Note: This post is my reaction to a very powerful exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum. 30 Americans features "Duck, Duck, Noose," a 1992 work from artist Gary Simmons.
Walking into the dimly lit room was like walking into Mississippi woods on a sweltering summer night. It is creepy. Very creepy. A long, thick noose hangs from the ceiling, positioned directly in the center of the room. The rope twists perfectly around itself into a killing machine, able to efficiently snap the neck of its unfortunate wearer.
I find myself examining the way the rope curls into a dangling loop, nine coils transforming utilitarian material into a tool of the hangman’s trade. I imagine what must go through the mind of the condemned as that loop is widened and draped over the head, tightened so the knot is positioned behind the left ear. No turning back. No hope. Waiting for the sudden drop and hoping the rope makes quick work of the matter.
Around the noose, positioned in a circle, are nine stools. From each, a perfect view of the hanging is afforded, just far enough away to avoid the effects of hysterical thrashing. But thrashing is part of the punishment, no? A clean break is always so uneventful.
And on each stool is situated a white, pointed hood. Small eye holes offer an unencumbered view, while preserving the respected reputations of the secretive beasts who exact hate upon those who don’t look right, speak right, act right, worship right…those who dare to be born wrong and who threaten the natural balance of a wrong world that wrongly exists within wrong minds.
Nine men hiding behind hoods, too cowardly to take ownership of their ignorance as judge, jury and executioner. Nine coils, positioned in the center of the room, directly behind the left ear. One man, looking down on nine ghost-like demons, mind filled with rage and panic, unable to quell the natural instinct to save himself.
This is not just our history. This is today’s reality. Cowards, afraid of those who are different…weird…wrong. Are you sitting around the circle? Standing in the middle?
Welcome back in time to 21st-century America.