Artist Justin Kemp looks beyond the bumper sticker as political merchandising with his virtual exhibition
With the US Presidential elections taking place tomorrow, we wanted to showcase some of the artistic feedback that such a seismic political event births. Creatives from both sides use their art (music, fashion, art, film, photography etc.) to raise awareness and publicise their chosen candidate. There’s of course very different ways of doing this, and Justin Kemp – a Northampton, Massachusetts-based artist – is a perfect example of this through his virtual Mitt Romney Bootleg Stuff exhibition, showing on Gallerie 5’s online gallery in association with Miner Pie and Modern Packaging.
“There’s not nearly as much at stake here as most of the media pundits and candidates might want us to believe.”
Kemp has taken a series of everyday items – a pair of jeans, a guitar, a light bulb, a hammer etc – and painted the Romney campaign logo on them. “The idea came to me during the Republican primaries, I was thinking about Mitt Romney’s campaign logo. His website shop didn’t have very many products for sale and that made me think about what I would like to have the Romney ‘R’ on,” says Kemp. And the selection of items is not as random as one might first think: “I thought some objects were good political propaganda; band-aid helps healing, allergy medicine relieves, eye drops take the red out, a light bulb helps you see in the dark.
Others I just thought changed in interesting ways when the Romney logo was added”. Kemp’s work also plays with the idea of political communication and how messages – sometime disguised – penetrate into our conscious. So, why did he choose to focus on Mitt Romney, and not Barack Obama? “I started the project when Romney was still a candidate for the Republican nomination and I was just thinking about how they used branding.I chose Romney because it seemed like he was kind of reading the Obama playbook in terms of aesthetic design. His website looks a lot like Obama’s.” But, in a way, Kemp is also trying to downplay the election, pointing at how the media is playing up its importance “There’s not nearly as much at stake here as most of the media pundits and candidates might want us to believe.” You might not agree, and perhaps you would have preferred jeans with the Obama logo, but in politics – as in life – you can’t have it all.