Drawing in a Time of Fear & LiesWeekend

Various Dismal Futures

At the time I made this drawing in July, I was using existing narratives of future dysfunction to begin to consider the unthinkable.

William Powhida, “Various Dismal Futures” (2016), graphite on paper mounted on archival foamcore, 23 1/4 x 16 1/2 inches (courtesy the artist and Charlie James Gallery)

Over the last year and half, I’ve been slowly developing ideas for an upcoming show at the Aldrich Contemporary. At some point, my ideas entered the territory of speculative fiction. This past spring and summer — as the election oozed across the social media landscape like a corrupting presence from an H.P. Lovecraft story — I worked on a series of drawings about the presidential candidates. After I finished the series which situated Donald, Hillary, and Bernie in policy-based, historical, and pop culture contexts, I started thinking about dystopias I had read about or seen in films.

Having consumed an irresponsible amount of sci-fi and horror, I arrived at the dismal futures in the drawing by looking at when certain films were fictionally set. I was looking for futures that hadn’t quite occurred yet. Many films, like Escape from New York, didn’t work as their futures had already past. That film’s fictive 1998 setting and its generally racist vision of New York as a vast prison still foreshadowed the rise of another horrible man, Rudolph Giuliani. Other films from the 1970’s and 80’s like Blade Runner and Robocop presented dystopian futures that are almost upon us, but in particular, Robocop’s neoliberal, corporate scheme to both automate and privatize the Detroit Police Department against a backdrop of a massive, real-estate development gentrification project is, well, very prescient! As one might say on Twitter, “I didn’t know Robocop was a documentary.”

Trump is a character who would seamlessly slide into Robocop’s corrupt landscape devoid of functional democratic institutions,  a society run by a generic mega corporation (OCP) that manages everything from development to the local drug trade. Of course OCP would like to provide private police services while padding  its profit margin with lucrative government police contracts and drug sales. The only representation of democracy in the film occurs when the titular cyborg kills a city councilman holding the mayor hostage as he desperately negotiates for cash and a 6000 SUX sedan. #MAGA!

At the time I made the drawing in July, I was using these existing narratives of future dysfunction to begin to consider the unthinkable. I couldn’t quite commit to a building a possible future for art while the election remained undecided. While none of my possible timelines concerned an egalitarian future of cultural equity — income and wealth continue to diverge and consolidate at the top of capitalist societies  to the extent that we are nearing levels recorded in pre-revolutionary France  — Trump’s election shifted many dismal possibilities much closer to the present. Beyond the films in the drawing, I’d recommend reading William Gibson’s (@GreatDismal) novel The Peripheral for a particularly disturbing vision of both the near and far future where collapse isn’t a giant disaster spectacle, but the long accumulation of human error, not so dissimilar to the slow  erosion of civil rights that are now under even greater threat with a reactionary and corrupt regime taking control of all branches of the Federal Government. On that note, I’ll leave you to your own planning.

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