The Lying on the Wall: Paul Ramirez Jonas’s “Half-Truths” at Manhattan’s New Museum

Paul Ramirez Jonas, “a contemporary artist [from Pomona, California] and arts educator whose work currently explores the potential between artist and audience, artwork and public” (from his wikipedia page), continues along this same vein of public interaction with his artwork in his new exhibit “Half-truths” at the New Museum in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The exhibit allows for visitors to alter portions of their identity, using aspects of their already-existing identity. At one station, people are encouraged to scan all of the items in their wallets or purses and then reassemble the scanned portions to create a new form of identification. At another, the one containing the “half-truths” in question, visitors enter a sort of voluntary stage play wherein they interact with an actor assigned to be a public notary. The public notary takes down information from the actual identification card of the participant (passport, driver’s license) and then proceeds to offer them a deal: For a small fee (a coin of any value), they will officially turn a lie into a truth.

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Once the coin is paid, it is plated in gold through electrolysis on the spot. The lie is scribbled on a grid in black permanent marker and then stamped with an official seal. The lie is then pasted on a wall in a larger grid consisting of its fellow lies, wherein it becomes a truth – displayed for the world to see.

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The longer I look at the half-truths, captured on my phone in the image above, the more shocking and unfortunate they become to me.

“I AM NOT DUMB,” which, once translated, means that someone thinks they are dumb.

“I’M DOING FINE,” meaning that someone thinks they are not doing fine.

On the darkest end of the truth-telling spectrum is, “I WON’T COMMIT SUICIDE,” meaning that someone has just professed their wishes to kill themselves in a public forum for us all to see.

Even some statements clearly meant to be funny are, at the heart of things, kind of depressing, “I AM NOT AFRAID OF FISH,” meaning someone has a genuine fear of our gill-bearing aquatic animal friends.

My friend Madison and I took the easy way out and chose to turn innocuous lies into equally innocuous truths “I AM MADISON” my paper read, “I AM ARIANA” said hers.

This exhibit is like those books that you’re forced to read in high school in that it gets better the longer you think about it. Superficially, the participatory element is fun, even if it is, as all participatory artistic elements tend to be, a little kitschy and low-brow. Upon thinking more however, Ramirez’s “Half-truths,” allow for various interesting analyses: of the lies we tell other people and the truths we tell ourselves; of the ability of us all to breathe ideas into existence; of the blurred lines between reality and fiction; of overexposure in the social media age; and of countless other analyses that I still will have to think more about to discover.

 

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