Contemporary Reactions: America We Stand As One
Every six months, UMOCA completely revamps its exhibitions. The latest museum-wide unveiling was in February of this year. Micah, a student at the University of Utah studying Computer Science and Math, dropped by on a Tuesday to check out these new exhibits. Although he has lived in Utah his whole life, it was his first time visiting the museum. When asked which work stood out most to him, he immediately identified Christoph Büchel’s America We Stand As One. Though only one of the smaller pieces comprising the umbrella exhibit of Ideologue, Büchel’s video cannot help but draw the attention of visitors.
“To at least a segment of American society, the video is already completely laughable and could just be placed by itself in an art gallery for the way it shows ridiculous American attitudes,” Micah explained, describing why the piece stood out thematically. Micah went on to emphasize the apparent contrast between the video content and the Arabic subtitles embodies pre-conceived American perceptions of the Middle East. “It’s kind of a subversion to the point of the video,” he said.
Displaying images of dead soldiers in the clouds, enormous American flag backdrops, and children with sparks flying out of their heads, it is easy to assume the video was created by Büchel as a parody of intense patriotism. However, upon further reading, it becomes apparent that the video was simply appropriated by Büchel, an unexpected discovery for most visitors. The video itself started production in 2002 by a man named Dennis Madalone, a stunt artist–turned-musician, as a genuine attempt to showcase America’s unity and strength. Madalone himself wrote the song and starred in the video.
When asked how this new bit of information changed his view on the work, Micah responded, “It surprised me that the video was actually real and I think this gives the art piece more legitimacy—the fact that this is not an exaggeration. This video is not a joking portrayal of some caricature of conservative Americans; conservative Americans made this video sincerely.” Pointing out the fact that, at least in terms of the pixels on the screen, the artist only contributed a small—but vital—portion of the finished work, Micah continued, “It adds to the sarcastic bite of [America We Stand As One]. All he did was slap on some Arabic subtitles to add this ridiculous contrast of how risible the original video is.”
Büchel’s works have been known to represent various extreme attitudes, and America We Stand As One is no exception.
Written by Kendal Sudman
Visitor Services and Special Events Intern