Patrick Holbrook :: <Back |Main| Next>

The Ghost Vote Steel Wool, Wood, Video, and Flash Animation. 2003.
Saltworks Gallery Project Room, Atlanta


When I was a new implant in Milledgeville, Georgia, something that struck me about living there was that many Georgians associate Milledgeville with mental illness because that is where the state mental health institution is located. Generations of parents warned their kids to behave or else they would 'send them to Milledgeville.' Another thing that struck me is that some people who live in Milledgeville talk about ghosts in a very matter of fact way, as if they are part of everyday life. Perhaps they are.
With my face and arms covered in phosphorescent material, I walked to the Milledgeville City Hall starting from my backyard, at 2am. The video is a documentation of this performance. In some of my work, such as White and in Love, I exaggerate my whiteness in order to deconstruct white supremacist hegemony. I would like to think about ghosts in this context. Certainly, the unreal grotesque of the Bush administration has made me feel as if I am 'living in the bush of ghosts.' It interests me that people of color sometimes have referred to white people as ghosts (see Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior and bell hooks' Whiteness in the Black Imagination). I am trying to make a reference to the way whites have rigged elections in this country in the past by using the names of dead people - ghosts. Apparently, the ghosts are busy voting today as well. As the outcome of the 2000 election shows us, current rigged elections still support white supremacist hegemony.
The steel wool is derived from Wilhem Reich's invention, the Orgon Accumulator, a box with walls stuffed with steel wool. Although it was supposed to collect vital, healing energy for the person who sits inside of it, the stories I hear tell me that this invention was a failure. The steel wool quotes Joseph Beuys' use of materials like felt and fat, materials which were supposed to symbolically fuel and transform society, but in my installation, it becomes more of an irony and a failure. While resistance to the dominant, conservative culture is still intact, and the strategies from past generations of resistance inform current strategies of resistance while we invent new ones, it seems we have failed when I look at the current socio-political climate.
The steel wool also evokes a special kind of padded room. Conservative culture portrays artists as outsiders and as people who are crazy. The Project Room at Saltworks Gallery, where this piece was shown, may evoke a marginal space (although it's not totally marginal when you consider the cultural capital of Saltworks). So, the padded room aspect is also a way to sarcastically take control of the sign, cast by conservative culture, of the 'marginalized' space of the project room.