In Two Minutes To Midnight, Don Edler examines the urgency, horror, and absurdity of the current political environment in the United States, and by extension, the utter precarity of global systems essential to the survival of our planet. Focusing on the weaponization of information in the contemporary political arena, Edler uses sculpture, video and print to examine the semantics and semiotics of propaganda. Two Minutes To Midnight takes a critical look at how information is manipulated into ideology and materialized in forms such as bronze monuments and campaign speeches.
The exhibition title r efers to the current setting of the “Doomsday Clock,” a symbol created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to illustrate mankind’s proximity to terminal disaster. Midnight represents terminal disaster. Since 1947, when the clock was established, the time has moved closer or further from midnight as determined by intersecting factors such as the international proliferation of nuclear weapons, and more recently, climate change. For the last two years it has been set at two minutes to midnight, the closest it has ever been to the symbolic point of annihilation.
In the official 2019 Doomsday Clock Statement, the authors refer to “a new abnormal” which characterizes the international geopolitical infosphere at “a moment in which fact is becoming indistinguishable from fiction, undermining our very abilities to develop and apply solutions to the big problems of our time.” †
Edler addresses information warfare in post-truth politics with the multi-channel video “The Production of Information” (2019). Focusing on the language of political persuasion, Edler created a group of scripts adapted from a diverse range of texts appropriated from across the political spectrum, from Milo Yiannopoulos to Noam Chomsky. These scripts were then performed in cold readings by professional actors in a commercial casting call staged by the artist. Intercutting between different actors performing the same scripts, Edler decontextualizes the language, allowing the voice and affect of the actors to highlight the role of both context and representation in the production of ideology. Text is superimposed over image, implicating the viewer as they read each script in tandem with the actor in a kind of ideological karaoke. Careening from the earnest to the ridiculous, the staging suggests outtakes of TV pundits rehearsing their talking points. “The Production of Information” eerily reflects a media environment in which distraction, sensationalism, entertainment value and corporate interests spin and obfuscate facts - Stay tuned for less information.
Edler investigates the potent objecthood of ideology in sculptures such as “Learning from Monuments (Durham, NC, August 14, 2017)” (2016-2019). Inspired by the actions of protestors in Durham, NC who in August of 2017 tore down a confederate monument outside the Durham County courthouse, this work questions the persistence of these emblems of oppression within contemporary public space. In the wake of Durham, Edler’s understanding of figurative monuments evolved, causing him to re-evaluate an earlier work of his own, “Learning from Balzac” (2016), a sculpture based on Rodin’s iconic 19th century bronze “Monument to Balzac.” Realizing that many monuments function as enduring symbols of oppression, and his own sculpture’s implicit relationship to perpetuating Patriarchy, Edler destroyed “Learning from Balzac” and reconfigured it into “Learning from Monuments.” Compositionally and conceptually the remix resembles the defaced and deflated confederate monument: toppled and pierced with tubes of light, the fragile framework and hollow interior are illuminated.
Near the gallery’s entrance, a portion of drywall has been removed to reveal “The Watcher” (2017-2019). Installed one year ago during the gallery’s initial remodel, this low-relief carved tablet bearing the visage of the current US President, has been concealed within the gallery walls, lurking and invisible. On one level, this locates “The Watcher” within an ongoing body of work in which Edler has physically buried his sculptures either in the ground, or within existing architecture, excavating them a year later. As a conceptual gesture, this particular installation comments on the insidious nature of toxic ideology which can fester unseen below the surface, even in areas where it is least expected.
“The New White Hood” (2019) is a hyper-realistic silicone reproduction of an official MAGA hat the artist sourced from eBay. Unceremoniously cast aside on the gallery floor, it faces the corner like a dejected ghost, pathetic yet dangerous. Rendered in white platinum silicone, it’s apparent structure is illusory and proves flimsy and spineless upon inspection.
Across the exhibition, Edler applies an aesthetic sensibility which encapsulates the maddening polarity of “the new abnormal,” presenting an environment that is at once chaotic and austere, laughably absurd and deadly serious. It is not a comfortable state. Highlighting an extreme ambivalence, the artist brings into focus the urgency of the current political moment. Occurring as the 2020 presidential race unfolds, Two Minutes To Midnight r eminds us that in a landscape of manipulated facts, we all must think critically about how and from where we gather information, lest we hasten our own self-destruction. In the words of the2019 Doomsday Clock Statement:
“This new abnormal is simply too volatile and dangerous to accept as a continuing state of world affairs. Dire as the present may seem, there is nothing hopeless or predestined about the future. The Bulletin resolutely believes that human beings can manage the dangers posed by the technology that humans create... But threats must be acknowledged before they can be effectively confronted. The current situation — in which intersecting nuclear, climate, and information warfare threats all go insufficiently recognized and addressed, when they are not simply ignored or denied — is unsustainable. The longer world leaders and citizens carelessly inhabit this new and abnormal reality, the more likely the world is to experience catastrophe of historic proportions.” ††
— † Bronson, Rachel PhD. “Statement from the President and CEO,” A New Abnormal: It Is STILL Two Minutes To Midnight - 2019 Doomsday Clock Statement, The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, January 24, 2019. https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/
†† Mecklin, John, editor. A New Abnormal: It Is STILL Two Minutes To Midnight - 2019 Doomsday Clock Statement, The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, January 24, 2019. https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/