They were trying to save their souls- and who but a fool could fail to see that all that was the matter with their souls was that they had not been able to get a decent existence for their bodies?
(Upton Sinclair, The Jungle)
It is not red or blue, it is green.
(Rupert Murdoch, Fox News)
Buried beneath the perpetually renewable culture wars, America’s class divide has become an abyss. Reducing political agency to a color-coded map, cable TV pundits hammer away at crude, imaginary borders between the red and the blue, while regularly decrying the polarized state of the nation. As geography and locality are subjected to political branding, regional and cultural biases, promoted through careful demographic messaging, deepen the fault lines of American life.
Despite obvious links between one’s economic circumstances and their political interests, an ever widening income gap affecting millions of people from across the political spectrum is largely ignored in favor of endless coverage of the fireworks between the two major parties. With no identity to speak of, those marginalized by economic policies that fail to serve their interests are left to fend for themselves, fomenting an alienation from the political process which represents a far more likely source of America’s polarization.
Offered a set of escalating and unending crises (environmental disasters, a faded but unvanquished pandemic, police and gun violence) delivered in service of a rating system which rewards the capture of attention at all cost, life and death events spiral in and out of the needs of entertainment, their meaning transformed at the moment of their capture by the news.
In this New York edition of an exhibition presented at the Poor Farm in Little Wolf, Wisconsin, Model Home, (New York), After Wisconsin Death Trip, includes material from Michael Lesy’s classic 1970’s era account of late 19th Century life in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Combining photographs of local photographer Charles Van Schaick with contemporaneous news stories from the local paper, the Badger State Banner, Wisconsin Death Trip describes a small Midwestern town besieged by ongoing plagues and economic misfortune.
Incorporating photographs and newspaper accounts of tragic events from a town in crisis with images of everyday life as well as staged portraits, the wide-ranging nature of the material along with its parallels to the often morbid contents of today’s all-encompassing "24-hour news cycle" lends the historical texts and images a remarkable contemporary relevance.
Accompanied by artwork and archival material addressing the intrinsic rapport between the daily news, morbidity, and an almost unconscious maintenance of class conditions, Model Home, (New York), After Wisconsin Death Trip aims to underline the key roles that locality, history, and mass media narratives might play in shaping our understanding of a particularly fraught moment in contemporary American life.