Creative Time is a New York-based nonprofit public arts curatorial and production company who have commissioned a number of innovative art projects throughout the city.
Most recently in May they presented Fly by Night, a performance by 2,000 trained pigeons in the sky above the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Their next project is Doomocracy, an immersive and interactive “House of Political Nightmares” at the Brooklyn Army Terminal running through to November 6th. Described as “part Fox News, part Hieronymus Bosch,” Doomocracy was created in collaboration with Mexican artist Pedro Reyes.
Reyes collected 1527 guns in Mexico, melted them down and turned them into 1527 shovelheads. The shovels were then distributed to art institutions and public schools for the sole purpose of planting 1527 trees to demonstrate in Reyes’ words, “how an agent of death can become an agent of life.”
More recently, in Disarm Reyes transformed repossessed guns in Mexico into self-playing musical instruments.
Doomocracy continues in this socially aware vein, though far darker.
Nato Thompson explained, “Pedro has done a lot of projects where he’s trying to think through and solve the world’s problems or come up with solutions. But in this particular genre, he wanted to do something very punk rock…a haunted house, not Frankensteins and zombies and vampires, but one in which the monsters are the monsters that are really haunting us in everyday life. Banks, pharmaceuticals, climate change, gun violence: the arcana of the nightmare-ish things that freak us out as we walk through the grocery store and look at the tabloids or turn on the news at night.”
Held at the sprawling Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park Brooklyn, Doomocracy bridges immersive theatre and installation art with Reyes’ socially conscious work, in hopes it will impel people to dialogue and action.
The increasing ugliness of the current election could not have been fully predicted by the Doomocracy creative team when they began work on the project, but the increasing surrealism of the outside world pushed them to keep up.
“It’s one of the things where you worry the reality is going to be more surreal than your fiction. Where you’re like, ‘What? That haunted house is nothing. This whole world is much weirder than that.’ we’ve got to put in the extra weird because it’s hard to compete with what’s already happening.”
Dealing with issues such as race, gun violence and the environment in a haunted house could be viewed by some as trivializing the issues. Thompson, though aware of the possible criticism, disagrees.
“I like to think we’re paying homage to just the sheer terror that is these issues. Tell me a polite way to deal with climate change. I feel like we’ve been polite for a long time with a lot of things and they just keep piling up. Satire has a long tradition of making light of the things that are freaking everyone out. One of the classic definitions of art itself is to find some way for us to come to terms with the things that are troubling us. Making light of is one of the strategies, comedy. Tragedy is another.”
The Daily Beast was invited to a preview of Doomocracy the night before its official opening.
Sprawled across 40 thousand square feet and with a cast of 34, participants are gathered in groups of 12 and given a quick safety speech including the advice, “if you are uncomfortable at any time, please put two fingers on your nose and that will be the signal for the actors to remove you from the room.” No one in our group used the signal.
The first segment of Doomocracy is arguably the most effective. After the safety speech, the group boarded an SUV and was driven several minutes away to a different part of the Brooklyn Army Terminal where the SUV was stopped by “police” in riot gear.
They forced the guests out of the car and into a dark concrete room where they were lined up, hands against the wall, and frisked. The “police” were surprisingly aggressive, screaming in participant’s faces and blinding us with flashlights. The darkness of the room, blinding light of the flashlights, and screaming actors was very disorienting and unnerving, and effectively evoked the experience of arrest and police harassment.
The rest of the 14 “rooms” the group was led through in Doomocracy failed to achieve that level of intensity again, but many are effective enough.
The issue of gun control is raised in a mock-up of a suburban living room where 3 women are having a season color palette-inspired gun Tupperware style sales party. If your season is winter, for example, your color is blue and you get a lovely blue scarf and bright blue AR-15. Half way through the party one of the guns goes off, accidentally shooting the hostess in the head.
Later, class division is touched upon when the group is split into half and brought to a high end “Penthouse” cocktail party where half are “guests” and the other half act as “servants” carrying silver trays of chocolates for the “guests” to eat.
Climate change is addressed by a tour of a US National Park in the year 2100. The park is now privately run by “Nature Corp” and consists of the guests being led around wearing a Virtual Reality headset with surprisingly realistic images of trees and nature which, we were told by a man in a radiation suit, is the only way to experience nature in the future as the planet’s surface is a scorched wasteland.
There are variety of other themes—prescription drug addiction, abortion, air quality, junk food and infant mortality (in a particularly macabre section involving an edible child’s coffin)—all leading to a final Great Dictator-inspired soccer match between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump using a giant inflatable globe in which the guests don masks of either Trump or Clinton and take part in the match.
Race plays less of a role in Doomocracy than it might. It is evoked in the opening police harassment and arrest sequence, obliquely in the suburban gun sales party sequence and briefly in a scene involving drone warfare and the targeting of civilians in the Middle East.
Given the almost daily reports of police shootings of African Americans, the national outrage it has understandably created and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, one might have thought it would be more directly addressed in a “House of Political Nightmares.”
While it is unclear if Doomocracy will spur the kind of conversation that the creators are hoping for, it is more often entertaining than horrific, and worth the trip for the unusual interactive experience alone.
Doomocracy runs at the Brooklyn Army Terminal from October 7th to November 6th, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 6pm to 12am. For more information, please visit here.