New Museum
New York, NY, USA
5 July –17 September 2017

For his exhibition and residency at the New Museum, Paul Ramírez Jonas engages the mechanisms of bureaucracies and law as a starting point from which to consider truth. Half-Truths explores the contours of social contracts, without which institutions meant to uphold collective governance become arbitrary, yet remain powerfully consequential in people’s lives.

Continuing to pursue a body of participatory work focusing on aspects of trust, Ramírez Jonas presents two pieces defined by direct transactions between the audience and the artist, Fake ID (2017) and Alternative Facts (2017). The conditions of these encounters are devised by the artist and informed by the site, but also require the open-endedness of engagement with a voluntary public.

Fake ID invites visitors to empty their pockets of materials containing information that determines currency, credit, access, membership, and citizenship status. Through a process of exchange and inquiry with each participant, a facilitator deconstructs photocopies of their documents—school IDs, transportation passes, credit cards, and licenses—to create a new identification card. Through human exchange, Ramírez Jonas aims to enunciate the possibilities of self-determined constructions of identity within the datafication of state, corporate, and social systems.

Alternative Facts turns lies and fantasies into ostensibly truthful public documents. The first untruth designates the facilitator, often the artist himself, as a notary. Each subsequent certification process yields two documents, one for the viewer to keep and another to be collected in the installation. The cost of this legal transformation requires payment of a gold coin, which the facilitator will assist in creating by chemically altering visitors’ spare change.

The poetics of these works speak to a political climate in which authoritarian tactics seek to delegitimize the participatory checks and balances of democratic truth by pronouncing the media’s dishonesty and declaring the falsehoods of public servants to be “alternative facts.” Relative meaning, the plurality of truth, shared authorship, and the equal right to free speech were once more commonly employed to assert marginalized voices. But with such sentiments of alternativeness being co-opted by oppressive forces, Half-Truths asks: is it possible to collectively create and agree upon truth?

Paul Ramírez Jonas: Half-Truths is the second iteration of the Department of Education and Public Engagement’s annual R&D Summers, a research and development initiative that emphasizes the New Museum’s year-round commitment to community partnerships and public dialogue at the intersection of art and social justice. Each R&D Summer takes the form of a residency, an exhibition, and related public programs.

Members of the Teen Apprentice Program (TAP), a summer youth employment internship, will facilitate Fake ID and Alternative Facts during the Museum’s daily open hours. Ramírez Jonas will perform Alternative Facts on select Thursdayevenings. Each R&D Summer includes public programs expressly concerning issues of social justice. Artists and activists will offer tools for understanding and protecting information online during “Digital Self-Defense and Empowerment,” an afternoon of workshops. “Manufacturing Truth: Machine Learning and Bias” will bring together presenters from different fields, including art, journalism, and coding, investigating how algorithms shape our lives in realms as disparate as criminal justice, online shopping, and social media. “Between Illegality and Personhood” will include artistic interventions that consider how legal and bureaucratic systems and borders construct misconceptions of personhood. In addition, the Fifth Floor Resource Center will present “Legal Fictions,” a collection of critical texts, historical facsimiles, and artists’ projects that explore the politics of identification.

The exhibition is curated by Johanna Burton, Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Engagement; Shaun Leonardo, Manager of School, Youth, and Community Programs; and Emily Mello, Associate Director of Education.

Paul Ramírez Jonas, Alternative Facts (detail), 2017. Installation and performance. Courtesy of the artist.