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ISSUE 118 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/5/2004

Silently raising political 'Voice'

By Nathaniel Hopkins
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 5, 2004

The current exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), The Art of Democracy: Tools of Persuasion, is indicative of most current political art. When I first stepped into MIAs gallery, the barrage of slogans and epithets almost exclusively demanding I vote democratic on Nov. 2 overwhelmed me. It seems like this kind of blatant, anti-Bush commentary is everywhere; in my opinion, it just isnt making for original and provocative political art any longer.

While I certainly appreciate the rediscovered (and probably very transient) political fervor of my fellow citizens, I am becoming terribly bored by the whole thing. Ive heard the exact same canned speeches and catch phrases over and over again from politicians, journalists and even from artists. Am I turning into another young cynical non-voter? Of course not  but this intractable din of left-wing/right-wing diatribes is really starting to wear me down.

For this reason, I congratulate the current Voice Your Vote exhibit showing in the Dittmann Student Gallery; the show is a contemplative breath of fresh air in the midst of a suffocating, political artistic discourse.

Voice Your Vote is a collection of about 21 pieces submitted by 18-30 year olds from the St. Olaf student body, alumni and the Northfield community. Exhibit curator Jane Becker 04, currently an apprentice in the art department, said that the shows initial goal was simply to generate excitement among youth voters. However, Becker quickly realized that such efforts were abundant.

[Its] exciting on one hand, and disappointing on the other, Becker said. Amidst the money and media that drive many youth vote campaigns, the opportunity for a thoughtful dialogue is often lost.

Beckers current goal for the show is to get young artists to look critically at their values and express them, hopefully generating introspection for other youth voters. In this respect, the show, funded by the Political Action Committee (PAC), has achieved unquestionable success.

[Most of the art] is very neutral and more a meditation on this political season [than anything else], Becker said. The occasional exception aside, the pieces featured in Voice Your Vote are unusually enigmatic and noncommittal, a far cry from most of the propaganda-like political art being shown in other galleries and museums today. The Dittmann exhibit is far more thought provoking and captivating than nearly everything else Ive seen recently that simply tries to get me to Vote for X! or Vote against Y!

Putting that nagging utilitarian objective aside, the Voice Your Vote artists have focused on larger political ideas, such as the voting process and the election season. Pieces like yea/nay by Dave Beck 02 and When Chimpanzees Watch TV& by Ben Mahler 03 do not have an explicitly political point, but seem only to explore the question: What does it mean to vote?

Similarly, the video and music work Presidential Dance-off by Peter Nelson 04 and Aaron Reiners 04 frankly exhibits the redundancy and painful monotony of the current political dialogue through its looped excerpts from presidential debates. President Bush continuously drones on September the eleventh, September the eleventh and Sen. Kerry perpetuates his ubiquitous reprise Better job, better job all in time to original electronic music.

Not all of the Voice Your Vote work is like this, however. Some is overtly partisan, and much of it addresses specific issues that are currently on the minds of young voters. Bush Campaign Slogans 2004 by Max Clark 05, for example, is markedly disparate from most of the exhibits other work because of its blatant, caustic anti-Bush statement.

The exhibits most conspicuous presence, senior Elizabeth Henkes Body Count, also seems to have a more definite purpose. The piece features a list of St. Olaf students, some of whom have had their names crossed off in red marker, representing the casualties of the war in Iraq  an obvious, but nevertheless powerful, appeal for the viewer to consider the unique personhood of every soldier killed in action.

This issue is common in terms of whats on youth voters minds, Becker said, commenting on the prevalence of the Iraqi war within the exhibit.

You know, when MTV rolled into campus with the Rock The Vote bus, I felt a little put-off by the whole event. I couldnt quite put my finger on why this was, until I went to the opening for Voice Your Vote, and saw how wonderfully distinct it was from the other, trendier, get-out-the-vote efforts. Rock The Vote was so packed with sensationalism, corporate sponsorship and giant inflatable soda cans that it lacked any clarity of purpose, and did not generate any intelligent discussion.

Voice Your Vote is a welcome break from such shallow and patronizing attempts at harnessing young voters. The exhibit contains truly original artwork that challenges and engages viewers, encourages unfettered individual thought and helps sustain our democracy against stagnation.

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