Political arguments inspire performance art

Art professor and alumnus collaborate on “Escalation,” an exhibit of drawings and performance-based video pieces inspired by contemporary political discourse

Tired of political campaigns turning into volatile battlegrounds? Feel like the issues are lost in personal attacks? Whitworth art professor Scott Kolbo and Whitworth alumnus Lance Sinnema said they feel that way, and are making a statement about it.

Kolbo and Sinnema put up a display of artwork turned into medieval weaponry at the Saranac Art Projects Gallery on Friday, March 2. The basis behind their project was to take the content that surrounds political debates, newscasts and advertisements and to make the words into tangible weapons that they could literally beat an opponent with.

Sound ridiculous? That’s the point. According to the Saranac’s description of the pieces, it seemed ridiculous to have political debates that are charged with personal attacks instead of educated debates on the topics that matter. The whole display of Kolbo’s and Sinnema’s work is supposed to be a slapstick portrayal of how society is no longer able to debate each other rationally.

“Scott and I had discussions pretty frequently about politics and things we had read and seen,” Sinnema said. “And then it led to this idea of escalation, how debate often escalated quickly into name calling and pointing and things like that. So we just took that idea and ran with it.”

The artists also used a different medium to present their work. According to the Saranac Art Projects’ website, instead of simply creating these weapons labeled with words such as “Right wing!” or “Hipster” and putting them on display, the artists decked themselves out in white jumpsuits that were splatter-painted either blue or red and used the weapons to beat each other, and then filmed the epic battle that ensued. Those videos are projected at the Saranac, along with drawings displaying victims of verbal political abuse.

“We wanted to focus on having fun,” Sinnema said. “Because politics isn’t fun, so if you’re going to make art about it it should be fun.”

Although the display might be amusing and seemingly lighthearted, the message is serious.

“We want the audience to have a lot of thought about how we choose to discourse about politics, and ideological differences in our current culture, to think harder about these things and pay attention to what it really looks like and sounds like,” Kolbo said.

Inspiration for the project came from the frustrations that Kolbo and Sinnema encountered while reading forums about the current political arguments. They were taken aback by the capricious language that surrounded the political issues.

“There will be an article about Obama and people will write a whole bunch of nasty stuff back and forth to each other, and that has always driven me crazy and made me a little depressed,” Kolbo said.

Lesly Selby, a Whitworth junior art and journalism double major, said she thought the display was a lot of fun.

“It was done in a playful way that made fun of all the abuse that gets tossed around in politics,” Selby said. “It presented a deep message in a lighthearted way.”

The exhibit also encourages audience participation. While at the display, audience members are encouraged to vote on which side they want to win, which one reflects them more. The results will influence the end result of the epic final battle to be performed live during the free closing performance on March 31 at 5:30 p.m.

“Don’t support people who just yell loudly about awful things,” Sinnema said. “Think for yourself, and be a little more conscious about what’s going on.”

The exhibit “Escalation” by Sinnema and Kolbo is on display at the Saranac Art Projects Gallery from March 2 until March 31. There will also be a free closing performance on Saturday, March 31 at 5:30 p.m.

Story by Jacqueline Goldman
Staff Writer

Photos by Michael Locatell

Contact Jacqueline Goldman at jgoldman13@my.whitworth.edu.

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