Academic journal article Afterimage

Art-as-Activism and Public Discourse: A Conversation with Diane Bush

Academic journal article Afterimage

Art-as-Activism and Public Discourse: A Conversation with Diane Bush

Article excerpt

Diane Bush is an American photographer who has lived and worked in Buffalo and London, and currently resides in Las Vegas, where she has served as curator of exhibits for Clark County. She is the recipient of awards and grants from institutions such as Kodak, Nikon, Ilford, Polaroid, the Royal Photographic Society, Yorkshire Arts Association, Women in Photography, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, as well as a fellowship from the Nevada Arts Council. In 2008 she was nominated for a USA Artist fellowship. Her work has been published and exhibited internationally, and she is the author of the monoprint (2006). This conversation began in person in Buffalo in June 2016 and continued via email through the fall.

DAVID LAROCCA: Your recent project, Dishing It Out 2016, uses items familiar to the kitchen cupboard--mainly dinner plates and coffee mugs--to make a political point. What sorts of imagery are you creating and how is your art being used for political agitation and activism?

DIANE BUSH: I've affixed satirical images of the 2016 Presidential candidates, as well as other images that comment upon our current political state, to ceramic plates and mugs, and then I invite viewer-participants to smash them. The original idea (inspired by a kitschy commemorative Nixon plate) was to make a sequel to my 2008 community performance piece. The ImBLEACHmtnl of George W. Bush, by making satirical 2016 Presidential candidate plates that folks could break. I watched a YouTube tutorial on ceramic printing, forked out some cash on a hot press, dye sublimation inks, and a new printer, and after a few stumbles, I was in business! I put out a call to other artists across the country--first, just asking for artwork about the candidates--but few artists took the bait, so I widened the scope to include anything about our current political situation. To make any impact. I decided I would have to do something splashy, every month, leading right up to the election. So, each month starting in January, the newest and best of the previously shown work was exhibited in a different Las Vegas gallery, except during the performance months: May (Inflated Dreams, Broken Promises), September (Hogging the Mic, a poetry contest), and October (Let America BREAK Again). The project launch (Mug Shots), in January, was shown at the Brett Wesley Gallery. Subsequent exhibits (Mug Shots #2, #3, #4, etc.) were held at Dray's Space, the Left of Center Gallery, Jana's Room, Wonderland Gallery, the Sahara West Gallery (Vanity Plates), and the Victor Xiu Gallery (The Final Tally). My own images are photo-based with fiber art enhancements. All artists were invited to submit work in any media, in a wide range of genres, from realistic to abstract.

DL: And to what end?

DB: The project had four main goals: to amuse the public, to celebrate free speech, to register new voters, and to encourage artists to embrace political satire as a way of getting the public to think critically about who will next lead the country. I had also hoped to gain some positive national press for the visual arts in Las Vegas--something most Americans consider nonexistent, or is only expressed through a bombardment of kitschy glitter.

DL: Political, especially presidential, satire is becoming something of a defining frame for your work.

DB: Yes, but mostly during major election cycles. I'm a lifelong fan of satire, from The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic books, to Monty Python, to Comedy Central. As in past election-based projects, such as The ImBLEACHment of George W. Bush, I wanted the public to be physically involved, so they could experience an emotional and therapeutic release. They were invited to throw (watered-down) bleach at a photograph of George W. Bush in order to visually erase him.

DL: I see a conjunction here of de-facing (something, someone) along with a kind of erasure--as if the hope were not just to mock a figure (by means of an effigy), but with more subtlety and political cunning, to tap into the desire to rewrite history. …

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