The New Museum in New York will present the exhibition and artist residency “Paul Ramírez Jonas: Half-truths” as the second iteration of the Department of Education and Public Engagement’s annual R&D Summers, a research and development initiative that foregrounds the New Museum’s year-round commitment to community partnerships and public dialogue at the intersection of art and social justice. “Paul Ramírez Jonas: Half-truths” is on view on the Museum’s Fifth Floor from July 5 to September 17, 2017, and also includes a series of public programs.
With “Half-truths,” Paul Ramírez Jonas (b. 1965, Pomona, CA) employs 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 while remaining powerfully consequential in people’s lives. Ramírez Jonas will continue to pursue a body of participatory work focusing on aspects of trust, the exhibition including two pieces defined by 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 direct engagement with a voluntary public. The project includes related public programs and, adjacent to the gallery, a Resource Center presentation that explores pseudonyms, identities and modalities of naming employed by artists, writers and other individuals for various political and creative reasons.
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, the 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 limits of datafication imposed by 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 through pronouncements of “dishonest media” and the falsehoods of public servants being declared “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 create and agree upon truth collectively?
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. Paul Ramírez Jonas will perform Alternative Facts on Thursday evenings from 7–9 p.m., during pay-what-you-wish hours (with the exception of July 20 and August 24) at the New Museum in New York.
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 an afternoon of “Digital Self-Defense and Empowerment” workshops. “Manufacturing Truth: Machine Learning and Bias” will bring together presenters from fields including art, journalism, and sociology, investigating how algorithms shape our lives in realms as disparate as criminal and social 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.
Paul Ramírez Jonas is a citizen of Honduras and the Unites States, born in 1965 in Pomona, CA, and raised in Honduras. He lives and works in Brooklyn. He has had solo exhibitions at institutions including Pinacoteca do Estado, Sao Paulo, Brazil (2011); the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT (2008); the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas (2007–8); and Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK, and Cornerhouse, Manchester, UK (2004). “Atlas, Plural, Monument,” a 25-year survey of his work, is on view at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston through August 6. In 2010, his project Key to the City was presented by Creative Time in cooperation with the City of New York. In 2016, his project Public Trust was presented by Now and There in Boston. He participated in the first Johannesburg Biennale (1995); the first Seoul Biennial (2000); the 6th Shanghai Biennial (2006); the 28th Sao Paulo Biennial (2008); the 53rd Venice Biennial (2009); and the 7th Bienal do Mercosul, Porto Alegre, Brazil (2015). He is currently an associate professor at Hunter College, City University of New York.