Americans love their mythos almost as much as they love their country. But with the appalling lack of civility during this year’s election, a few monsters of our past are returning to wreak havoc. Rebecca Goyette’s newest exhibition, Ghost Bitch U.S.A., revives an interest in the Salem Witch Trials to highlight the very real witch hunt occurring in today’s politics.
Goyette locates our election woes in the gender dynamics and xenophobia of our puritanical past. With a nightmarish humor, she has adorned the gallery walls of Freight + Volume with genitalia, patriotism, and zealous castration scenes where Puritans and Donald Trump lookalikes are victims. Many of these works are obvious if bold statements against the Republican nominee. The most striking is “T-Rump,” which simply features what Goyette calls a “foam-cast ass mask” wearing a blonde wig and Trump’s patented “Make American Great Again” hat. Oh, and there is a sculpted piece of poop sitting just below the ass mask. Clearly, Goyette’s unrelenting anger does not care for subtlety or gentleness.
It almost goes without saying that Trump is the perfect icon for misogynist anger, and Goyette dispatches his image throughout Ghost Bitch U.S.A. as the representation of fragile masculinity. And as a descendent of Rebecca Nurse, a 70-year-old victim of the Salem Witch Trials, Goyette is preoccupied with the transformation of women into witches — not by magic or mystery, but by the public’s need for a scapegoat. That’s why Goyette peppers her exhibition with cultural references, such as with the small doll “Tituba,” named after the first woman accused of witchcraft in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Goyette turns these references into allegories. She relates the late 17th-century witch hunt to today’s attacks on feminism; in turn, she sees those attacks on feminism as direct attacks on female bodies.
The real centerpieces of Ghost Bitch U.S.A. are the two films on display. The first, the titular “Ghost Bitch U.S.A.,” also happens to be the first artwork seen in the gallery. As we might expect from Goyette, this film indulges in the hysterics of witchcraft and violence. It depicts a Trump lookalike bound by rope to a forest tree. His captors are two witches who take to torturing and teasing him before castrating his fake foam penis. Oh, and then they eat it.
As absurd as Trump’s candidacy may be, he becomes a more potent symbol for evil in Goyette’s hands — someone who can be dispatched only through the use of black magic. Alternatively, she allows herself to become the apotheosis of “evil” femininity — a woman with the power to subdue a man.
In her second film, “Ghost Bitch: Arise from the Gallows,” Goyette expands her portrait of modern witchery with a few scenes of Puritan dress-up. This film is a fever-pitch dream of psychosexual indulgence. Dressed in lingerie costumes, featuring multiple nipples, and wigs with long blonde hair, the witches hold complete power over their men. These men all hail from Massachusetts, wearing their own normcore costumes from the state, mainly Red Sox regalia. Slowly, they become sex slaves to the women, pulling out their foam penises to simulate masturbation. Like the first film, this one can meander a bit, but Goyette ultimately gets her message across: women are still trapped by archaic stereotypes of either manic violence or hypersexuality.
Whether mage or minx, Goyette makes a strong claim that America’s gender issues are historically enmeshed. And as for Trump, he is the culmination or embodiment of this misogyny. While her message of interminable stereotypes is saddening, Goyette does a good job of imbuing some power into them. Witches can be powerful, dominating. If harnessed and embraced, the power of women could easily trump Trump.
Rebecca Goyette: Ghost Bitch USA continues at Freight + Volume (97 Allen St, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through September 11.