Benito Mussolini

Yes! Yes! Yes! by Chris Hall

Mussolini's headquarters in Rome.  Mussolini never told you "No!"  He was more about "Yes!,", more about kind and gentle persuasion to his point of view!

Mussolini's headquarters in Rome.  Mussolini never told you "No!"  He was more about "Yes!,", more about kind and gentle persuasion to his point of view!

Today was a long day spent behind the computer, applying for art opportunities. Most will say "No," but maybe, just maybe I will get one "Yes!" After having faced what must be thousands of "No! No! No!" in my life, suddenly I find myself inspired by a picture of Mussolini's headquarters in Rome, covered in "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Perhaps this desire for more "Yes!" in my life, the desire for a sense of autonomy and maybe absolute power, has provoked my interest in dictators. There is always this desire more control, more influence on the outcome of my life and my fate.  I'm treading some gray areas here, examining my attraction for being a dictator, while maintaining a sense of criticality. Of course, all of this is encapsulated with a sense of humor. And there is always a lesson to be found.

Lately I've been fascinated by dictators, and for a variety of reasons.  I'm interested in egocentric personalities, how absolute power corrupts absolutely, the tragedy's of their downfall and how they took many other unfortunate people with them, their eccentricities, the strange appeal of the military uniform fetish with all the garish medals, etc.  My investigations have led me to some interesting facts.  For example, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier of Haiti claimed to have killed JFK with a Voo-Doo curse, and when a political rival supposedly turned himself into a black dog in order to escape execution, Papa Doc had all the black dogs in Haiti killed.  Nicolai Ceausescu of Romania had all film footage of him edited so that he never blinked and appointed his dog a Colonel in the Romanian Army.  Muammar Gaddafi had an Amazonian body guard and designed a car called the Libyan Rocket.  Their histories only get weirder from there.  I am hoping that my project will reflect some of the craziness that seems to come part and parcel with being a dictator.  While obviously satirical in nature, I also want to investigate some of my own sympathies and attraction toward the ideal of having absolute power.  What would I do if I had absolute power?  What would you do?  Ideally, I would want my audience to walk away wondering the same thing.  I want to approach this project a sense of humor, but also with some criticality and a perspective of distance with respect for the people who they oppressed.  I want to entertain with my series, but I also want to pose some difficult questions and see if a lesson might be found somewhere in this.  Clearly nothing is black and white.  In this world there is plenty of gray to consider.  I want the art in this series, and the investigations leading up to them, to navigate some of this extremely gray area.  It is too easy to demonize someone and paint them as a monster.  These were human beings.  By recognizing that these dictators were people just like us, they can serve as a warning and a reminder that if we are not careful, we, too, could end up behaving in much the same way.

My project is entitled Benny and Friends (after Benito Mussolini) and is my investigation into 27 20th century dictators. The project will encompass over 30 works, mostly paintings, but also some drawings and a lino cut printed in a limited edition. I also plan to make a limited edition book, a catalog of the works in the series. The book will also detail my research, telling a brief history of each of the dictators in the project, focusing on their eccentricities and excesses. Finally, I will compose a sound art piece to accompany the potential exhibition.  This sound collage will be made up of original music and samples of such things as speeches made by dictators, the sounds of marching boots, explosions, military marches, etc., all sounds that a dictator might approve of.

Benny and Friends by Chris Hall

Benito Mussolini

Benito Mussolini

For years I've held a secret fascination with dictators, perhaps ever since I first read Muammar Gaddafi's book of essays and short stories, Escape to Hell in 1998.  As someone who has always struggled to get by, struggled to be accepted, struggled with notions of autonomy, as someone who has always played the underdog, who has always been a big dreamer, but who has repeatedly had their dreams dashed and put down, learning about these dictators – many of whom have also come from a similar, humble background – has been something of escape for me.  Yet historically, most dictators have had a repulsive ideology and some have been outright criminals and monsters.  I also readily admit that even the very idea of a dictatorship government, even a benevolent one, such as Plato's idea of a Philosopher King, leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  But still this fascination persists.  That someone can project their will over their environment with such ease, that the world can bend and have historical consequences based on their own volition, that kind of superhuman and god-like power is incredible to me.  I sometimes wonder what would happen if I had that kind of power, how I would use it for good instead of evil.  But then I realize that the world and the environment with which I would have my sway, is comprised of human beings, human beings who may have contrary and dissenting opinions.  I have no desire to make other people suffer, but for once it might be fun to not be one who is suffering instead.  Adolf Hitler was an artist, not a very good one, but an artist nonetheless.  Napoleon Bonaparte was a writer of fiction, not a very good one, but a writer, still.  Both came from humble origins – Hitler was even homeless in Vienna for a time.  Perhaps if we treated our creative types with more dignity and respect, they wouldn't turn out to be such dicks.  

Lately I've been sketching various dictators in my pocket notebook, in ink and marker, with the idea being that once I get a studio going, I may commit some of them to canvas.  In this way I continue my long tradition of exposing my darker side, taking a risk and telling my secrets, as it were.  I am no apologist for dictators and their deeds, but I do admit that this fascination exists for me.  It is a taboo subject for some, but still a subject worth investigating.  Sir John Dalberg-Acton once said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."  How could that not be a good story, in the tragic vein.  Napoleon, as a liberal revolutionary, was a hero, but slowly became corrupted to the point of becoming a paranoid, blood thirsty tyrant.  And as for comedy, who could not get a good laugh out such eccentricities as Muammar Gaddafi keeping an army of Amazon body guards trained in Kung Fu, or Hitler's habit of whistling the Disney tune, "When You Wish Upon a Star," or the ubiquitousness of all those ridiculous military uniforms covered with vanity medals.  This is rich territory to explore.  I hope people will have an open mind should I present a series of these works in a show, which, if it happens, I would like to call “Benny and Friends,” after Benito Mussolini.  Of them all, I think Mussolini is perhaps the most comical of the bunch, a bumbling over-reacher prone to exaggerated gestures when speaking, and like Vladimir Putin, has a penchant for having his picture taken without a shirt on.