“But if you could make a change, what would you do”, Spencer asked, taking out his notebook. Tuffy glanced at his distant neighborhood, its dirt-brown facades barely visible, camouflaged in the smoggy haze. “First thing I would do is paint a yellow line on the ground that exactly matched the boundaries of the district. That way we'd know that the neighborhood is ours. ‘This is our shit, step lively’ – you know what I'm saying?”
Paul Beatty, “Tuffy”, 2000
Winston “Tuffy” Foshay doesn’t believe in politics. Although the overweight nineteen-year old gang member from Harlem is running for local office, he doubts whether he will be able to make a difference as a politician. Besides, Tuffy is unsure about what exactly his political agenda is – and what is right.
“It would be nice to do something important,” Toril Goksøyr admits. “Something political?” asks Camilla Martens. The two artists are depicted in a photograph that is more than ten metres wide – standing casually, relaxed and unperturbed, looking directly at the viewer. The photograph was shown as part of Goksøyr & Martens’ project “It would be nice to do something political,” presented at Galleri Showcase in Hamburg in the summer of 2002. The photograph was mounted behind a glass window in the gallery, visible to passers-by in one of the city’s most heavily trafficked streets. The photograph was not so very different from the usual advertisements mounted along the street, but its subtle twist invited a new interpretation of place. In contrast to Tuffy’s wish to demarcate territory – by painting a yellow map line around his neighbourhood – the reading of place was shifted from something physical, anchored and real toward a discursive vector – open, unanchored and constructed.
A window-washer, who was clearly from another country, cleaned the gallery’s window each day. Everyday, passers-by were confronted with this image: a dark-skinned man cleaning the surface of a glossy photograph of two white-skinned women. It is a historically familiar situation, and still valid, but this time completely staged. Goksøyr &Martens’ project makes us uncomfortably aware of a strong correspondence to the darker side of our photographic memory, while the projected image’s enlarged reality at the same time reveals it as an inauthentic document. The situation is only deceptively real, just as the attitude that the artists assume in the portrait is an aesthetic form of involvement.
Tuffy chooses politics because he sees the possibility to cash in on some of its symbolic capital: its visible, unselfish will for change. The inherent idealism represents one of art’s aims, but as such constitutes an insoluble dilemma. The political aspects of art will never be able to avoid the problem – doing the right thing will also always be doing the correct thing. “It would be nice to do something political” thus becomes self-inquiring; the artists’ self-sacrifice is unavoidably self-serving: “This is our shit – step lively.”