Democracy on Ice






Democracy on Ice is composed of two discrete but interrelated components, one in the main gallery and the other in a small side gallery. The main gallery installation is a 38' by 14' floe of pack ice; its separated slabs, when viewed together, form a figure skating rink.






The Organization of American States met in 2001 and couldn't decide what democracy was, so they deferred their discussion for another year. In effect the OAS has put "democracy on ice."

image: collage from exhibition publication






A site-specific installation Democracy on Ice is a response to the lack of critical perspective on the Pan American Exposition centennial.

image: archival photograph from exhibition publication






This signal event in the history of Buffalo was commemorated by an array of events, most of which displayed a blithe disregard for the actual nature and purpose of the Pan Am

image: detail of 19th century engraving from exhibition publication






as well as its implicit and explicit attitudes of economic predacity, racism and imperialism.






The Rafael Beck poster (which served as a de facto logo for the Pan Am) featured symbolic women representing North and South America holding hands.






Both figures are shown as equals; yet the actual relationship, both political and economic, is anything but that.






There are three distinct patterns carved into the surface of the rink, presumably by skates: an empty circle, a spiral, and an ornate floral filigree – constituting a kind of three-ring circus. However, the circus presented is one of frozen hells.

image: painted patterns carved into installation's "ice floes" made of styrofoam, acrylic, glass bead






In Democracy on Ice, the skater's trails are trails of blood. This circular and sanguine geometry conjures the notion of "spin." Spin, as information control, as self-interested revisionism, is the very terrain of willful American ignorance concerning the effects of our economic hegemony in the "Third World".

image: detail from earliest extant wood block print of skaters






Mylar text glitters on the walls in a kind of playful double-speak, one that promises cooperation but really reflects the cold shoulder that our policies provide. The main room features a continuous rushing murmur of myriad distorted voices, reminiscent of repetitive mantras from repressive regimes that instill fear by appropriating the power of language to squelch any speech that is not officially sanctioned.






The insistent whisper of "only my words are safe words" can be distinguished amid the auditory swirl.






In the small "audio-visual" room are cries and banter that we attribute to tormented victims and sadistic interrogators.






The voices are actually from children at play electronically re-processed into an all-too-convincing torture scenario.






The final hallucination at ground zero of the installation is the pair of empty skates.






Frozen in an endless and hypnotic twirl of bloody blades, their untied laces frozen
and flung by centripetal force, they spin vacantly. The skater is missing.






Vision and practice is, like ice, full of layers, fissures, and chasms that shift between easy access and the impenetrable.

Text by Gary Nickard