International Artscum Blog

The complete interview from INSIDE artzine #19

1. December 2017 | Comment

„Trying to have some fun with all the hate“ Karen Fiorito

There are times when mankind apparently longs to return to the primeval soup of stupidity. Endless centuries of the past burnt down, knowledge hardened in the fire of error and correction to finally dedicate itself to the evolution of reason and unpretentiousness.
All for nothing? Used up in the oven of the greed and the egoism of some few?
Intimidated by the global capitalism, we sit on the locked loo and play with our own poop.
What is again left to rescue us? Art! Unsurpassed in its force and message, exemplary in its courage to say the truth, and an absolute paragon in the freedom of opinion. There is talk of the work of the American artist Karen Fiorito. Her powerful billboard in Phoenix, Arizona, is a memorial, at least as big as the one for Edward Snowden.

INSIDE artzine: Donald Trump’s policy is reactionary and shows contempt for both mankind and environment, but he is not an isolated case. Be it the “Alternative für Deutschland” (AfD) in Germany, the “Front National” in France, the “Partij voor de Vrijheid” (PVV) in the Netherlands, or “Fidesz” in Hungary: how come that so many people nowadays turn their backs to democracy and thus give power to totalitarian systems where they would get their faces smashed in by uniformed goon squads?

Karen: People are scared. After 911, things changed dramatically, at least here in the U.S. We now have “leaders” who blame all of our problems on foreigners and refugees of wars, leaders who use fear and racism to control people’s minds. People are told to be afraid for their “national security” and to be vigilant of our “enemies.” Add to this fear a rampant and powerful sense of nationalism and “patriotism” and you are asking for fascism. Overall it is the same as what happened in Nazi Germany: people want to feel safe and secure and believe that these parties will protect them from a perceived enemy and put their interests (economic or otherwise) before other all other nations or peoples.

INSIDE artzine: Since the politics of right-wing parties is mostly absurd, there will be more and more massive resistance against them in the cultural underground. Do you think that art could change anything?

Karen: Yes, I do. Artists have played an important role in many types of progressive movements and acts of resistance, from John Heatfield and Kathe Kollwitz to Picasso’s “Guernica” to the Guerrilla Girls and Barbara Kruger. Artists have the unique opportunity to push boundaries and make statements that can create a dialogue like no other profession. That is the beauty of art: it is unfiltered, uncensored and ultimately about freedom of expression. I see more and more artists getting involved in the resistance and I see more and more protests using art as a means of communication. I’ve been doing this kind of art for almost 20 years and I have never seen this amount of resistance and protest art, especially at places like major museums and the Venice Biennial. Art can challenge people’s perceptions, open dialogue and create change.

INSIDE artzine: We live in post-truth times where everyone can declare anything to be true, and where even politicians who got convicted of having told lies don’t have to apprehend penalty anymore. Is “truth” a pattern that can be sacrificed for private interests and purposes? Which sources do you use to get the information you need?

Karen: The most disturbing phenomenon in recent times have been this notion of “alternative facts.” We need the truth if we ever are going to function as a society. Take, for instance, Climate Change. 97% of scientists agree that it is not only real, but also a serious threat to our planet. Denying climate change as a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese sends a dangerous and ignorant message to the rest of the world. The U.S. pulling out of the Paris Agreement tells corporations that the planet is theirs to do what they will because Trump has “alternative facts” to reality. As long as the truth is obfuscated, progress will be impeded upon.

I get my information from a variety of sources: Democracy Now!, the mainstream media, alternative news organizations, the Daily Show, Redacted Tonight, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, international news… I even listen to Fox News every once and a while to hear their take on things. I make it my job to be as informed as possible about what is going on. I feel like it is part of being a political artist.

INSIDE artzine: As for shitstorms: what were the nastiest insults you ever got for your campaign? And who insulted you most?

Karen: I try not to take nasty insults too seriously. Most of the things people say are just plain ignorant and hateful. If you let that kind of talk creep into your consciousness then you could easily become depressed. I choose to make fun of a lot of what people say. I love when people say they hope I am deported or “Go back to Mexico!” That’s hilarious. First of all, my family is Italian and Welsh, and I was born in Pennsylvania, so none of that makes sense. Or “How would you like it if someone did an anti-Obama billboard?” Duh, it’s already been done. There were anti-Obama billboards all over America. Google it, dumbass. There’s just so much stupidity and so little time. I started a series on my Facebook called “Stupid Answers to Stupid Questions for Stupid People” to address each of these questions one by one. We are also doing a performance in front of my billboard in May (during Art Walk) where we are going to get different people to read my hate mail in front of the billboard. We are going to record it and put it up on social media. I also wanted to do a video of actual recordings of phone messages I have received from random Tump supporters. There are over a hundred messages and I haven’t gotten to it yet, but I am trying to have some fun with all the hate.

INSIDE artzine: What kind of man is hidden behind the bizarre figure of Donald Trump. what do you think? If you could ask him a personal question, which one would that be?

Karen: Donald Trump is a classic Narcissist, which is why any criticism of him angers him to the point where he needs to tweet about it. He is the epitome of white male priveledge and the cult of celebrity. He is living proof that you can be a racist, misogonystic, compulsive liar and still be President of the United States. If I could ask him one question,  what would it be? I guess it depends whether he would actually answer it honestly or not. If he was, say, hooked up to a polygragh machine and was tased in the balls if he did not comply, then I would ask, “When you say “Make America Great Again“ to what era in American History are you referring? The time when women and minorities had no rights?  When white men ruled the country and were free to commit horrible acts against women and people of color?“

INSIDE artzine: Mankind more and more develops into a heap of selfish, daft self-
destructors, both as for globalization and respect for one another.
What is left of the beauty of the cosmic creation? Of the creative spark for perfection? Does Mankind still have a chance, or would it be better to flush the whole shit down the
 toilet of the evolutionary failure to give the future protozoa a shot for life?

Karen: I believe there is still hope for mankind, even though it does seem bleak. There is still much beauty in the world, especially in Nature. We are a part of Nature and a part of this planet, and both are quite beautiful. I believe there is good in the majority of the human race, though it gets obscured by selfishness and greed. I believe in Buddhism also, especially the belief that all life is suffering and we must rise above the suffering, like the lotus from muddy waters. In Buddhism, the lotus flower symbolizes rising from a dark place into beauty and rebirth, exactly how a lotus flower grows. It grows in muddy water, and it is this environment that gives forth the flower’s first and most literal meaning: rising and blooming above the murk to achieve enlightenment. I also believe that energy is neither created nor destroyed. I believe we are reincarnated in some form. For this reason, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, until we reach some form of enlightenment. Buddhist texts emphasize the temporary nature of the physical body and the need for non-attachment. The practice of non-attachment is the only way (according to Buddhists) to cease suffering. Lastly, I believe in Karma, both individually and collectively. The human race will, for good or bad, eventually reap what it has sown. Through detachment, we can see that we are but a tiny spec in the Universe and we cannot see all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our time on this planet is short and we must live each moment consciously, without doing harm to any other living being.

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