(GIF by the author for Hyperallergic, via YouTube)

In 1974, artist Vincent Trasov ran for mayor of Vancouver under the guise of his performance art persona, Mr. Peanut. Trasov’s character was a symbol of artists and their ambitions, while its name was also (conveniently) his campaign platform: P for performance, E for elegance, A for art, N for nonsense, U for uniqueness, and T for talent.

The final vote gave Mr. Peanut

In the final count, Mr. Peanut received about ~5% of the votes. (screenshot by the author)

It was a wacky piece that got lots of media attention — including articles in Esquire, Interview, and, most importantly, General Idea’s epoch-charting FILE magazine — and it predicted the reality-television antics that have come to dominate the political circus that plays out in the mainstream media.

The campaign motto was “Elect a nut for Mayor,” and Trasov’s performance brought international attention to the mayoral race of Canada’s third-largest city. The performance was so successful that Trasov was even able to attract the endorsement of American author William S. Burroughs, who said:

I would like to take this opportunity to endorse the candidacy of Mr. Peanut for mayor of Vancouver. Mr. Peanut is running on the art platform, and art is the creation of illusion. Since the inexorable logic of reality has created nothing but insolvable problems, it is now time for illusion to take over. And there can only be one illogical candidate-Mr. Peanut.

Some footage of the campaign was compiled in this video for a 2014–15 exhibition at the Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia. It shows how the public, media, and the other candidates at the time reacted to this early act of creative political resistance.

YouTube video

Has all that much changed in the world of politics?

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.