Christy Roberts, Association, developed for GLAMFA 2011, California State University, Long Beach, September 4–8, 2011

The latest crop of rightwing nutjobs is certainly dominating our discourse these days, as they out-shout and outmaneuver our sitting egghead president with their relentless attempts to demolish our social service infrastructure. It is interesting to make connections between this political mindset and more retrograde and academic forms of exclusionary nuttiness, such as schools of belief that make the case for inherently superior/inferior races. This is part of what Christy Roberts has done with her performative project, Association, which was developed for this year’s Greater LA MFA exhibition (GLAMFA), organized by graduate students in the art department of Cal State Long Beach.

As an artist, Roberts is interested in exploring points of tension within communities. In doing research for her GLAMFA proposal, she asked CSULB students what significant sources of tension were present on this campus. She learned about Dr. Kevin MacDonald, a tenured professor in the Psychology department, who believes that psychology and social evolution support his theory that whites and Asians are the superior races, and that Jews have used specific strategies to “out-compete” non-Jews, including over-enrollment in universities. MacDonald, apparently a latter-day Nazi hiding in plain sight, has been “disassociated” by his colleagues at CSULB. He has also been the subject of write-ups by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Christy Roberts, Association,
mixed media, 2011

Roberts, who graduated this year with an MFA from Claremont Graduate University, feels that experience carries ideas farther than objects; thus, her own work has moved toward performance and social practice. For Association, she took on the persona of a woman who follows the beliefs of Dr. MacDonald, and is actively seeking to recruit students to her group, the cultishly named National Group Evolutionary Psychology Student Organization. In the gallery, she assembled a recruitment video comprised of actual clips of Dr. MacDonald espousing his beliefs. Outside in the courtyard, she set up a table that looked like any student organization table commonly found on university plazas, complete with promotional postcards and a questionnaire designed to pique interest in the subject matter.

During the course of GLAMFA, Roberts sat at this table and interacted with visitors “in character”—the character being a cloyingly pleasant woman with a Sarah Palin accent, strong Tea Party leanings, and a retrograde belief system that included racial as well as sexual hierarchies. She dropped a lot of offensive, racist statements, which sent many people running in disgust, not knowing that she was doing a performance. One young African-American man attempted to reason with her for 45 minutes. Another older woman tried to turn the tables on her and get her to imagine herself as the other, the Jew. (For the record, Roberts is in fact Jewish, which additionally touches on issues of “passing.”)

I filled out her questionnaire and chatted her up for a few minutes to see what she had in her arsenal. As I worked on the questionnaire, she teased me for taking so long, saying that she thought Asians were better at taking tests. She also disclosed to me that she was really excited about voting for Michelle Bachmann… mainly so that she could take orders from Mr. Bachmann while in the White House, because after all that was the natural order of things.

I thought that the genuine energy stirred up by this performance was interesting. It’s probably unfortunate that many people didn’t understand it was a satire, and therefore didn’t get the full benefit of the project. You’d think that the table’s placement within a contemporary art exhibition, and not on the campus plaza, would have tipped them off. Ah well. At the very least, Roberts’ project brought attention to the fact that Dr. MacDonald exists and actively practices his hate philosophy on the CSULB campus—a fact that is still unbeknownst to many.

Seeing how offended people were by her comments, which could indeed be horrifying, Roberts felt compelled to drop clues, such as asking, while in character, if they were familiar with Stephen Colbert and the concept of satire as an art form. She also, after breaking character, went after a few people to apologize for comments she had made to them. This might feel a little impure as far as performance goes, but it seems to be part of the negotiation and cooperation that are necessary in social practice. For her project, Roberts worked directly with the Psychology department as well as the Jewish Studies program to cull information and to make sure that her content was accurate. At the Psychology department’s request, she added a disclaimer to her postcard stating that her organization was fictitious and not affiliated with CSULB or Dr. MacDonald in any way.

One Response to “Christy Roberts, Association, developed for GLAMFA 2011, California State University, Long Beach, September 4–8, 2011”

  1. Very clever. I wish I could have witnessed the responses to this performance and taken part. It is amazing how polarized opinions are today in our government, and I like how the arts can surface some of these agendas in such a satirical performance.

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