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The Voting Chamber was an art installation at Movements Gallery in Austin, TX, six blocks from Governor George Bush’s Mansion, and the exhibition was open during the Super Tuesday Presidential Primaries of Election 2000 and the South x Southwest (SXSW) Arts and Music Festival of that year.

COMPONENTS:
No Real Choice [2000], 5’ x 3’8”, acrylic, currency on canvas
The Voting Chamber (metal rods, fabric curtain, tabletop, audio component
Civic Dimension (acrylic on stairwell walls; chalk on pavement
Internet Component, including data from State Website and Death Penalty Opponents

I flew into Austin from Brooklyn and immediately went to a local chapter meeting of an anti-death penalty group and introduced myself publicly as an artist planning to do an installation at Movements Gallery on 6th Street:

installed for about ten days:

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

OPENING RECEPTION: FEBRUARY 22, 2000
GEORGE WASHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY
6-8 P.M.
MOVEMENTS GALLERY
SIXTH STREET
AUSTIN, TEXAS, USA

“THE VOTING CHAMBER”

FEBRUARY 22-APRIL 22, 2000

A MULTIMEDIA INSTALLATION IN PROXIMITY TO THE TEXAS GOVERNOR’S MANSION

THE STATE OF TEXAS EXECUTES MORE PEOPLE THAN ANY OTHER JURISDICTION IN THE WESTERN WORLD. THE CURRENT GOVERNOR OF TEXAS (1994-2000) HAS OVERSEEN THE EXECUTION OF MORE PEOPLE THAN ALL FIVE PREVIOUS GOVERNORS TAKEN TOGETHER. HE IS CURRENTLY RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND EXECUTING AT LEAST 18 MORE PEOPLE.

ACCORDING TO A TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY STUDY, MOST TEXANS FAVOR ALTERNATIVES TO THE DEATH PENALTY OR ARE UNDECIDED:

47.5%    FAVOR LIFE SENTENCE
39.5%    FAVOR EXECUTIONS
13%     ARE UNSURE

Source: http://www.lonestar.texas.net/~acohen/tcadp

“THE VOTING CHAMBER” HAS BEEN DESIGNED BY NEW YORK-BASED FORMER TEXAS RESIDENT AND UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS GRADUATE M.T. KARTHIK, TO PROVIDE A PLACE TO REHEARSE FOR THE UPCOMING PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES AND ELECTIONS.

The State posts the Execution Schedule online

Texas State Execution Schedule: 23 Feb – 27 APR 2000

23 FEB 2000 Cornelius Goss, born May 25, 1961
24 FEB 2000 Betty Beets, born March 12, 1937
01 MAR 2000 Odell Barnes,Jr., born, March 22, 1968
15 MAR 2000 Timothy Gribble born, August 27, 1963
22 MAR 2000 Dennis Bagwell born, December 27, 1963
12 APR 2000 Orien Joiner, born, October 27, 1949
18 APR 2000 Victor Saldano, born October 22, 1971
26 APR 2000 Robert Carter, born March 7, 1966
27 APR 2000 Robert Neville, born October 5, 1974
27 APR 2000 Ricky McGinn, born March 11, 1957

Source:  http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/statistics/stats-home.htm

OUTLINE FOR INSTALLATION

COMPONENTS:
“No Real Choice 2000” (5’ x 3’8”, acrylic, water, American currency on canvas)

“The Voting Chamber” (metal rods, fabric curtain, tabletop, agit-propaganda, and audio component)


“Civic Dimension” (acrylic on stairwell walls and sheetrock; chalk on pavement)
4.  “Internet Component”

THE INSTALLATION:

“No Real Choice 2000” was installed on the wall opposite top of the stairs to Gallery space. The 33’ wall was painted sympathetic to currently existing artwork in gallery while extending the theme of the canvas, including:

“The Voting Chamber,” a simulated voting booth: U-shaped curtain rod with a red curtain. This curtain is to be drawn around individual viewers to simulate a voting booth and allow a private viewing space of the canvas and of specific propaganda material. A looped, repeating audio component of the attorney of one of those on Death Row was played next to an empty chair.

The stairwell from the street to the Gallery floor and the sidewalks from the Governor’s Mansion to the gallery door (as practicable) were marked to point to the booth and to present statistics (see Statistics that follow) regarding the death penalty in Texas.

The Internet component contained elements: from http://www.georgewbush.com, the “Calendar of Events” describing the Governor’s current itinerary, and from http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us, the “Calendar of Executions.” and etc

CONCLUSION, 2008

It’s taken me more than eight years to write anything of what happened in Austin in the Spring of 2000. I installed The Voting Chamber and came to find out that Odell Barnes, Jr., was scheduled to die though likely innocent of the murder of which he was convicted.

The installation included an empty chair with the name “Mr. Bush” taped to the back, sitting beside a cassette player that continuously played a ten-minute audio loop of Mr. Barnes’ lawyer explaining that he needed more time to present the strong evidence of a frame-up he had discovered in Odell’s case.

The installation inspired a march of hundreds in Austin who chanted as they marched around the Governor’s Mansion against the Death Penalty:

This all occurred during the Super Tuesday Presidential Primaries as George W. Bush, the Governor of Texas, fought Arizona Senator John McCain for the Republican nomination, Spring 2000. The installation was up during the SXSW music festival, and the venue was a site for the Austin festival so thousands saw it.

George W. Bush and The State of Texas murdered the innocent 22-year-old, Odell Barnes, Jr. on March 1st of the year 2000. The message was clear as Bush ran for President on an active record of becoming the single individual Governing the execution of more people in U.S. history.

Odell Barnes, Jr.s’ last meal request was for “justice, equality and world peace,”

and his last words were:

“I thank you for proving my innocence although it has not been acknowledged in the courts. May you continue in the struggle and may you change all that’s been done here today and in the past.”

Nine months later, George W. Bush was appointed President of the United States by the Supreme Court – contravening democracy at the most basic level –  thanks to massive problems with vote counting and issues of voter suppression in the State of Florida, where Bush’s own brother, Jeb, was Governor.

The canvas “No Real Choice 2000,” finished two months before the election, was startlingly prophetic.

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