That Girl Ain’t Your Friend

Arturo Di Modica is upset about Kristen Visbal’s sculpture in front of his  sculpture. The story circulating in social media and “news” outlets is that Di Modica feels hurt. Who cares? The conversations I’ve had so far with folks, smart folks whom I like mind you, is something along the lines of, “Sorry, Charlie, she’s powerful and you’re gonna hafta suck it up, Buttercup.”

I’m livid about this.

Folks don’t seem to care that both sculptures are exercises in affective warfare. They are weaponized narratives deployed by “corporate persons” against homo sapiens.

Di Modica’s narrative is that he “gifted” his $360,000 sculpture to the American people in the wake of Black Monday, a monument to the “strength and power of the American people.” Never mind that his gift was delivered two years after the economic crisis. Never mind how an artist just has more than a quarter million dollars to just give away.

Visbal’s narrative is that she created a monument to the value of “gender diversity in the workplace.” And, as it turns out, you—yes! you!—can purchase that gender diversity by investing in SHE (State Street Global Advisors’ SPDR Gender Diversity Index ETF). State Street is, according to Wikipedia (I know, lazy me), the third largest asset management firm in the world. It’s leadership is 18% women, it’s parent company’s leadership is 28% women, as Jillian Steinhauer points out.

What do we call art that is deployed entirely for the purpose of benefitting a massive multinational finance corporation? Is it not advertising? This is the artistic equivalent of greenwashing or pinkwashing. It is not a liberatory gesture.

This whole kerfluffle is ridiculous and cynical and cruel.

Cruel because it is this cynical leveraging of a common desire for women’s liberation and a desire to enact a society that is capable of providing the material needs for all that would support their neighbors.

It seems to me that the sculpture is the equivalent of waving a bucket of water in front of a person stranded in the desert for three days.

It figuratively whispers in our ears from behind us in a dark corner (this, our continually darkening corner of human history—as we dismantle the social safety net and rain terror across the planet), “You like that? You like that dontcha? You like how I did that?”

The message of this sculpture is, effectively, “You don’t need to imagine a world without capitalism, just be a young girl (cf. Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl). Be the neoliberal subject that our processes of capital extraction require and feel the power of being nobody but what our marketing team tells you to be.”

A smart person I like wrote to me that they felt these two publicity stunts cancel one another out add up to a (completely ineffectual) unintended liberatory gesture. Good conversation has come from two not very defensible pieces of statuary. But so far, only good conversation, just as with most deliberately political art.

I must be traveling in the wrong circles because the only conversation I’ve been having is with folks who doe-eyed tell me about this girl sculpture and how bold it is and then I’m the jerk that has to point out their revolution has been sold to them by the same forces of capital that insist on their oppression.