A year ago, the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC, the seat of American democracy, suffered the worst assault since 1814, when the British burned it down.
This time, the attack was launched by American citizens, many of whom identify as patriots. They did so on the implicit – some would say explicit – instruction from then-President Donald Trump. And many attackers filmed themselves as they committed such crimes, posting the footage live on the internet for the whole world to see.
The chaos and murderous violence of that day is captured, in viscerally immersive terms, in a new film by American artist photographer Andres Serrano in his first film Insurrectionwhich premieres via a series of free screenings starting today at CulturalDC’s Source Theater in Washington, near where the attack took place.
In the middle of the film, Serrano includes a chapter titled “Breaching the Gates,” a compelling morbid sequence composed entirely of footage of the riots filmed by the rioters and presented without audio overlay or other artistic intervention. The footage is the result of months Serrano spent retrospectively scouring the internet for photographs and footage of the uprising, much of which was uploaded to conservative social media platforms like Speak.
Three days before the attack, a internal police intelligence report was distributed to Capitol Security. He was describing a potential threat to the Capitol because of Trump supporters.
“Unlike previous post-election protests, the targets of pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counter-protesters as they once were, but Congress itself is the target on the 6th,” the report said. “Stopping the theft’s propensity to attract white supremacists, militia members and others who actively promote violence can lead to a very dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public. “
Without overt judgment or condemnation, and in a dry and ambivalent tone, Serrano places viewers in the middle of this crowd, perhaps inviting us to try and understand their sense of grievance, as well as the unifying motivations that led them to launch a such a self-destructive, aimless but deadly assault on American institutional power.
Corn Insurrection is more than a study of the traumatic events of January 6, 2021. “Breaching the Gates” is complemented by archival and historical footage tracing 150 years of American history, all expertly edited by Serrano.
“I use the historical recordings to viscerally remind the viewer, over and over again, that history repeats itself in specific ways,” Serrano said of the film in a statement.
Serrano edits festive events of American history alongside violent epidemics, appearing to explore how aggression and brutality are woven into the national psyche – its popular culture, its founding narratives, its race relations, the very premise of l pioneering spirit.
“If those leading the Capitol Riots were black, they would have been shot like dogs,” Serrano said. “Black people were killed for a lot less than having fun around the Capitol.”
As the film unfolds, therefore, it leads us into the attack on Capitol Hill, contextualizing the insurgency with the ever-shocking content of news segments and online forums that set the conditions for January 6.
Although Serrano made his career primarily through the use of photography, Insurrection showcases his ability to edit musical interludes carefully referenced to documentary material. For example, it includes instrumental interludes from the Civil War-era children’s performance of Battle Hymn of the Republic, overlaying the score over footage of rioters on Capitol Hill as they prepared to invade the building.
Also included is the song USA Freedom Kids, made famous by a viral video of young girls singing about ‘crush the enemies’ at a Donald Trump rally in 2016. The final audio track of the film is a recording of a charged speech. of Scripture pronounced. by a preacher from inside the Capitol rotunda during the uprising.
Serrano, the 71-year-old American artist, half Honduran, half Afro-Cuban who lives in New York City, is best known for his controversial 1987 work, piss christa photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine. In 2019, he staged The game: all that is Trumpa pop-up exhibit of Trump memorabilia and artifacts he acquired, in Manhattan. The exhibition was followed by a book on the project.
This film, the first of Serrano’s career, is produced by the London-based organization apoliticaland is screened with the support of CulturalDCa Washington, DC-based nonprofit known for funding, among other projects, that of Jennifer Rubell Ivanka vacuuming in 2019.
- Insurrection by Andres Serrano, January 6-15, CulturalDC’s Source Theater, Washington, DC