The Woods | Emiliano Settecasi
In June 1978, then congressional hopeful Newt Gingrich addressed the College Republicans at an airport Holiday Inn in Atlanta and assured them that they were fighting “a war for power.” The Republican Party’s biggest weakness in this war was, in his estimation, “that we don’t encourage you to be nasty.” Forty-two years later, the former host of The Celebrity Apprentice criticized his presidential election opponent by asking a crowd in Pittsburgh, “What the hell did he spend all that money on the plastic surgery if he’s going to cover it up with a mask?” As the audience chortled, the number of American deaths as a result of COVID-19 surpassed 200,000. The medical consensus on the best way to limit the spread of the virus: wearing a mask. Republican leadership, now sufficiently nasty, had won the war for power, and the American people had lost.
In the four decades following Newt’s Holiday Inn speech, Republicans, heeding his advice, steadily became fascists, and Democrats steadily became Republicans. “Trickle down” economics trickled $50 trillion (trillion…with a “T”) from the mouths of the bottom 90% of the country to the offshore accounts of top 1%. The fossil fuel industry paid our leaders to ignore climate change as Anchorage recorded higher temperatures than Key West. The government spent more money on defense than the next 10 countries combined while crying poor mouth any time someone suggested universal healthcare. Lynchings were televised. Justice was scarce. In March 2020, when the majority of Americans committed to staying in their homes to slow the pandemic, most anticipated that after a few weeks of rationing toilet paper, learning about big cats, and putting some extra miles on their pajama bottoms, restrictions would ease, the virus would be under control, and we would be out of the woods.
As months passed, no viable national strategy for containing the virus emerged. Tens of millions, many of whom relied on employer-based health insurance, lost their jobs. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saw his wealth grow by $73 billion while the rest of us saw George Floyd receive the death penalty for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill. A gender reveal party burned down the state of California. It became clear that we had been living in “the woods” long before the pandemic, and even if the virus were to disappear like a miracle, we would not be getting “out” any time soon.
In The Woods, thirteen artists share glimpses of the contemporary American condition—one which is defined not only by collective anxiety, righteous anger, and unjustifiable loss, but also resiliency and, for the time being, hope. Whether realistically, metaphorically, or ironically, the works speak to where we are, how we got here, and the uncertainty of where we are going, in a variety of media, including photography, painting, sculpture, and installation. The Woods adds color and candor to the nebulous experience suggested by the idiom from which it derives, acknowledging what our leaders have failed to: that the only way through our shared misery is together.
Featured Artists: Warren Cockerham, Evan Cooper, George Goldberg, Courtney Hartle, Junkyrd, Caroline King, Eric Ondina, Andres Ramirez, Manny Rangel, Erika Schnur, Ron S Dot, Taylor O. Thomas, Ian Wilson
Emiliano Settecasi is a Tampa-based artist and designer. He has studied at the Pratt Institute and the University of South Florida, and earned his BFA from the latter in 2016. Settecasi has exhibited work in a number of establishments throughout the Tampa Bay area including MIZE Gallery, Tempus Projects, and Gallery 501, and participated in the Emerging Artist Program at the 2018 Gasparilla Festival of the Arts. He is currently a Gallery Assistant at Gallery 221@HCC and a member of Seminole Heights artist collective QUAID.