New York

Pedro Reyes: Doomocracy at the Brooklyn Army Terminal

The word “doom” is frequently preceded by “impending” or “certain.” It implies finality—condemnation to a state of catastrophic ruin that overpowers any attempt to forge order and peace. In the case of Doomocracy, an immersive installation and performance in the form of a house of political horrors conceived by Mexico City–based artist Pedro Reyes, doom is employed as part parable and part prophesy—a way to evoke certain political, social, and economic realities as well as to project a potential future to come.

Pedro Reyes. Lady Liberty, 2016; installation view, Pedro Reyes: Doomocracy, 2016. Courtesy of Creative Time, New York. Photo: Will Star Shooting Stars Pro

Pedro Reyes. Lady Liberty, 2016; installation view, Pedro Reyes: Doomocracy, 2016. Courtesy of Creative Time, New York. Photo: Will Star Shooting Stars Pro.

Organized in collaboration with Creative Time, Reyes’s Doomocracy opened to the public on October 7, 2016, and will be performed on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights through November 6th. Curated by Nato Thompson, directed by Meghan Finn, and written by Paul Hufker, Doomocracy occupies a vital moment in our collective history. According to Creative Time, the project emerged with some urgency from the confluence of Halloween and the American presidential election—two events looming large, haunting our cultural imagination.

Gun violence, climate change, abortion, voter fraud, and surveillance are just a few of the issues addressed in Reyes’s series of fourteen Doomocracy scenarios. Performed by more than thirty actors, the vignettes take place within a labyrinthine set of stages constructed in the Brooklyn Army Terminal—itself a dystopian institutional backdrop akin to those in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). At once chilling and absurd, each act is performed with a self-conscious theatricality that never gives itself over to an entirely convincing tableau. A number of scenes, such as Matthew Korahais’s performance as a junk food coffin salesman, venture toward slapstick, while others, like Carolina Do’s infomercial for artisanal air, are sci-fi parodies that dissolve wonder into giggles. What becomes truly terrifying are not the performances themselves, but rather the larger questions the entire project provokes.

Pedro Reyes. Artisanal Air, 2016; performed by Carolina Do, Pedro Reyes: Doomocracy, 2016. Courtesy of Creative Time, New York. Photo: Will Star Shooting Stars Pro

Pedro Reyes. Artisanal Air, 2016; performed by Carolina Do, Pedro Reyes: Doomocracy, 2016. Courtesy of Creative Time, New York. Photo: Will Star Shooting Stars Pro.

Are we entirely trapped by systems and institutions that are hopelessly corrupt? How much detriment to our privacy, physical health, education, and environment are we willing to accept? Referring to Doomocracy as an act of “political catharsis,” Reyes leverages political, social, and cultural anxiety—and fear itself—as the media for participation and cultural critique. “Haunted houses don’t have a narrative or make sense,” claimed Reyes in the New York Times. “You’re there to be terrified, to be a masochist. So those are the limits I decided to work within for this.”

Beyond representing the possibility of a President Trump, like in Mike Judge’s irreverent and anti-intellectual Idiocracy (2006), Doomocracy is pure satire—a counter-site employing the discourses of the extreme right as a platform for play. The most striking scenes resemble the world as we know it today: a living room, a classroom, a high-school gymnasium. As the performances unfold, assumptions are turned—a Tupperware party or neighborhood watch meeting turns into a xenophobic scramble for handguns; a demonstration of a robotic tool for distance learning transforms into a duck-and-cover drill; a rally led by cheerleaders becomes an elaborate musical number that has the audience chanting anti-abortion slogans.

Pedro Reyes. Sugar Coffins, 2016; performed by Korahais, Pedro Reyes: Doomocracy, 2016. Courtesy of Creative Time, New York. Photo: Will Star Shooting Stars Pro

Pedro Reyes. Sugar Coffins, 2016; performed by Korahais, Pedro Reyes: Doomocracy, 2016. Courtesy of Creative Time, New York. Photo: Will Star Shooting Stars Pro.

What distinguishes Doomocracy is the role of the audience—presumably a liberal, art-going crowd—who are forced to perform the ideologies of the zealous right. Neither passive observation nor active political positioning are options—participants are typecast as gun-toting and anti-abortion. Only one scenario allows participants to choose between two poles: ally with the working class, or accept a “golden parachute” and side with the elite. Despite Doomocracy’s obvious fiction, participants overwhelmingly raised a hand for the workers—in all probability, an expression of personal beliefs. The question arises: Who is this moral decision for—oneself or the dozen other strangers in the room? Is it a gesture of atonement for previous albeit satirical Doomocracy-related indiscretions, or a choice made in haste with the knowledge that the actual effect will be nil?

If really confronted with a mortal choice, who would truly decide to save others before themselves? Overwhelmingly, the forced discomfort of an ideologically contrary role provokes participants to react with a requisite laugh, converting anguish into amusement from the safe space of art. This blurring of politics and entertainment is a genre that, with the doggedness of Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show, has become a mainstay of pop culture. Perhaps it is not an anomaly that the 2016 presidential election has become a complete farce—a product of a global entertainment industry more motivated by clicks than critical news. In the opening decades of the 21st century, the political arena has unleashed tsunamis of cynicism, and the reflexive response of the submerged electorate is to lighten our shared sense of hopelessness with a laugh.

Pedro Reyes. Voting Room, 2016; installation view, Pedro Reyes: Doomocracy, 2016. Courtesy of Creative Time, New York. Photo: Will Star Shooting Stars Pro

Pedro Reyes. Voting Room, 2016; installation view, Pedro Reyes: Doomocracy, 2016. Courtesy of Creative Time, New York. Photo: Will Star Shooting Stars Pro.

Reyes, an artist known for projects that make space for meaningful, transformative encounters, acknowledges Doomocracy to be dark and truly haunted—evoking catharsis rather than a feeling of hope. “This is a new kind of monster,” remarked Reyes. “It’s a monster that’s chasing us in real life. New vampires are banks. New Frankensteins are Monsanto and other companies that are messing with the very essence of life.”

Halloween is a time of grotesque, over-the-top fakeries and epic displays of pastiche. Doomocracy is a veritable carnival of iniquities, skewing art and reality, present and future, to rearrange the world as it is—not as we acknowledge it to be.

Pedro Reyes: Doomocracy is on view at the Brooklyn Army Terminal through November 6, 2016.

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