In an exhibition running until 7 February at the Hayward Gallery’s HENI Project Space in London, artist Aleksandra Mir presents a collection of 32 US tabloid front covers dating from 1986 to 2000. Each one, enlarged to a height of two metres, features a headline relating the business dealings, political aspirations or personal life of the current US President, Donald Trump. A curious look-back to a time where no one knew the public figure Trump would become, it’s an exhibition which examines the cycle of information in our modern world, and which proves the power of context.
Titled Pre-Presidential Library, the exhibition stems from a period of research Aleksandra undertook at the media archives of the New York Public Library back in 2007 where she reviewed 10,000 tabloid covers. This research formed the basis of her show Newsroom but the material was largely forgotten about until she found herself in conversation with Ralph Rugoff, director of the Hayward Gallery, over the past 18 months.
Initially planning to recreate a series of 20 drawings of Trump that Aleksandra made during Newsroom, the plan changed once she began the process of revisiting her archive of material on the now-President. “[I] discovered a total of 87 Trump front pages, laid them all out in my studio and realised that I could simply show this source material which had achieved a new relevance,” Aleksandra explains, “…time has just about now caught up with my content and research. This makes for a curiously anachronistic Zeitgeist, a perfect moment in time where the present resonates with the past.”
At the time of her initial research, Trump was a “visible player NYC but still a relatively marginal figure that people didn’t take seriously”. Aleksandra’s discovery of this material post Trump’s 2017 election gave the headlines an entirely new context. “By 2017 when Trump had become President and people were asking themselves in disbelief, ‘how could this happen?’” she outlines of this new context. “If you look at this material today in its detail and totality, you can see exactly how this Presidency happened. The Pre-History, the persona and his ambitions were already fully formed in the 80s, and there are even two 90s covers where he blatantly declares his intention to run for President. Those were laughed off as jokes at the time and quickly forgotten.”
The 32 exhibited covers and the 87 which feature in an accompanying publication all essentially act as a blueprint for today. Despite the clear warning signs, the world was still shocked when Trump was elected and it’s this analysis of our consumption of the media which makes the work so interesting. “The problem is not so much the quality of news, but how quickly we forget,” the artist adds. Despite the fact that the President features in every piece of work in the gallery, the show is far from political in its standing, instead, passing comment on how we collectively forget: “Although Donald Trump is central to my show, I am still not that interested in the figure himself, but in what this research reveals about the media culture, and the fact that we are all complicit in it,” Aleksandra says. It’s a show which highlights the cyclical nature of trauma in the public eye and asks “what makes the headlines – and why?”
Pre-Presidential Library is open until 7 February 2019, with an artist talk on Saturday 12 January and a book launch at Tender Books on the same day.