Pedro Reyes Turns Presidential Election Into Halloween With ‘Doomocracy’
Run, don’t walk, to Creative Time’s latest collective art-led catharsis.
Picture the following scenario: Russian hackers have taken over the Internet. Mexican rapists are circling the driveway. The Syrian refugees you let into the yard turned out to be ISIS militants. When you go to make tracks, your Japanese-made hybrid won’t start.
Despite the hair-raising horror movie clichés being bandied about, one thing seems certain this election season. When you consider the parochial nature of the fear-mongering currently turning normally hardy citizens into quivering heaps of surrender jelly, it’s clear the alarmist phone calls are coming from inside the house (or at least a US area code).
If, like me, you find that the presidential election has morphed from merely obnoxious to absolutely nightmarish, then by all means run, don’t walk, to Creative Time’s latest piece of collective art-led catharsis.
Like Kara Walker’s massive sugar sphinx at the Domino Sugar factory in 2014, the veteran art organization’s most recent project consists, in part, of a complete makeover of a nearly forgotten but colossal landmark: the Brooklyn Army Terminal, a 97-acre site in Sunset Park that once served as the United States’ largest military supply base.
But visitor beware! Stepping inside the premises means you’ll encounter something truly awful—namely, our present political horror show distorted in a funhouse mirror, complete with futuristic global warming scenarios, nativist voter fraud and school shootings, among other choice apocalyptic tropes. Just when you thought it was safe to enter the voting booth, the canny Mexican artist Pedro Reyes—Creative Time’s own John Carpenter—has turned a massive outer borough industrial complex into his haunted house version of Halloween.
Opening today, Friday October 7, to get a (dismembered?) leg up on the celebration of All Hallows’ Eve, Reyes’ aptly titled “Doomocracy” runs until November 6—just two days before the nation anxiously caps the ghastliest presidential election in American history. If you thought the prospect of “crooked Hillary” or “Cheeto Jesus”—one of the more imaginative names for Donald Trump—becoming president wasn’t sufficiently scary, just wait till you get a load of what Reyes has in store for you.
Built in 1918, the Brooklyn Army Terminal encompasses four million square feet of building space with 118 loading docks. During WWII, the building served 20,000 military and civilian personnel, along with “3.2 million troops and 37 million tons of military supplies,” according to its website. When originally created, the terminal was considered to be one of the world’s largest concrete buildings. An eerie takeaway for those soon to experience “Doomocracy”: The terminal is itself a humongous piece of architecture out of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, full of resentful ghosts of better times, so you definitely don’t want to get lost in there.
Nato Thompson, Creative Time’s Artistic Director, has characterized Reyes’ daisy chain of 40 frightening room-sized environments as more than a run-of-the-mill art installation for a reason. Given the 31 actors and 40 volunteers needed to bring the interactive house of horrors to undead life, the project, says Thompson, is less like hanging art in a museum and more like “putting on an opera at the Met.” Another piece of information that helps properly scale this ambitious project: it was crowdfunded in just a few months. It’s combination of multi-story video, props, and live performance cost $80,000, which Creative Time raised through its first-ever Kickstarter campaign.
But enough about the stats, what about the experience?
In a phrase, “Doomocracy” is every liberal voter’s nightmares come to life. From the moment the participant-spectators are frog-marched into Reyes’ fright maze by foul-mouthed SWAT teams to the corporate boardroom where visitors vote on whether to “save [other peoples’] jobs or your own golden parachute,” the doomsday labyrinth advances according to a familiar if baleful logic (consider these recent calamities: the world refugee crisis, Brexit, the defeat of the peace treaty in Colombia, and the ascension of Donald Trump). As it does so, the gloomy story line uncomfortably ratchets up the temperature on the ticklish Progressive Offense-O-Meter.
The worlds of art, medicine and education are in no way spared.
One vignette has an actress playing a junkie attempting to cadge prescriptions from visitors in a physician’s waiting room (“This doctor is just the worst, y’all). Another imparts alternative histories through a computer monitor to an unsuspecting elementary school classroom (“Slavery was less a tragedy and more of an inconvenience”). A third awkwardly splits participants into servers and guests at an art collector’s soiree.
The overall effect of “Doomocracy” is both comical and exhausting. It moves along like a satirical boot camp that features Doug Stanhope as the drill sergeant. Well-written, expertly acted and not very politically correct, the installation is one of the few artworks that confronts our spectacularly troubled times straight on and without euphemism.
As I walked out from the Brooklyn Army Terminal, I had the following thought: This must be what shooting a gun feels like.
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