NEW YORK – Earlier this year, a complex map of "hidden history" from biblical times to the days of Donald Trump was circulated among conspiracy theorists, including those following the right-wing underworld of QAnon websites. The map includes words, arrows, symbols and shapes that suggest a network of connections between events, persons and organizations such as Freemasonry, the Rothschild family, George Soros, the Saudis, "Nazi UFOs" and Pizzagate. The artist who claims to have drawn the map says he is part of a "Deep State Mapping Project," and has earned him respect and recognition among the people who believe everything is connected.
"Everything Is Connected" is also the title of an exhibition on art and conspiracy in the Met Breuer Gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a potent and intriguing exhibition that contains several works that are similar in style and technique to the hidden history card. Mark Lombardi's "Narrative Structure" drawings are more elegantly arranged than the more amateurish and coagulated conspiracy card, but they use arrows and connecting lines similarly. However, they differ in a fundamental way: they are based on research and facts, not on implication, speculation and imagination.
The idea that "everything is connected" is a powerful one, and two understandings of it seem to run in parallel. The conspiracy theorist believes it literally and spends every waking hour expanding the link. However, ordinary minds who are not infected with conspiratorial madness also believe that there are deeper connections in the world and that it is our task as thinking creatures to discover these connections. This is fundamental to basic rationality. We not only treat symptoms but look for the deeper causes of what hurts us. And for a good citizenship, it's also essential that we also have to look for the covert ways in which power works, the influence of behind-the-scenes money and the backroom alliances and the turning that the powerful have on hold the power, and they enrich empire.
How do we differentiate the two types of mistrust? It would be a relief if the answer were as obvious as the phantasmagoria that John Miller saw in 1998 entitled ZOG. The painting is one of the artist's "Game Show Paintings" criticizing the banality and consumerism of American culture. In this case, Pat Sajak and Vanna White show us the letters Z, O, and G on the board, short for the anti-Semitic phrase used by the Zionist-occupied government.
The world would be a safe place if conspiracies were so obviously absurd as this painting, but the absurdity of the faith does not matter to those who believe in it. The man, who was accused of killing eleven people in a synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, tweeted a cartoon using the word ZOG as a pointe about how Americans are allegedly manipulated by Jewish forces.
Absurdity is also not a good guide to the factuality of claims about our government and our leaders. Yes, when the weekly headline headline "Hillary Clinton Adien Alien Baby" screams, most healthy people will put off. But what about Operation Northwoods, a secret plan by the US government to attack cities, airplanes and US boats and blame the violence in Cuba to justify the attack on the communist regime in the 1960s? This is true, although the plan was rejected by President John F. Kennedy.
When right-wing extremists immediately called the attack on the Pittsburgh Synagogue a "false flag," decent people were sick of the allegations. However, claims about false flags are circulating in part because of false flags at the highest levels of the US government.
The curators of the Met exhibition, Douglas Eklund and Ian Alteveer, said they had purposely decided to stop working after 2016 when Donald Trump's election revived the conspiracy around the world. The show is divided into two halves, the first of which includes artists whose works have journalistic elements that are mostly based on facts and follow the urge to make the hidden visible. In addition to the elegant drawings of Lombardi, in 1971 we have Hans Haackes typescript pages and photos describing the companies of the shell and the hidden ownership of real estate in New York City. This work was so explosive that the Guggenheim had canceled the first solo exhibition of Haacke three weeks before opening.
The second part of the show is more about conspiracy than a thought-provoking and recurring trope of American thought, with the artists capturing the dark mood of the country, its suspicions and paranoia. This layout of the show is smart. Despite the curators' decision not to deal with the age of Trump, the contrast between substance (research-based work) and style (visual riffs over the bizarre undercurrents of American life) offers a useful insight to reflect on lies and truth in our present lowered political moment. To resist and expose conspiracy thinking, we need to be aware that it depends not only on the distortion of the truth, but also on a style of thinking and how it expresses repressed fantasies and righteous feelings of disempowerment. We have to respond when we respond to art: with all our receptors at all levels – rational, emotional and aesthetic.
After the Pittsburgh massacre, the Pandits asked if President Trump was somehow responsible for fueling the fears and hatred that apparently inspired the defendants. The best answer was nuanced: Trump did not suppress, and perhaps he is not personally anti-Semitic, but the style of his politics is very similar to the style of anti-Semitic thinking. If the president bases his hearsay or invents malicious assertions holistically, suggesting that powerful powers are harming America, Jewish personalities like Soros finance the pilgrimage of migrants from the war-torn Central America, then he embraces the basic rhetorical framework of anti-Semitism , The style is the message.
"Everything is Connected" is a dark show and the right show for a dark moment in our history. In the end, one tries to reverse the usual relationship between conspiracy thinking and rational thinking, the former being understood as the prevailing thought pattern in America and the latter as aberration. Our politics, our literature, our popular culture and our social media are saturated with it. There is probably no cure. It's our chronic condition at best and maybe our terminal condition.
Everything is connected January 6 at the Met Breuer in New York. metmuseum.org.