The Protest Survey: Matmos’ Drew Daniel
On the Election, Pussy Riot, and Gay Marriage
Nov 06, 2012
Issue #42 - The Protest Issue
In conjunction with our Protest Issue we asked several artists the same set of politically-themed questions. Drew Daniel of Matmos provided these answers. Last month the electronic duo (which also features M.C. Schmidt) released The Ganzfeld EP via Thrill Jockey.
What, in your opinion, is the most pressing U.S. political or social issue?
Structural economic inequality: the distance between the wealthiest and the poorest.
What, in your opinion, is the most pressing worldwide political or social issue?
Climate change and impending environmental disaster as a result of global multinational capitalism.
What are your thoughts on the Occupy movement? It’s been almost a year since it started, has it accomplished anything yet?
It put structural economic injustice back into the conversation and made people notice the links between a lot of distinct groups/topics/issues—it inspired people and annoyed people.
What are your thoughts on how the U.S. presidential election is shaping up so far?
It’s a horse race—there are substantive differences between candidates but the amount of overlap ought to make us ashamed of how narrowly we frame things and how lacking in imagination we really are–you could blame this on scale—if you’ve got to persuade 300 million people about something it’s going to be watered down to the simplest possible level.
Did you watch the Republican and/or the Democratic Conventions? If so, what were your impressions and did they alter your perception of either party?
Yes, and it was depressing to see the way that certain rhetorics and buzzwords get regurgitated over and over again by both parties–it starts to feel like some random sentence generator is at work, or a nightmarishly clichéd “Mad Libs” in which the only nouns allowed are God, working families, middle class, America, freedom, taxes...
Did you watch the first debate between Obama and Romney and what were your thoughts on it?
It revealed the power of affect and emotional cues. Obama’s sentences were fine but the way he delivered them felt emotionally “off” and that is what counts—not the what but the how—it’s a performance and he wasn’t on.
Are you satisfied or disappointed by President Obama’s first term in office thus far?
As a gay American I’m supposed to thank him for extending some basics in my direction, but the introduction of “indefinite detention” and the drone strikes are hard to ignore.
Do you think the United States has changed at all since Obama's election? If so, how?
I see a polarization on the fringes (so many people hate Obama in such irrational yet cynically scripted ways) but I also see a heartening kind of progress that his presidency symbolizes with regards to race in this country and the legacy of racism and slavery.
Does openly supporting a political candidate (i.e., Obama) represent a tacit endorsement of all of that politician's positions (drone strikes, indefinite detention of terror suspects, etc.)?
A cynical shopping mentality prevails—“well, I’ll go with this because it’s the best thing that they sell here, but…”—and it’s definitely not 2008 anymore.
What role do you think artists should play in political movements? When does an artist cross the line and become essentially a <spokesperson> for a politician or political party?
There should be a Truth Table with Good Art and Bad Art as vertical columns and Political Art and Apolitical Art as horizontal columns. This would divide up the field into four zones: Good Political Art (George Grosz), Bad Political Art (Barbara Kruger), Good Apolitical Art (Bridget Riley), Bad Apolitical Art (Thomas Kincade). But a genuinely committed political person would regard art that furthered the interests of the cause most effectively as “good”–which is not an aesthetic criteria. You could also alledge that the designation of any space as “apolitical” is always itself a political act. The two zones (art and politics) are necessarily tethered together but fundamentally distinct as agendas: they cannot be separated and they cannot be joined. That’s the paradox and we’re stuck with it. I love it when a Crass or a Public Enemy or Ultra Red show up and make Good Political Art, but I’d rather listen to something powerful AS art and feel inspired in my life and its choices than to directly consume a message, and there’s plenty of arguments to be made that demanding abstract art or thorny free improv is more politically inspiring than sloganeering. Adorno was wrong about jazz but right sometimes.
Do artists have a responsibility to use their work or public platform to positively influence voters and push for change?
The implications of “responsibility” tend to produce pious, dull art designed to soothe or assuage the superego or offload political guilt, and if that is what is what is generating the art first and foremost then it’s not truly political but some kind of ethical performance of narcissism–the artist saying “look at how pure I am!,” so the listener can feel good about herself too for noticing that goodness–is that the best we can hope for? I would hope that modeling a kind of freedom implicit in the choices behind your poetics is the best way to inspire people–-be free within your work in ways that let people choose to live freely themselves.
What are your thoughts on the Pussy Riot conviction?
It renovated the idea of punk as a threat rather than a tired Hot Topic aesthetic—and I always have a soft spot for blasphemy.
What is the most overrated political or social issue of our time?
Gay marriage. And I’m gay. And think it ought to be legal. But the sheer amount of time allotted to this issue would be better spent making trans people feel safe on the street, or addressing the prison-industrial complex.
What is the most underrated political or social issue of our time?
Actually trying to imagine alternatives to capitalism.
Does a single piece of art (a song, a film, etc.) have the power to change people's minds and create societal change?
Of course. Emotional investments do impact people. Politics is often about how and who we imagine we are “like,” and art expands (or contracts) that.
What is your favorite protest song?
Crass “Do They Owe Us a Living?”
What are your thoughts on the state of U.S. political coverage (i.e., television and print media)?
Here I would just barf up Ranciere’s notion that politics is itself “the partition of the sensible”—i.e., what and who and how we see determine what is possible/sayable within the sphere of politics—so media determines politics in a frightening and inescapable way.
Where do you get your news in this day and age?
Do you have anything else to say about the current state of politics or the state of the world?
Remember that you are included in the situation, at every level: body, building, street, neighborhood, city, state, nation, trade network, ecosystem, planet. Take responsibility for your inclusion and make your demands accordingly.
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