year (and after) in reducing and interrupting the flood of harm we have seen over the past 3, 30, 300 years. The heft and high-key ho-hum nature of constant vigilance within an unending five-alarm fire of bombastic suffering is no joke. Though it is often absurd and distasteful.
Perhaps it will be comforting or the opposite -- but I do believe that the arc of history looks less like a longbow curving toward justice, and more like the choppy waves in Lake Michigan after a giant yacht forges into the sunset. The undulation and push-pull of politics, the bizarre insistence of liberal media outlets on providing conservative talking points a platform no matter how factually debased, and the blue/red multiverses of America are all central concerns in the exhibition that you, ostensibly, are inside of (or were or will be). It's called Very Fine On Both Sides and it is my attempt to work through my political frustrations and news cycle fatigue with a bit of humor, a bit of sadness and irony, a bit of poetry, a few cute dogs and a fair amount of paint. VFOBS begins with and returns to a commiserating metaphor - the apolitical concept of the palindrome (a word or phrase spelled the same backwards as it is forwards).
Palindromes are a self-satisfied form that serve no clear purpose beyond the trivial. In this regard, they present a fertile, almost funny parallel to mainstream political discourse, which continues to excuse the ideologies of rape culture and white supremacy through unyielding false equivalencies. In other words, as President Trump infamously said, there are very fine people on both sides.
Very Fine On Both Sides proposes that new articulations of resistance are more important than ever, by rendering reactionary and reactive politics as flaccid and even narcissistic, a mirror to its opposite, attached at the hip. This narcissism guides us as we wade through our separate and parallel realities, crafted around a shrinking set of shared knowns. The differences between our understandings of those shared knowns metastasizes in social media echo chambers and in our mainstream media diets.
The core values of media liberalism - being fair and balanced - make and hold space for contrarian opinions, even fascist ones, while the logics of conservative media are always aiming to exclude and demonize and reduce. Less is apparently more. It's tiring to be on the side of freedom of speech, directly or indirectly, advocating for those who would seek your own disenfranchisement. In some cases, these free thinkers emerge from the shadows of 8Chan, in increasingly spectacular public fashion. What can be done?
I will leave you with this meditation: close your eyes and imagine that we are at the beach on a late summer day. We are all thinking: fuck that yacht. Some small human beings, relishing the icy chill of the lake are crouching and flapping their arms in the water, trying to send each wave back to its origin. I am hanging back on the shallow side with a few elders, greeting each wave with cupped hands, soothing the aggression before it chops and slaps the shore. I take a pause to wave at you, and then resume my vigilance. After all, we must protect ourselves and each other; do what we can. Even if, inarguably, everything we can do is never quite enough. But we are doing it together and we are, occasionally, even having a good time.
- Latham Zearfoss 1/1/2020