George W. Bush is not typically defined by his successes. After college he drifted and drank, lost a congressional race, ran a couple businesses into the ground, and traded away future hall-of-famer Sammy Sosa as owner of the Texas Rangers. As governor of Texas Bush's most notable achievements were signing laws that tangled more minority youth in the prison system, helping Houston become the nation's most polluted city with 19th Century environmental policies, bankrupting the state with tax cuts for the rich, and setting first world records for executions. As president, Bush's failures are of a size, scope and number that is simply incomprehensible to the human brain.
Galvanizing the often sleepy left in the United States has been Bush's one unqualified success. Over the past two years there has been an avalanche of hard-earned attacks on Bush in magazines, films, books, on the web, on the radio, and - as the stakes for the future become more and more clear - even in the august pages of some of our broad-circulation "respectable" mainstream newspapers.
To this ever-growing and intensifying list I would add guerrilla art. On October 9, the proprietors of www.radioactivefuture.com brought their traveling art exhibit to San Francisco's New College.
The primary focus of the exhibit was the horror of war, and thus, our warmongerer-in-chief and those pulling his puppet strings. As people strolled in off the main corridor of Valencia Street and into the exhibit, a boom box played anti-war classics by Jello Biafra, The Clash, and Gil Scot-Heron.
Working around the room, one encountered a host of different colors, styles, media and thematic articulations. The first thing that caught my eye, untitled and publicly unclaimed, was a Victorian tintype that had wallet-sized pictures of Bush and Cheney amid pictures of American soldiers who died in Iraq. While the soldiers were in plain, brass-colored frames, Bush and Cheney's pictures were in slightly larger gilt frames. The picture of Cheney, the presumed brainchild of the Iraq invasion, was relatively clear, where the pictures of the dead were faded, as if darkened with age, intimating the disposability of human life in the presence of such barbarous leadership.
Poor Al contributed a number of different works, including "Earthmart's Foreign Policy Brain Trust," "The Tour Group Always Stops at G. Dub's Brain," and an entertaining pop-art grenade series. In a fanciful contrast with their lethal potential, the different types of grenades often appeared over cheery background colors, such as eggyolk yellow, hot pink, sky blue, and lemon.
Yamilette Duarte offered "Fragment of Empire," a silkscreen serigraph that used bold, straight-from-the tube primary colors in the slashing angular shapes of Russian propaganda posters. Against red and yellow colors a blue skyscraper tumbled; Bush's face with a Hitler moustache loomed large in the foreground.
Shepard Fairey produced an offset lithograph called "Hug bombs and drop babies" that featured Bush cradling a bomb in his arms. At the bottom of the lithograph were the words "or was it hug babies and drop bombs?"
Robbie Canal pitched three works into the mix, including "Read my Apocalips," "Hail to the Thief" (an unflattering charcoal drawing of Bush), and "Achtung Baby," an equally unflattering drawing of a grinning Arnold Schwarzenegger, with a telling Schwarzenegger quote underneath: "I was always dreaming of very powerful people, dictators and things like that."
Xuchi Naungayan presented "It's an elusive game mastered by prepubescent boys," a checkerboard in which the squares are populated with green, brown, and dark yellow hues of alternating images of various sections of a dollar bill (particularly the eagle/aggression and the Masonic Temple/domination), 9/11 commemorative bills, pictures of Saddam Hussein. The game pieces are quarters (George Washington side up) and charred dinars (Iraqi currency). The edges of the chessboard are colored pig's blood red.
Josh Eggleton contributed a number of pieces, including "Viagra, Cialis, Horny Goat's Weed" (a series of three ink drawings of Donald Rumsfeld gesticulating as he spins), "Sacred Heart of George W. Bush II" (an oil painting on stainless steel of Bush standing up in a suit top and tie with his pants down as angels of former Republican presidents Nixon, Reagan and Ford hover over his head and arrows penetrate his heart) and "Public Enemy #1," a drawing of three differentiated entities: Metallica; Dick Cheney; and Gonzo, the muppet drummer.
Just inside the doors to the exhibit was a wall filled with politically astute pop art posters from Goatskull, who made many of the most memorable contributions, including "Let's Roll" (Bush, Condaleeza Rice, Cheney, and Rumsfeld standing in cutoff t-shirts flexing their muscles, ready to send others into battle, under a September 11 banner), "Non-Suicide Bombers" (showing US military bomber planes dropping huge payloads onto the innocents below), "Freedom Ain't Free" (the chilling visage of head 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta in a gas station attendant outfit holding up a gas nozzle standing next to a gas tank bearing the label "ARCHAIC FUEL"), and "Smoke 'Em Out": a grimly funny poster showing a cigarette-smoking Bush Sr. kickin' it (in a CIA t-shirt and shorts), sitting next to Saddam, who's in a white t-shirt smiling and holding a one-foot bong aloft, sitting next to GW Bush, also in a t-shirt smiling at Saddam, sitting next to Osama bin Laden, who stares into space, sitting next to Manuel Noriega, who stares over at the others; on the wall behind them is a psychedelic design, over which are two posters - one of Osama bin Laden over the words "WAR ON TERROR" and one of an Uncle Sam likeness over the words "WAR ON DRUGS" - all of which point to the curious love-hate relationships the Bush presidents have had with these real or proclaimed enemies of the United States.
Throughout the free exhibit, people walked in off the street, around the perimeter of the room, and out. A core of four remained throughout it all; the people who loaded all the works into their cars and drove up from San Diego - Bill and Alexandra Pierce, and Yoni Laos and Mario Torero. Not surprisingly, the curators produced many of the pieces on display. Bill Pierce created "I Did it for Daddy" (a black and white picture of a scowling Bush over a US flag, tilted on end; within the red stripes the word "LIES" repeats, while a mix of stars and dollar signs swim in the blue) and "Ever Get the Feeling You've Been Cheated?" (similar format to "I Did it for Daddy": black and white pictures of a typically grim Cheney and Bush over an upside down flag; the words "ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" repeated within the red stripes, while within the blue square amid small stars are corporate logos of Bechtel, Fox News, Halliburton, ad nauseam.)
Others that planned and executed the exhibit were artists Mario Torero and Yoni Laos. Torero contributed "State of the Nation (Bush is the Devil)," a bright-colored vision of death, destruction, and general mayhem and "El Diablo esta en los Detalles (The Devil is in the Details)," a banner approximately 5 X 8 feet long depicting Bush from the chest up. The details make the work: Bush has soulless, shadowed sockets for eyes, a jagged vampire tooth grin, and a red tie, which quickly squiggles into a river of blood splotches. The blood rings the frame; the background is white, populated with a skull, a fighter jet, a descending bomb, a mushroom cloud rising.
Yoni Laos also created many of the works at the exhibit, including "Craving War," a black and white picture poster of a city skyscape awash in black smoke, with the eerie image of the plane that crashed into the second Trade tower hovering in the sky. Underneath the photo, in black print over a white background, is a blurb from A Project for the New American Century, a neoconservative group (with ties to senior members of the Bush Administration) that wants to colonize the Middle East. Yoni also exhibited a piece perfect for the age of Ashcroft called "The Value of Any Piece of Paper is Based on How Much Usefulness it Provides on a Daily Basis" which showed a roll of toilet paper inked over with the Declaration of Independence.
My visit ended with some pieces by Joel Mielke, including "The Bottle Let Me Down", a silkscreen print on plastic. Over an image of our fearful leader were the words "He was nicer when he was drunk." Mielke also contributed "Regime Change Starts at Home", a perfect sentiment for the evening that was echoed by one of patrons, who said that she hoped she would never have to see Bush's face again after November 2.