Here’s the event description:
Since 2007, musician Geoff Geis (Pizza!, Big Whup) has created visual artwork lampooning the hyperbolic reactions on both the political left and the political right to Barack Obama. Originally displayed at Tiny Creatures Gallery in December of that year, The Audacity of Blood is a grotesque pop-up book that parodies liberal America’s Messianic expectations of then-candidate Obama while eerily predicting today’s vicious response to President Obama from the conservative fringe. In 2009, Mr. Geis exhibited a follow-up series entitled Obamaporn at several galleries including Echo Curio. Juvenile in nature, these collages feature members of the First Family in various pornographic poses.
We’ve got the scoop on this potentially highly inflammatory (of the crotch region) exhibit.
On October 21, Echo Curio presents a look back at Geoff Geis’s previous Obama-themed exhibits (The Audacity of Blood and Obamaporn), and the unveiling of his new mixed-media sculpture entitled Just Look at What He’s Doing!
Hey, Geoff, why did you call your show Just Look What He’s Doing!?
The show is a play on sensationalism. Everyone is always yelling and pointing.
I was struck by the prescience of the images in your pop-up book The Audacity of Blood (which is the centerpiece of the reading area of your exhibit), considering it was made pre-election 2008. Could you comment on the book as well as on the YouTube comments for the video made of it (click here or watch below)?
The joke of The Audacity of Blood was never on Obama but on the legions of people whose support for him seemed to be based on nothing more than those fascist “Hope” and “Change” posters that were everywhere. These same “Hope” and “Change” losers are now abandoning the President because he hasn’t walked on water yet. Those are the people I was trying to lampoon, and I was delighted that so many of them took my bait and posted incendiary comments on the Internet. It seemed to me, at the time, that only a complete moron could see what I’d created and not realize that I was being sarcastic.
I had no idea that the hyperbole and sensationalism of my book would so resemble the hyperbole and sensationalism of the right wing after the election. Other than predicting Obama’s victory, the “prescience” of my book is surprising and terrifying. I can’t claim to have anticipated the ascendancy of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, the xenophobic rebirth of Newt Gingrich, or the growing number people who believe that our president is a Satan-worshipping son of a space alien who was born on the swampy banks of the Nile. The images in my book were initially a source of delight because they were so silly—three years ago the idea that people would now be comparing Obama to Hitler would have made me laugh! Today, it’s harder to laugh.
Tell me about your collaboration with Sarah Cisco, Caitlin Craggs, and Kitty Dexter.
Sarah is an excellent seamstress, and her aesthetic adds a lot of much-needed sparkle to the project. Caitlin is currently directing a music video for Pizza! She also made some extraordinary structures for that video, which inspired me to enlist her help as a sculptor for the exhibition. And Kitty Dexter can paint, which I simply cannot do.
Pizza! actually inspired The Audacity of Blood. In 2007, we were joking at band practice about how everyone was getting whipped into a frenzy over Obama even though they’d only heard him speak once, and we turned that joke into a song called “The Future?” about a smooth-talking hero who comes to power and destroys the world. The lyrics to that song became the outline for the plot of the Audacity of Blood.
Much of the haphazard image cutting lends a certain “punk” aesthetic to your work. Would you care to comment?
I’ve always considered myself to be punk. Dada, John Cage, and the punk movement totally operated on the same wavelength.
Who are your influences?
I’ve been particularly influenced by Cage, Alexander Hamilton, Arnold Schoenberg, Theodore Roosevelt, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Georg Simmel, and David Byrne. The visual artist that has inspired me most is Marcel Duchamp. He reduced art to the essence from which it truly gains value—not through the “vision” of the artist, but through the reaction of the audience. My art is dependent on audience reaction, whether it’s giggling from people who “get it,” repulsion from people who don’t, or dismissal from people who do get it but think it’s crass and immature. I don’t want control.
Would you elaborate on your relation to audience reaction, in particular as it relates to your recent work?
In The Metropolis and Mental Life, Simmel mentions that people respond to the constant stimuli of urban environments by becoming isolated and blasé. He was writing about Berlin at the end of the 19th century. 21st century American cities are far worse. There are so many things vying for our attention that we have to ignore just to survive. In this climate, to do something that gets any response at all is to succeed.
The serious art world fails at this. It’s boring, and to an outsider like me it seems quite masturbatory.
I, on the other hand, glue the President’s head on naked dudes.
If nothing else, people don’t seem to be blasé about pornographic images of the President. Sexuality, which used to be taboo, has been so well-explored in the arts that it’s hardly interesting on its own anymore.
When sexuality is added to presidential imagery, however, it becomes interesting again. For now, at least, I’ve discovered a way to be shocking. That’s basically the motive behind the Obamaporn series.
Why the tactility of hand cut versus Photoshop?
When I began The Audacity of Blood I had an idea in mind, but my realization of it was limited to the images I could find in books. Those found images shaped the narrative itself. I also take great pleasure in the actual process of cutting the images out of these beautiful books. Looking at Duchamp’s defacement of Leonardo’s work is a sublime joy that gives me just as much pleasure as it did when I was 13 and I first saw “L.H.O.O.Q.” I’m the proud owner of a collection of gorgeous art books. All of these books have been joyfully ripped to shreds.
Do you consider yourself a political person?
Yes. I even have political ambitions. I’m from North Alabama, and I’d like to one day return there to run for the House of Representatives.
What did you think of Barry Blitt’s New Yorker cover last year, which drew so much debate?
I don’t know the Obamas, but they seem to be exactly the kind of people who would like a joke like that. I’m sure that, behind closed doors, they laughed. Yet they had to publicly condemn a legitimately funny joke because it’s part of their jobs now to not have senses of humor. I think that’s a bummer for them.
What future projects are on the horizon for you?
I think that this exhibition takes these themes to their logical conclusions, and I don’t really consider myself a visual artist so I don’t have any nagging desire to come up with something to do next. I may try to mass produce The Audacity of Blood in a form that can be sold in stores. 2011 has the potential to be a big year for my musical projects, though, so my hope is to be busy with those.