E Pluribus Unam: A Social Research Project and Installation by Jonathan Tellier (aka Patrick Piazza)
Are you red? Or are you Blue?
Jonathon Tellier employs performance, installation, and mail-art techniques to explore nationalism, the ideological value of “unity,” and the purported division of the U.S. into “red” and “blue” states. Dressed as “Uncle Sam,” he has used balloons to distribute surveys in both “blue” (i.e., urban, coastal), and “red” (rural, inland) areas of California, with questions about America, faith, modernity, politics, fear, beauty, and violence. The collected responses have been presented at Mission 17, and visitors to the gallery have been invited to contribute to the discussion with answers of their own. A video projection shows the artist as “Uncle Sam,” conducting his survey in San Francisco, Stockton, and on the steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento. The ceiling of the gallery is decorated with red and blue balloons, and machine-gun rifles hanging beneath them. And the windows of the gallery have been covered with large-scale prints of the eyes of America’s founding fathers.
The show moves between the gallery and the street in an effort to generate dialogue about who “we” are as Americans, what we value most, and how we find ourselves situated by current ideological categories. Tellier calls into question the division between art and science – in social research specifically – and provides a model of discursive engagement, which challenges the purported “objectivity” of sociological surveys by directly engaging the theatrics and rhetorical devices that inform our sense of ourselves as a nation.