The Shining City

Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery Ohio Art League’s 100th Anniversary Exhibition, Curated by Margo A. Crutchfield, Senior Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland July 30 – October 25 2009.

Using the final speech of President Reagan, this installation maps the various intersections and lines of flight made possible by utopian thought. A video of Reagan’s “Shining City” speech, cropped so that only his eyes are visible is projected against a map that contains every city or major dwelling that utilized the name “Utopia”. The lines that connect the points on the map are attached with wire to a table containing one of President Reagan’s astrological charts and are animated by an invisible force.

A short video documentation of the piece can be viewed here.

In his farewell address, taped on January 11, 1989 from the Oval Office, Ronald Reagan said goodbye to the nation after two terms as President. At the end of the 3,302 words that make up this address, President Reagan references a visual metaphor that haunted his entire tenure: John Winthrop’s “shining city on a hill”. John Winthrop, the former governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, mentioned this “shining city on a hill” in his speech, A Model of Christian Charity in 1630. For President Reagan, this metaphor signified the utopian possibilities of America as well as the noble heritage of the puritans. Using the speeches of former President Reagan, this installation maps the various intersections and lines of flight made possible by utopian thought.

Rather than approaching these sites as an archive of irrefutable facts, I am seeking the dormant potential that exists within these moments. I am specifically interested in the way the Reagan presidency deploys certain utopian images to legitimize its own power, and the wide gulf that exists between optimistic vision and actual social practice. The fundamental question that concerns this work is how history can be activated as a dynamic and contingent mediator of experience rather than a fixed archive of seemingly objective facts. This project performs history as a site where interpretation and fact are not pitted against one another in binary opposition, but rather both of these categories are shown as constitutive of different types of potential.

 

 



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