Located in Faneuil Hall, Boston’s tourism epicenter, Pat Falco’s newest installation seems at first glance like the busy hub of any political campaign. Boston Campaign Headquarters, as it is titled, is made up of signs, banners, hats, and pins featuring political slogans. The key difference is that these slogans are not typical political jargon and doublespeak: Falco instead creates campaign signs that lay bare the implied meaning of popular American statements and current candidate catchphrases. The core of the exhibition is Untitled (Lesser Evils), a painting made with discarded house paint on found plastic, depicting a hand placing a ballot with the words ‘Lesser Evils’ into a ballot box. This piece provides a clever look into how we vote and who we vote for in the United States.
Crowning the painting is the text ‘Pretend to Be Heard,’ written in Falco’s characteristic slanted print, which seems to summarize the sentiment of many people disillusioned by politics. Here Falco asks whether our voices are being heard at all? In doing so, he gives a platform to those who feel they are not represented in our political system. Red, white, and blue dominate Untitled (Lesser Evils), but the chosen colors are different than the saturated hues we associate with the American flag. Perhaps this choice of color is indicative of Falco’s larger message- that by doing away with the glossy imagery and verbal posturing so common in campaign rhetoric, a more honest political story can be told.
The power of the show comes from its simple truth: that in order to rally voters, political slogans offer false promises and drastically simplify or omit uncomfortable realities. Speaking with Falco about the impetus for this body of work, he said, “People vote in fear against the worst candidate, I can’t accept that.” Through the Untitled (Lesser Evils), Falco questions the common practice of strategic voting, positing that without a candidate voters can truly believe in, people are left to vote in fear. By simply drawing attention to the pitfalls of this strategy, Falco leaves a powerful impression on his viewers. The most salient questions that emerge from this work are perhaps, what would American politics be like if there were candidates that people could vote for instead of against? What would American politics be like if more citizens felt enfranchised to participate?
Falco shows us that acknowledging the flaws in our political system doesn’t have to be an isolating experience. He states, “There are a bunch of people who feel this way, who feel that they are not represented. ” Untitled (Lesser Evils) proposes that people throughout the political spectrum, even non-voters, can agree on some of the limitations of our system. Despite the bleak message of the painting, the crowd at the packed opening was lighthearted. People from a range of ages and political orientations were in attendance, yet there was no arguing about politics. The positive reception of the show in general and this piece, in particular, seems to cross party lines, revealing a hunger for artwork that expresses dissatisfaction with the political status quo. This show serves as a reminder that perhaps the problem behind our political polarization is larger than any single candidate and instead rests with the limitations of our two-party system. In turns cynical, funny, and poignant, Untitled (Lesser Evils) makes us confront the reality of voting in the US. It urges viewers to imagine a more inclusive political system where participants would be able to cast their ballot out of conviction and optimism, rather than fear. This is indeed a political dream that we can all get behind.
Untitled (Lesser Evils) is part of the installation Boston Campaign Headquarters by Pat Falco, on view at Faneuil Hall through August 31, 2016. For more information, visit the artist's website here.