Dispatches From the Action and a briefing from General Howe
Recently we’ve been seeing soldiers in the streets of Brooklyn, and it has tapped into fears of an encroaching military state. These troop movements always start out small, but eventually they could take over the borough entirely.
During a briefing on these developments at BSACom (Command Center), artist General Howe talked about his installations, their formations around suspicious objects, and how the ’08 election focused his maneuvers on the field this year.
Brooklyn Street Art: The recent US presidential campaign inspired a huge number of artists to get into the conversation. How did it affect your art?
General Howe: Before this year I never made political art. But this year was clearly going to be history in the making, for better or worse. For me, making political art during the presidential campaign was my own way of saying this is an important time for our country and we need to consider our future.
as a side note...
During my summer vacations in college, and for a brief time after college, I worked in the United States Senate. My position was very low on the totem pole, and I did not work for a specific Senator or party, but I was constantly around Senators. I would pass them in the hall ways, listen to them in the Senate chamber, and on occasion have small talk with them. I was around Obama, McCain, and Clinton and when they became popular in this election season, I reflected on this past experience. I don’t know them personally, but I do know them in a way that is not translated through popular media. It would be a missed opportunity without making some kind of art relating to my experience.
Brooklyn Street Art: What made you start merging the candidates with superheroes? Was it the outlandish budgets that are spent on these Hollywood productions?
General Howe: The media and campaigns portrayed senators like McCain, Clinton and Obama into fantastical characters from a movie. I saw so many parallels to the Batman movie that came out this past summer. They might as well have worn masks and capes to events and interviews.
Obama was raised to a hero-like status, Batman, the only one capable of stopping the enemy. When Clinton lost to Obama, it was speculated that she would try to ruin his chances at the presidency, becoming his nemesis, the Joker.
In some cases what was being portrayed was very true. I made John McCain into 2face because the John McCain on the campaign trail was very different from the guy I would watch in the Senate.
As a young man, Benjamin Franklin wrote under the pseudonym of Mrs.Silence Dogood. He poked fun at aspects of colonial America through his writings. My work is poking fun at how ridiculous the media portrays current events.
Brooklyn Street Art: Your other work, installations of colonial armies, is less often seen, maybe because it is so small…
General Howe: They are very small, each soldier is about an inch in height. When I have gone back to see the installations they are often gone, maybe one or two broken figures remain. I wonder what happens to the rest of them. Do people take them and keep them for them selves? I sometimes imagine rats taking them away to their layers as prisoners of a world street war.
Brooklyn Street Art: Who are these little soldiers and who are they fighting?
General Howe: These are British colonial soldiers sent by the king of England to stop the American Revolution. They are at a serious height disadvantage but make up for it with bravery and discipline.
Brooklyn Street Art: Is this Howe you got your name?
General Howe: Yes it is. General William Howe was Commander-in-Chief of British forces during the American revolution.
I also thought back to childhood, playing with toy soldiers or toy guns and assuming the role of some sort of a commanding leader or hero. Why would I be a Private when I can make my self a General.
Brooklyn Street Art: Is your battlefield historical fascination academic or fantastical?
General Howe: It is definitely academic and fantastical along with old fashion play. I’ve done a ton of research on locations of revolutionary war battles in Brooklyn. Most of the battle installations I have done are at sites where actual battles occurred. Once I get to these sites the fantasy begins. I play around with the soldiers trying out different formations and I come up with all kinds of scenarios that the soldiers could be in. A whole narrative may play out while setting up the soldiers.
For example, one of the first times I went out to install some soldiers I came across a used condom on the ground. At first I was disgusted, but then I thought, “what would mini British colonial soldiers from the 1700’s do if they stumbled upon a used condom?” So the condom became part of the piece. Since then I always hope the locations I go to will have interesting or weird objects to use with the battles.
Brooklyn Street Art: What would you like someone’s reaction to be when they stumble upon one of your installations?
General Howe: One time while I was setting up a battle a man walked by and toward my installation, made motions and sounds as if he were blowing up the soldiers, and then walked away laughing to himself. Upon seeing the installation, I think he immediately tapped into his childhood spirit of play and acted out what he would do with the soldiers in that situation. The reaction I would really like from anyone that sees one of my installations is to have the urge to play.
More pics on General Howe’s fickr
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