Last night was a big night for Ray Ray Mitrano and his year long art exploration of the 2016 elections. It was Fake Election night at the Visual Studies Workshop.
First Friday goer’s fake voted — about 117 total ended up in the fake rolls — whether they expected to or not, being led through a fake voter registration process, which included a self-drawn voter ID and eventually choosing their issues from a dizzying array of odd and found objects. Graters, lollypops, egg cartons, and a broken fiddle, filled with pretzels, were just some of the choices scattered down multiple rows on stage. In the voting booth, delegates were assigned and fake voters saw how their issues translated into the process through stop-motion animation
You first met Ray Ray, a Master’s of Fine Arts degree candidate in SUNY Brockport’s Visual Studies Program, at his July 1st participatory gallery installation, Primary Caucus, part of Ray Ray’s year long thesis work on the trajectory of the 2016 elections. Afterwards, we collaborated on Vote early and often at a political art experience: the “Primary Caucus.”
Since then, Ray Ray’s project has included fake news interviews, fake debates, a mini-sit in at the County Clerk’s Office and a weekly civic discussion series at Small World Books this autumn. Stayed tuned for the full length story of Ray’s Ray’s thought-provoking and imagination-piquing thesis: a mixture of carefully researched political science and multi media performance art.
At the election, I met Professor Tara Nelson, curator of the VSW’s Moving Image Collection and a member of Ray Ray’s faculty committee.
When discussing Ray Ray’s work, Tara emphasized that at every venue Ray Ray’s creates a “welcoming space,” a congenial atmosphere that easily draws participation. From the onset, Ray Ray’s project was as much about artistic expression as building community, clearly evidenced by the large crowd captivated by the fake election.
I agreed that Ray Ray brings warmth and openness to his work, wondering if — given his subject — Ray Ray might be a natural politician. Tara said Ray Ray definitely is a natural artist, adding that he probably would actually do well in politics.
Tara said Ray Ray can be called an avant garde artist. Like other experimentally driven artists, Ray Ray operates at the edges, in this case, by exploring the boundaries of political discourse in order to comment on the mainstream. As Tara said, Ray Ray isn’t sitting around waiting for a gallery to display his work. But, working with low resources and high ingenuity — as Tara pointed to the stage full of seeming debris made into clever installation props — Ray Ray takes his art directly to his audience.
Visiting Tara was Jennifer Montgomery, filmmaker and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. We watched as Jennifer designed and drew her Voter ID and then navigated the complexities of the voting closet.
I also met Sasha Rose Herbert, graduate of RIT and an MFA student in the Visual Studies Program. Sasha and I compared the “fake” and “real” elections. We both felt Ray Ray’s surreal gala matched the bizarre campaign of a former reality tv star on hiatus.
We also thought the chaotic and confusing process — with the scattered “issues” barely referring to gun control, abortion or anything obviously recognizable — revealed how people might actually make their electoral choices. Rather than rationally and carefully winnowing through information like party platforms, people’s political identities and preferences are murky things arising from biases and habits of which they are not fully aware.
Upon entering, with my newly self-drawn portrait identification, and now in the fake voter rolls, I found an unfamilar polling station. This one was dark, with some sort of chaotic projection along with sounds of
indigenous tribal, or some other culture’s music. A fake poll worker immediately asked for my fake voter ID, which I fumbled for in the dark. Soon I was given a flashlight of my own and told to “Research the issues on stage with this.”
Finding the stage, where other fake voters were flashing lights up-and-down rows of various objects, strewn on butcher paper. I was told to take as many or as few “issues” (as the objects were called) into my fake affiliated party’s fake voting booth.
This Party, That Party, or No Party. I chose This Party, and glad I did, later finding out that it not only recieved the highest delegate count, but No Party fake voters had quite a challenging time translating their issues into the process.
After waiting in line with an armfull of “issues” (Mine included a Barbie doll with packing bubbles wrapped around her head, a diaper fixed to a VHS on Viagra stories, and a half-sucked lolly pop.) I finally got inside my fake voting booth, only to find an even more unexpected, confusing structure. Stop-motion animation? My issues were put underneath one of at least two, maybe three cameras in the small-space, by a fake poll operator. They quickly tallied up the “delegate” worth of my issues using a clipboard full of color and touch adjectives. “100 plus 20 plus 5 for that stickly blueish one, that’s 125 delegates.”
I then pushed a button that took pictures of my issues, underneath the lights, 125 times, in any sequence I wanted. (My fake poll operator did help a bit and I felt as if my fake vote was not very secret!) All of a sudden I was being thanked for fake voting, whisked under a black curtain and back into the dark auditorium, where my issues were recycled back onto the stage, amongst others looking for their own.
Ray Ray’s voice was booming from somewhere, describing the fake election results, somehow being fed into a split-screen projection (This Party results, That Party results, No Party?) I don’t think No Party had to much luck on seeing their animations; I peeked into their booth, empty, with an old, unplugged Macintosh computer and an expired Kodak disposable camera available for their fake voting use.
With the fast-moving animation building up as more and more fake voters contributed their issues, Ray Ray’s voice, somewhere in the chaotically dark space (possibly behind the dark-curtain which seemed to be where the projection was being manipulated) questioned how each party was doing.
I bumped into many others who seemed to be a mix of confused, excited and focused on all that was asked of them in this strange but fun mess we all chose to engage.
All of a sudden Ray Ray was interviewing a fake voter on stage about their issues, being followed by a cameraperson, supposedly as a Fake News correspondent. The evening was being live-streamed via Facebook and continues to be updated as “edited” fake election results come in this week.
I don’t know who I voted for, I barely saw my issues go by on the fast-moving animation, and I’m unsure if I wanted my Barbie doll-Viagara-lolly-pop choices made public at all.
Experiencing Ray Ray’s translation of his electoral process research into a surreal-fictional polling station where inked-potatoes validate registration and your chosen issues build your candidate a la carte will surely come to mind this Tuesday.
As Sasha is voting for the Green Party’s Jill Stein on Tuesday, the event had for her a particular resonance. First, Sasha knows her candidate will not win on Tuesday. Much like the fake ballots cast last night, in a way, Sasha’s vote won’t really count. Has she looked into the FEC Campaign Matching Funds and Greens Ballot Access arguments for 2020?
In addition, Ray Ray’s edgy election reminded Sasha how people often view the Green Party: as way out there, champions of odd issues and made to feel ineffectually out of the mainstream.
Further, Sasha sees one fundamental aspect of Ray Ray’s project is to reveal the very real ways the political/media system works to limit the visibility and impact of third parties. Last night’s election representation dealt largely with two-party dominance and the shutting-out of any other than that.
In keeping with the surreal flavor of the evening, Sasha agreed to my suggestion we find a suitable photo-op to represent her perceived political status. We found a garbage can in a dark alcove and she posed in the corner.