Andres Serrano on his film on the attack on the Capitol: “I love that word, atrocious” | Movies

Andres Serrano is not known as a particularly political artist. The photographs of the 71-year-old are more accurately described as transgressive, eternally summed up by a singular point of reference: Piss Christ, his 1987 photo of a crucifix submerged in his own orange-tinted urine, which elicited at over the years multiple cases of national outrage. In the photographic series that followed, including The Klan (1990), The Morgue (1992), Shit (2007) and Nudes (2009), Serrano’s work has remained as provocative as it aptly bears its name.

“I like to do the kind of photos where you don’t need much more than the title to tell you what you’re looking at,” the artist said over the phone. As for its lifelong association with a single 34-year-old piece of art, he doesn’t mind: “Piss Christ is a good soundtrack – easy to remember and repeat.

Serrano’s latest work, Insurrection (2022), takes on a decidedly more political tone, having debuted at CulturalDC’s Source Theater in Washington this week, on the first anniversary of the attack on Capitol Hill. As the artist’s first film, Insurrection offers a grim portrait of the United States, assembled from footage found from the January 6 riot. True to the transgressive nature of Serrano’s practice, it goes way beyond the point where the mainstream news media would cut: we get extensive cuts from the sheer spectacle of violence, the breaking of glass, the prolonged attempt of a horde to adrenalized men to force their way past another. The frenzy culminates with an uncut close-up footage of Ashli ​​Babbitt’s death and martyrdom followed in a eulogy for the former president. Much of Insurgency is just excruciating to watch.

“I like that word, excruciating,” Serrano says. “What I intended to do was an immersive experience that takes you to Washington DC on January 6 in real time.”

“The important thing is that you are not indifferent. Photography: courtesy of the artist

Working closely with London-based a / Policy, Serrano began work on the film in April, feeling compelled to respond to the day’s events on multiple levels. He was appalled at the racial dynamic unfolding on the Capitol steps, as white rioters who had broken into a federal building were gently escorted out: wearing children’s gloves.

For him, the Capitol uprising was also an extension of Donald Trump’s legacy of division and fraud, a subject the artist had begun to explore in his 2018 installation The Game: All Things Trump. The former president’s widely accepted version of events – that they were righteous citizens protesting a rigged election – represented not only a triumph of fake news, but its continued grip on the Republican Party.

“This guy is to be commended for having the charisma that Hitler had with the German people; there are Americans who don’t believe this really happened, and Republicans who say let’s just forget about it and move on, ”Serrano said. “I wanted to make a movie that anyone would be hard pressed to avoid saying ‘We should forget about it.'”

Andrés Serrano.
Andrés Serrano. Photography: Photo by Irina Movmyga

The 75-minute Uprising includes news clips and footage from smartphones picked up from the internet, as well as archival footage dating back to the riots of the Great Depression. The sheet music is a mix of American ballads ranging from You Ain’t Goin ‘Nowhere by Bob Dylan to a children’s rendition of the historic Civil War song, Battle Hymn of the Republic. As rioters march toward the Capitol steps, the relentless repetition of “glory, glory hallelujah” underscores the role that Christianity, a recurring theme in Serrano’s practice, plays in validating violence in American mythology. “There are groups of people who believe they have the right interpretations of Christ, not only about how they should live their lives, but also how the rest of us should live ours,” he said. . “They go into battle like the Crusaders in their holy war.”

Musical interludes and title cards interspersed throughout – “DJ Trump Presents Insurrection”; “The Murder of Ashli ​​Babbitt” – were inspired by Birth of a Nation, a silent 1915 Civil War film doomed for its heroic portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan. The inclusion of these historical references is a reminder, according to Serrano, that “history repeats itself in a specific way.” The insurgency was not a new event, but another example of division within a nation that has never recovered from civil war, he adds, citing the widespread refusal to accept the presidency of Biden as a resonant parallel. “There are also a lot of people who will never accept that the north has won, and who would like to go back to the good old days. Donald Trump was there to tell these people what they wanted to hear.

Despite the symbolic criticism embedded throughout the insurgency, Serrano is actually reluctant to talk badly about Trump, whom he photographed in 2004 for his America series. “This guy is a huge showman; he’s amazing for that, and I could see why he’s come so far in life. He didn’t cause damage to America – America was already damaged. As for the rioters on the Capitol, he refuses to condemn anyone, nor to say that they have their place in prison: “I tried to humanize this crowd, to show their faces and to hear what they were talking about. say. This is what gives power to a work of art: when you let people speak for themselves.

Serrano makes an important distinction in his practice: while provocation is essential in bringing art to life, he is not in the business of political messages, telling his viewers what or how to think: “Often I watch. the work, especially the paintings or pictures on the wall, and I’m not particularly moved, ”he says. “The only thing I always try to do, whether it’s with photographs or with this film, is give you something to react to. I don’t really care how you are going to feel about it, good or bad, but the important thing is that you are not indifferent. You can’t walk away from it and say, ‘I didn’t feel a thing.’ “

About Debra D. Johnson

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