This artist turned Trump’s tweets into something beautiful
Imagine if President Trump’s tweets provoked calm and beauty rather than rage and fury.
Such a realm really exists, though you’ll have to slink beneath New York City to find it.
A subterranean exhibition in Manhattan’s Midtown neighborhood features hundreds of lavender plants and a lighting system powered by Twitter streams. When @realDonaldTrump or @POTUS fires off an early-morning musing, the small room’s ceiling glows. As statements are retweeted, the fluorescent bulbs brighten to match the growing intensity.
Martin Roth, an Austrian-born artist based in New York, said he wanted to address the “heightened anxiety” that’s pervaded ever since Trump was elected last November. Not only have Trump’s policies and rhetoric put people on edge — the flurry of news alerts, constant scandals, and he-said-she-said debates are also compounding our collective stress.
“The pace and tenor of the current political discourse, blasted out through social media 24/7 without respite, affects our psyche in a profound way,” Roth said in an email.
“I’m interested in Twitter because it seemed to be the only news getting through. It’s fast and used as a political weapon, but … it seems overall just to be there to distract us,” he said.
In the exhibit, leafy lavender plants provide a potent antidote to the endless, stressful social media streams. As controversy builds on Twitter and the lights reach full-blast, the lavender plants bloom, filing the small gallery space with their soothing perfume.
Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2017
I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017
“The plant’s restorative effect is important for me; it offers a reprieve against the heightened anxiety of our current moment,” Roth said.
His installation — formally titled “In May 2017 I cultivated a piece of land in Midtown Manhattan nurtured by tweets” — is at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York through June 21.
Eight tons of soil cover the main gallery’s floor, while printed wallpaper simulates a verdant, vibrant forest. The heady scent of lavender, combined with crescendoing buzz of fluorescent lights, creates an unsettling juxtaposition, one art writer said.
“The total effect is less an immersion into the woods, and more a sojourn into a doomsday bunker of the One-Percent,” Kate Sutton wrote in an essay shared on the forum’s website. “Any calm this environment induces is innately tinged by suspicion of its circumstances.”
Using a tiny Raspberry Pi computer, Roth synced the grow lights to correspond with the activities of about 20 Twitter accounts, which are all tied to Trump in one way or another.
Tweets from embattled White House press secretary Sean Spicer (@presssec, @whitehouse) and Trump’s trusted adviser Kellyanne Conway (@kellyannepolls) also power the system. So do Trump’s preferred news sources (@foxandfriends, @seanhannity, @tuckercarlson) and places that helped shape Trump’s political ideology (@breitbartnews, @heritage).
The handles of mainstream media outlets, including @CNN, @washingtonpost, and @foxnews, are also linked to the lavender room’s set-up.
“I see this group and its behavior (tweets/online activity) and the people that retweet the messages as a virtual organism,” Roth said. “So the lights make the activity of this organism visible.”
The installation would be a clever play on this political moment even without the tweets. The Austrian Cultural Forum’s gallery in Manhattan is located mere blocks from Trump Tower.