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Looks like you’ve had a bit too much to think - #14/21 by Josie Bellini

Hovering above a white pedestal, as if on display in a museum, is a white nightstick. It is blood-splattered, and drips blood down from its southernmost tip onto the pedestal below it. Pasted manically over the nightstick’s surface are dozens of stickers, each correlating to a different mega-corporation. McDonalds, Pepsi, GM, Apple, Google, Chase, Facebook, Target, Shell, AT&T, Pfizer, Amazon, Walmart, Bank of America, Comcast, American Airlines are what’s visible. It seems safe to assume that these are leitmotifs, chosen to represent the entire Fortune 100 class of mega-companies whose ignoble tactics of financial and political maneuvering have, at least according to artist Josie, helped foment the devastating violence perpetrated by an unjust system upon predominantly citizens of color.

Looks like you’ve had a bit too much to think as a series is entirely focused on calling out the bad actors Josie has deemed responsible for the violence perpetrated on black and brown citizens, all owing to decades upon decades of political and financial conspiracy. The Artist Description itself says as much: “The killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and countless other black men, women, and children has ripped off the veil that has been covering truths within our system. Police murdering the citizens that they swore to serve and protect is a problem with deep roots. America is a business. Corporations create the laws. Their goal is to maximize profits, not to prioritize human rights or lives. The political establishment is a false pillar - a facade. But be careful. If you question the system, you will be met with violence. Sit down, shut up, and keep consuming.” 

There’s no mistaking that Looks like you’ve had a bit too much to think is political art. It practically sweats symbolism. From the nightstick being painted white, as if to say that power (especially in policing) is so staunchly held in the hands of white people that it actually colors the instrument of that power itself, to the logos smeared atop it, carelessly, just as companies will advertise their wares wherever they can get a good deal to do so, or wherever focus groups test highly, or wherever they can maximize their profits, to the blood splattered all over the instrument, dripping down its sides, dripping onto the museum pedestal below. A white pedestal, mind you, perhaps suggesting that the systems of violence are then crystallized and made into paragons by a sickly sympathetic, showcasing institution.

Notice the lack of the victims’ presences in the piece. Notice how the length of the entire frame is filled up by the instrument of violence itself. There is no room for the victims in this narrative, the artist seems to be suggesting. Built on the violence-fetish incumbent in America’s newsrooms is a magnification of that violence, a focus on snuff films and trials and accounts of horrific acts, not on the consequences of these actions, the victims themselves, lost to the image just as they’re lost to their communities. Only violence prevails in the image because only violence prevails in the popular imagination. To be known to the world only by the violence perpetrated upon you, not by your deeds, your values, your personhood, that’s a kind of forced vanishing, an invisibility that could only be captured in this way, with all aspects of oneself absent except for the brutal manner of one’s death.

Looks like you’ve had a bit too much to think has a maturity in this way, not maturity in any positive or negative sense, but simply in the way this piece manages to remain reserved even while commenting on a situation of utmost emotion, pain, devastation. One could imagine pieces concerning the same situations being quite brutal themselves, or otherwise direct, sardonic, satirical, potentially to the point of farce a la a political cartoon. Looks like you’ve had a bit too much to think is understated, subtle, and maybe even a bit defeated. The consequence of a tired artist who has seen too much, understands too well the difficulty of untangling this terribly American mess.

There is no attempt to hide the logos of the companies called out; they are simply woven into the fabric of the violence that sparked this piece. There is no need for Josie to be hyperbolic concerning their involvement. They are there, present, culpable, and just as in the actual situation, they make no attempt to hide their involvement, at least not in any way which absolves them of hypocrisy. 

We can feel anger seething beneath the surface of this piece, but held back, pushed down below. We can feel an artist who is fed-up, yes, but ultimately is just an observer to heinous activity, to evil. Not politician. Not law. Just artist. There’s an impotence in that, one that’s crucial to understanding art across the 20th and 21st centuries, as artists of all sorts wrangle with the quasi-pointlessness of their imagery. We can feel that too. As observers, what are we doing except seeing, thinking, nodding, and moving on? 

There’s something this piece is saying about that distinction, of perpetrator and observer. The nightstick, perpetrator of evil deeds, is sitting upon a pedestal, a white object against a white background in a place of white exaltation. If in a museum, it is being observed. Such is the point of museums, to house “important” objects and allow them to be widely acknowledged. Here, concerning the item on display, is the object itself being acknowledged? Or its acts? Or the companies motivating them? Is there a difference? Can we, can anyone, untangle this image once they have seen it?

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