Art, if it works, holds a mirror up to the observer where they see themselves, forcing them to question their assumptions about their world. In performance art, the observer ideally becomes part of the art piece in some way. Hence, The Exploding Russo Inevitable, i.e., my campaign for county executive in 2014. It was a group performance from Day One.
The origins of the piece’s title were foreign to almost everyone, even the finest artists in CLE – very few people “got it”. (isn’t CLE the birthplace of rock ‘n roll? Come on, people.) Getting it required that you at least had heard of The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a performance art combination of pop art and rock n’ roll, performed by Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground & Nico across America in 1966. It’s music forms the entire “Banana Album”, the Velvets’ debut, widely understood as one of the most influential albums in the history of popular music. No one really “got it” either when the album was released in 1967 (the year I was born). It never sold. The Brian Eno saying goes that everyone who did buy the album started a rock n’ roll band.
The “art” of the Exploding Russo Inevitable, the work product, wasn’t done by me – it was done by others via their reactions to it. From all manner of social media silliness all the way to the banal of hand shaking at bingo games, speeches, debates – I may have held the paint brushes. Everyone else was the paint.
My favorite example was, of course, the media reaction to my candidacy. Very reliable materials. No paint on a palette behaves as predictably as our local media behaved in response to me running for office. Almost unanimously, they hit the canvass in one of two ways – invisibly with their silence, or spectacularly with their despise. When I got lazy, or depressed, or tired, like any artist, they were my go-to can of Pollock splatters. They were too easy.
Good art, of course, doesn’t rely on two colors used predictably. Like in a Rothko, or a Turner, the interesting bits are where the better colors bleed into each other, “react” with one another. That began happening as observers saw themselves in the mirror, and did something. Today, social media allows you to often watch that reaction in real time. See whose reflection in the mirror affects them most, or least. I ended up with just over 9,000 votes. Each one, a splash of paint, a carve on a marble, or a note of music.
But those were just the votes. Mixing art and politics in a performance piece goes well beyond the artificial “deadline” of an election and its crossed T’s or dotted I’s. Henry Senyak was a late arrival in the paint box – his raid on Loren Naji the Friday before the election should have been something I ignored – if I was a typical candidate. For the Exploding Russo Inevitable? It was an opportunity.
Seeing how people reacted to learning, from me, two days before the election, how Senyak became Joe Cimperman’s Senyak, how this one sorry buzz killer had accrued enough power to send 7 cars of tactical geared jackboots to an art gallery opening – the first brush strokes have been very revealing. Lots of people seeing lots of things in the mirror. Drops of paint are still hitting the canvass, behaving very interestingly.
Pay attention to them.