There’s nothing neutral about Joan Iversen Goswell’s “Politics & Other Diversions” exhibit in the Art Library at Durango Arts Center.
The small room is ringed by Goswell’s handmade books, and only one isn’t a visual diatribe on the Republican Party in America. That one book is a reprinting of Lewis Carroll’s 1871 poem “The Jabberwocky.” Written barely a decade after the formation of the GOP, not even James Carville could make the leap that Carroll was targeting the nascent collective of right-wingers.
But as for the rest of the exhibit, woe to those in the Red, as in states. Goswell’s beautifully crafted books, lettered primarily with hand-cut eraser stamps and adorned with countless photos and drawn images, combine to sustain a relentless political attack. “The Fifties” stretches 70 inches and vilifies the icons of the era, from Ike and Tricky Dick to Joseph McCarthy. And giving “Politics & Other Diversions” a PG-13 rating are some graphic illustrations and words relating to abortion and race relations.
The most overt political attack comes via “The Republican Handbook.” The display includes not only a bound book with anecdotes and pictures lampooning the party, but also a holstered pellet pistol that has the realistic look of a paramilitary sidearm and an accompanying box lined with a human silhouette shooting range target.
In her artist statement, Goswell writes: “My creative process is that I don’t really have one. I like to work spontaneously.” That must be how “What” came to be. The accordion book stretches almost five feet in length and includes the following words, separated by page: “It was/the damnedest thing/What?/It was/What? – Old Danish Saying, Donald Barthelme.” It’s very colorful, but after a few minutes trying to decipher its deeper meaning, I abandoned the idea and started reading Goswell’s collection of poems written by Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Goswell’s exhibit requires at least an hour to see in full. It’s a spare layout of just nine displays, but several of the books are rather lengthy. There’s nothing fair and balanced about Goswell’s views; she’s identified the enemy and taken dead aim. It’s a shame that many will likely forego “Politics & Other Diversions” out of hand, because Goswell’s art and craft are admirable. But she’s true to her beliefs, and the exhibit, like the political schism itself, is powerful in its message while at the same time weakened by its partisanship.