Via Stephen Hicks comes another staggering artistic triumph. In the cryptically titled Join or Die, San Francisco-based artist Justine Lai depicts herself getting busy with America’s deceased presidents. The results suggest a collision of 1970s porn magazines and painting by numbers. As the series of 18 x 24” canvases is being produced in chronological order, these necrophilic entanglements currently extend only to Ulysses S Grant and his hitherto unrecorded spanking fetish. Sadly, those of you aroused by the prospect of seeing, say, George W Bush getting it on with Ms Lai – with all the profundity that entails - may have to wait a while.
There is, given the subject matter, the usual mouthing of bollocks:
I am interested in humanizing and demythologizing the Presidents by addressing their public legacies and private lives. The presidency itself is a seemingly immortal and impenetrable institution; by inserting myself in its timeline, I attempt to locate something intimate and mortal. I use this intimacy to subvert authority, but it demands that I make myself vulnerable along with the Presidents. A power lies in rendering these patriarchal figures the possible object of shame, ridicule and desire, but it is a power that is constantly negotiated... I approach the spectacle of sex and politics with a certain playfulness… One could also imagine a series preoccupied with wearing its “Fuck the Man” symbolism on its sleeve. But I wish to move beyond these things and make something playful and tender and maybe a little ambiguous, but exuberantly so. This, I feel, is the most humanizing act I can do.
Somehow, I remain unconvinced that painting long-dead American presidents doing the nasty with a young woman is “subverting authority” in any meaningful sense. Nor am I persuaded that Ms Lai has “moved beyond” the “Fuck the Man” symbolism that evidently preoccupies her. Though one might note her eagerness to “insert herself” into the project - which raises the question of whether Ms Lai’s ego has merely led her to seek out celebrity by bedding powerful men, albeit figuratively. Readers will no doubt decide for themselves whether Ms Lai’s handiwork is “playful,” “tender,” “exuberant” and “humanising.” Though in fairness she has set up any number of dubious quips about “vice presidents,” “sexual congress” and “secretaries of the interior.”
See also: A Mighty Intervention.