At the end of Amherst College’s Eli Marsh Gallery in Fayerweather Hall is Macon Reed’s recreation of the White House Press Briefing Room—podium, presidential seal, American flag, facing rows of folding chairs.
“A Pressing Conference,” the Brooklyn artist, presently an artist-in-residence at the college, told Alexandria Deters for the website Gallery Gurls last year, “is an immersive installation, participatory project, and resource guide for responding to the current political crisis…bringing together performance artists, organizers, historians, and others as a vibrant platform to talk about what we are going to do about all the shit happening right now.”
The podium looks like it’s sculpted out of Play-Doh, bright pinks and blues, a bit lumpy, a life-sized cartoon you can walk into. Reed told Gallery Gurls, “It creates this sort of weird place-nonplace feeling.”
Reed intends the installation—part of her exhibition “Against Doom” from March 18 to April 5, 2019—to be a place to contemplate how the actions of the Trump administration echo ways authoritarian regimes often discredit the press and spread propaganda to build their power.
Visitors are invited to step behind the podium and share their thoughts: “What would you like to see change? What do you think is important for people to hear? What makes you angry? What makes you hopeful? Can you offer any tactics for solidarity and healing across difference? How do we define truth and who has access to it. What roles does the press have in maintaining healthy democracy?” a sign prompts. Hashtag: #apressingconference.
The back of each of the chairs for the audience is marked with a names of journalists—all reporters punished or harmed for doing journalism. There’s a seat reserved for Jim Acosta, the CNN reporter whose press pass was suspended by the Trump administration after Acosta asked Donald Trump about his rhetoric and the president responded by calling Acosta “a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN.” There’s a seat reserved for the Capital Gazette, a Maryland newspaper where a man shot his way in the door last June and killed five workers.
“’A Pressing Conference’ was a way for me to digest all the things that have been happening both in, and to, the press since Voldemort took office in 2016,” Reed told Gallery Gurls, “and really how the public was processing the obvious attempts to manipulate their perception of reality. I spent a wild amount of time listening to the news from various outlets each day, as well as reading books from periods in history at the beginning of authoritarian regimes and their attacks on the press. … I don’t want it to just be a representation of the press and truth under attack, I want it to actively respond and have an impact…which is an ongoing learning process of course.”
The installation is accompanied by Reed’s brightly hued gouache paintings.
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