San Francisco

Margaret Crane/Jon Winet

Mincher/Wilcox Gallery

Margaret Crane/Jon Winet’s installation The First Day of the Rest of Our Lives, 1992—a coolly damning, nonpartisan inquiry into the nature of political subjectivity—presented a sobering caveat to election-night euphoria. Upon entering the gallery, one first encountered a black chair before a white wall on which was printed this message: “Hope shimmers and fades; it washes the present in a flattering light and shapes the future into something that won’t give you the heebie-jeebies.” On the chair lay a black sleeping-mask and a tape player with headphones. This piece, Voting Booth sfx loop, 1992, consisted of various crowd noises punctuated by occasional single-voice clarities underneath which pulsed a regular, throbbing sound—the heartbeat of America. Voting booth as womb-room.

Rising, one entered a corridor in which hung two large grids of 120 framed 8-by10-inch photographs taken at last year’s Democratic and Republican conventions. Many of the photographs depicted a central figure surrounded by decentered public chaos, focusing primarily on the political gaze of anonymous conventioneers and known political players as they faced the stage. Stars and extras alike were caught in the glow of the conventional aura like deer in headlights. The wall text at the end of the corridor read: “Tonight is the night the stars come out.”

After a videotaped interview with a campaign worker who spoke in that strange mixture of cliché and jargon that is campaign rhetoric, one came upon three, tinted, close-up photographs of earnest-young-white-(Marlboro) men looking to the future—the constitutive political gaze in green, blue, and magenta. On the adjacent wall hung a close-up of a baby, whose gaze was less earnest, more curious, prepolitical. One studied the faces of pols and child, noting similarities (all seemed equally untouched by experience) and differences (the pols appeared to be anesthetized—overstimulated and numb).

The unanestheticized baby gazed across the room to what I took to be the centerpiece or fulcrum of the installation: a large blue-filtered, gold-framed photograph of the Winged Victory fountain in Las Vegas. The image recalled Siegessäule’s blue-spotlighted Victory column in Berlin, which appears at the end of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, 1988, only this American Victory was headless, striding forward without a clue.

Across from it stood two wall-mounted lecterns carrying short texts that mimicked and twisted the utopian language of campaign rhetoric into dystopian diatribes. A teleprompter on the floor scrolled through a speech that began more or less conventionally and then degenerated rapidly into a manic celebration of urban warfare and the violence of privilege. These were speeches that Peggy Noonan might have written on a night off, after acid and whiskey. All the right parts were there but the smooth connecting tissue had rotted away. “If you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you’ve got to strike a match in the dark. A fire needs oxygen and we are like air. We fill your lungs and enter your blood stream. We are incendiary. You are flammable.”

It is unusual for Crane/Winet to separate words and images to the extent they did in this installation, and in this case it worked: it added to the disorientation and sidestepped the healing effect of that space between word and image, which can be a place for subjectivity to operate. There’s nowhere to run to here. Probing the vacancy at the center of the American political process, Crane/Winet followed the political gaze into a heebie-jeebies nightmare: “The broken glass of our great urban centers refracts the light like prisms. This is where the party begins.”

David Levi Strauss