The Grand Masquerade And
The American Dream"
by Mike Schuetz
When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
The American Dream: It has intrigued, beguiled and eluded many of those who have chased it down. With the dream has come the promise of success, sometimes in the form of wealth, power and control. Other times, and perhaps more importantly, it has simply offered the possibility of a better and more fruitful life for those who leave their birthplace in search of something better. Our affinity and admiration of the Statue of Liberty and what it symbolizes, or rather what it was intended to symbolize, is not without justification. Ellis Island...Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...there is power in truth, but what is the truth? Is Lady Liberty really a sanctuary for the promise of a better life? Or has it now been simply reduced to a tourist attraction that generates millions of dollars in revenue - for who? Who benefits from this and how?
It strikes me as bitingly and perfectly ironic that the work of Federico Solmi is rooted in video, or in simpler terms - the television. Since the boom of the TV during 1950’s middle class America, it has allowed the general public to receive information and entertainment, with the idea that you could stay in the comfort of your own home, and huddle around the TV - the new gateway to the world. This provided an instant visual portal into the wide world and its happenings, and enabled many people to retreat into a private, isolated world, secretly cut off from the very world that was fueling such an exclusive habitat. With that said, television has also done a fabulous job of bolstering the American Dream, with a slew full of products and lifestyle aids that reinforce the idea of what it really means to be an American and its associated lifestyle. TV has helped to shape the culture of America by feeding a so-called identity and filling a cultural void.
The television did and continues to portray a facsimile of ‘the real world’, or what and how we perceive it to be. Perhaps since the first photographs taken from the Civil War, did Americans come to realize that there is proof of power in ‘real world’ images. The moving image is a direct descendant of the photograph, and the television is the hyperbolized offspring of the moving image. In the case of early Civil War photographs, it must have been an instance of shock and horror to those who otherwise had no first hand knowledge or experience of the effect the war had on human life. Fervor, whether patriotic, spiritual, or political - now gave way to the shared understanding that life was precious, and the well-being of our existence takes precedence over the trials and tribulations that were overshadowing the citizens of the nation. Amongst the rubble of human remains, nature never looked so beautiful, so precious, and yet so threatened by the existence of humankind.
A parallel between Solmi’s video paintings and the advancement of photography during the time of the Civil War is that of stereo-view photography, or more specifically, the stereogram. A highly sophisticated process and subsequently popular among Americans, the stereogram allowed for ‘life-like’ images by utilizing a twin-lens camera to capture the same image from slightly different viewing angles, much like the way that two human eyes capture different angles on the head. While Solmi’s video paintings utilize modern technology in the form of 3-D rendering and video game engines, the results are oddly similar - providing viewers a ‘reality-based’ simulation of the world rooted in photography. At a time when ‘stereo-view’ photography was new and wondrous, Solmi’s video paintings are a direct reflection of a current fascination with modified, reality-based, game-play visualization and virtual reality headsets.
However steeped in technology Solmi’s work appears, there is something deeply devoted to the craft of painting, and in particular, history painting. It is certainly not a stretch of the imagination to bring up the names of Benjamin West, John Trumbull, Emanuel Leutze and the like. The video works of Solmi are quite literally, moving paintings. With their high-key, turbo-charged color, fragmented, glitchy movements and dizzying perspectives, they are both paying homage to and satirically criticizing the gloriousness and grandeur of romanticized history painting.
Since the colonization of America, many of our standardized history books have taught us, to believe the culture of America was cultivated from that of our European ancestors, born of technological advancements and the pursuit of ‘higher intellect’, and that this new land now called America was destined to follow in the path of its big European brother. Along with European colonization came exposure to new things from around the world, but it also reinforced the idea of land development, real estate, consumption, and consequently greed, power and corruption - and many times the struggle to gain or take control of power. Bitter and bloody battles followed, as it became more about the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and the ‘mine and not yours’ mentality. Everyone wanted a slice of the American Dream - even before it was a ‘thing,’ but the stakes became very high and with heavy consequences.
In the work, Douche Bag City, 2010, Solmi’s imperialistic and ruthless capitalist, Dick Richman, is born of a delusional and money-grabbing society. Richman is a by-product siphoned from Nietzsche’s writings, On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense. Sentenced to a personalized purgatory, Richman is hunter and hunted, and he is comical, terrifying and prophetic. There is an evil-making mastermind at work here, where power and control, and more importantly maintaining it, are its modus operandi. The selfish and relentless pursuit of the American Dream is the ultimate goal, not to prosper by the need for a better place and a better life, but rather the twisted and distorted desperation of needing The Dream, must have The Dream! The mission is to rip off everyone and leave behind a bloody trail in pursuit of The Dream. Everything is driven by greed and money. There is no room for empathy or sympathy, only apathy.
Very much like the innocent, naïve bystanders who first saw those horrific photos taken from the Civil War battlefields with eyes of tragic fascination, all of us with compassion, could assume a role of guilt and responsibility upon watching Richman run amok. When we become desensitized to the acts of greed, corruption and terrorization as a result of an abject normalization, we become part of the deadly mix, where cause for mental perspective and reason dry up and fall away. Once we accept aggression and violent acts as authorized means and methods to solve problems, we move one step closer to extinction. Ultimately, we prevent the absolute realization of existence - separating one’s sense of self from that which immediately threatens one’s sense of life.
Taking a swift walk through history, particularly the history of America, it is quite clear that not everything you see and read is true. Welcome to The Grand Masquerade!