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Tomi Faison: First As Tragedy Then As Larp
Documentation from a solo exhibition at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, NY January - March 2023. Made possible in part by Do Not Research
First As Tragedy Then As Larp, 2023
An installation including two flags and a 16mm film loop of footage I shot on a bolex at the capitol building on January 6th, 2021 as protesters assembled and rioted against what they saw as a stolen election. Alongside the footage are two flags depicting 3D scans of classical Roman sculptures depicting Talia and Melepone, mythic figures in ancient Greece referred to as the muses of tragedy and comedy. By printing back out these virtual renders alongside the physical film, I am mimicking the devirtualization process that I see as a pivotal component of the events on The 6th as decentralized online politics and organizing entered the physical world. The figures, shown holding masks, are the origins of the still common dual mask symbols used to represent theater’s, sock and buskin. Text on the flags, formatted with “top text/bottom text” impact font (standard meme format), states the title of the work. The language comes from a slight alteration of Karl Marx’s famous correction of Hegel in Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, writing, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” The final word is changed to LARP, an abbreviation for Live Action Role Play. The film and the flags become unified upon reaching the final shot, or loop point, where I show a statue installed on the neoclassical American capitol, creating a triptych with the two classical statues. This gesture points beyond the specific events and towards broader questions of the limits of protest and democracy as a whole.
I have this image in my mind that briefly appears in the film where the “insurrectionists” are advancing up the steps of the Capitol, every so often breaking the line of police and gaining ground. However, with each advancement, rather than charging forward and using the momentum, they stop and wait and look at their phones, or hang flags with images of Donald Trump photoshopped onto Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, until they can take another step forward. Then the “insurrectionists” get past the police, they make it all the way inside of the Capitol, and then what? They don't start issuing arrests. They don't write a new constitution. They don't perform the actual coup. All they can do is roleplay. All they can do is take a selfie. All they can do is generate images.
Carousel No. 1 (Desire Is Structured Like A Montage), 2023
Carousel No. 1 (Desire Is Structured Like A Montage), is the first public showing of a series of 35mm slide shows I’ve been making. It’s a collection of 81 35mm slides housed in a looping carousel projector. Like the internet, the unconscious exists in a non-physical space, and using film allows me to materialize both the images and projector’s cycling process. Then the looping projector can become the unconscious, driven to repeat and circle its desires, with no clear beginning or end. The content (film slides) is sourced three separate ways. First, there are 35mm photos of friends and loved ones driving cars, nude in bed, or browsing the web alongside close up shots of teeth. These images construct my physical, lived, and more conscious life. Second, slides I sourced from craigslist, yard sales, and random lots from eBay inject the outside world. Finally, digital images ripped from the internet and collages exposed onto celluloid introduce my virtual life and fantasies alongside screenshots grabbed online.
In a 1973 seminar, Lacan stated, “the montage of the drive is a montage which, first, is presented as having neither head nor tail.” Such a description of drive lends itself to a circular presentation of images exploring drive, with no beginning other than the one asserted by the viewer entering the space. By using myself or close friends as characters, I can shoot these images with a quick turn around, almost the moment the idea comes to me. I try to do this before taking too much time to understand why I want to shoot them, rather I blurt them out the way a patient first brings a thought to analysis. I put these in conversation with other scenes or shots already in the work, analyze them, take notes, then go back and re-shoot new images.