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Late last year, David Gleeson and Mary Mihelic, cofounders of politically minded art collective T. Rutt, learned via Rachel Maddow that a Donald Trump campaign bus was up for sale on Craigslist in Des Moines, Iowa. Trump’s team had used the bus — a former bachelor party bus, complete with a stripper pole — to campaign at the Iowa State Fair. Gleeson, who’d been working on a series of political artworks protesting Trump, seized the opportunity: The next day, he flew to Des Moines and purchased this “nice piece of raw material,” as he calls the vehicle.
Now, Gleeson and Mihelic have transformed Trump’s bus into a rolling art project protesting the Republican presidential nomination frontrunner’s divisive rhetoric. In this “kind of seedy” bus, which the artists say has a million miles on it, they’ve been traveling to Trump rallies across the country, as well as to Miami Beach during Art Basel for the Conception Art Fair. With red paint, they’ve amended the slogan on one side of the bus to read “T.RUMP: Make Fruit Punch Great Again”; on the other side, it now reads “T.RUTT: #WomenTrumpTrump,” protesting Trump’s negative comments toward women. In the evening at every rally they attend, Gleeson stands on top of the bus in a neon jacket and drives a golf club into a ball with Trump’s face on it. “We’re driving Trump into the sunset,” Gleeson tells Hyperallergic.
“The T.RUMP Bus uses the bizarre realities of Donald Trump’s bullying presidential campaign to explore important questions about American society today,” the artists write in a statement. “The bus is a great platform for responding to Trump’s daily belligerence, whether it be racial, religious, sexist, or his teasing of a handicapped reporter.” Their artistic responses to this bigotry have evolved over the course of their tour. After Trump called for a ban on Muslims traveling to the United States, they wrote Trump’s slogan (“Make America Great Again”) on the back of the bus in Arabic; after a Hillary Clinton supporter at a rally didn’t get their joke and accused T.Rutt of being Nazis, they satirized Trump’s fascistic rhetoric by writing “My Struggle” on the bus, with a list of his biggest personal challenges: “To not hate,” “To not rape,” “To not cheat at golf,” etc.
What makes this piece of political art so intriguing and effective is precisely that it’s not immediately recognizable as political art. The changes to the bus’s original facade are subtle — “It’s not a crazy rainbow hippie art bus,” Gleeson says. That means that Trump supporters constantly come up at rallies and take selfies with the bus, only to have it slowly dawn on them that “Make Fruit Punch Great Again” isn’t their candidate’s actual slogan. Then, they tend to get pissed off. In this way, the bus doesn’t preach to a choir or operate in a liberal vacuum — it’s started some real dialogues between members of opposing sides. On the flipside, Trump haters on the road constantly give the finger out their car windows, not realizing the bus is also anti-Trump. “It’s this crazy artwork where you watch someone’s emotions shift from one moment to the next as they start to understand it,” Mihelic says.
The rolling artwork also comments on Trump’s own campaign tactics of absurd performance and entertainment by echoing them and turning them against him. “Trump really is his own kind of performance artist. He’s an incredible entertainer,” Mihelic says. “He’s so much more engaging than all the other Republican candidates. So it’s interesting to parallel that with the performance art of the bus. As we pull into parking lots at rallies in this bus as sign of protest, and David stands on top of the bus, swinging golf clubs at golf balls with Trump’s face on them, we’re almost as entertaining as Trump is at the rally.”
Why was this bus being sold on Craigslist, of all places, instead of, say, Trump’s luxury real estate site? Williams explains that Trump’s team had been stiffing the guys from whom they’d leased the bus, so, despite having spent $10,000 on a vinyl wrap job with Trump’s name and slogan, they had to return it after a few months. Not having any use for the Trump-ified bus, its owners decided to sell it on Craigslist for $14,000.
T.Rutt are currently raising funds on Kickstarter to help pay for gas, maintenance, and documentation of the T.RUMP Bus’s artistic journey to the primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and so on. While they may not manage to make fruit punch great again, maybe they can at least make a few Trump supporters think again.
Art by Athena LaTocha, Wendy Red Star, Marianne Nicolson, Anita Fields, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith & Neal Ambrose-Smith, and more is on view through January 2022.
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