The Re-Politicized Myth
If Roland Barthes is right to say that myth, today, is depoliticized speech, in other words, an ideological speech trying to appear natural, what can we say about the works of Gavin Benjamin but that they are of a mythical re-politicized speech?
The Re-Politicized Myth
“What the world supplies to myth, is an historical reality, defined, even if this goes back quite a while, by the way in which men have produced or used it; and what myth gives in return is a natural image of reality.” Roland Barthes, Myth Today, in Mythologies
If Roland Barthes is right to say that myth, today, is depoliticized speech, in other words, an ideological speech trying to appear natural, what can we say about the works of Gavin Benjamin but that they are of a mythical re-politicized speech? Constantly looking for a way to create images that recycle their historical dimension, he allows his viewers to find, through the evidence in his images, their historical depth. Yet this dismantling of myth, how is it accomplished? This is what we must now try to explain.
To facilitate our argument, let’s use a specific example. In his piece entitled Legacy-7, Gavin Benjamin chose to show us a slave couple with their faces erased, standing in front of an ostensibly abandoned house.
Through this gesture of voluntarily associating two images of the forgotten (the forgotten identity of the characters who face us, and the forgotten history of the house before which they are standing), the artist forces us, in a way, to see the lack of historical consciousness that characterizes typical myth.
Yet to this absence, to this deliberate omission, Gavin Benjamin found it useful to add a series of legends telling us in summary, yet precisely, the history of the place (the colony) that we see and the slave couple that poses before it. With this extra information, this inclusion of myth in a more complex semiological system, he reveals the existential drama that the myth is determined to make us forget. To the lightness of the mythical image, to its deliberate amnesia, Gavin Benjamin places in contrast “a duty of memory” and, perhaps even more profoundly, a conscious return of the repressed.
If we wanted, now, to understand the work of this artist in its full political actuality, we could perhaps place it in relation to the goals of a site such as “Rethinking Columbus Day.” Although the myths of slavery and “happy” colonization do not seem to be very active today, it nonetheless remains true that the United States continues to make Christopher Columbus a national hero, and make his holiday a day of forgetting the massacres and horrors that were perpetuated in his name. What if the time has finally come to give voice to the defeated?
Translation: Cassandra Katsiaficas
Gavin Benjamin is an american artist. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, USA.http://gavinbenjamin.com/