In “A Tale of Two Cities”1 by Charles Dickens, the author tries to paint a picture of his time. Everything appears to have been happening simultaneously. Oftentimes when things are like this, it means that some people are living large while others are struggling in abject poverty. This is pretty much what is happening in the world right now, in America. For a country that operates as a liberal society, the division between economic, political and social lines is quite profound.
‘Double America’, 2006
This state of affairs is what drove Glenn Ligon to create the Double America artwork. Using neon lights and paint, the artist brought to life a symbolic sight. The neon sign flashes “AMERICA” twice; one form is inverted and the other is turned around. For someone watching the two Americas, there is evidence that the words are powered by two cables. Instead of each powering a complete word, the artwork appears to have been halved on the vertical axis. Each of the power lines is wired around one half of the neon work. Can you imagine that the power is drawn from a set of 6 transformers? Why then are the lights flickering?
Created in 2006, the Double America work is a metaphor that defines the modern political landscape. Polls in America indicate a society that has been torn down into two halves. One side appreciates the times and thinks that they are better than they were eight years ago while the other is desperate. Basing the symbolism to the work of Charles Dickens, this is Ligon’s way of saying that society is ailing. Show those around you some money, shiny objects and bright lights and they follow you aimlessly. This sadly, is where America is today.
Video: Glenn Ligon speaks about Double America
Watch the workings of the lights long enough and you too begin to perceive the American society as Ligon intended. In time, you too will be asking why life has been reduced to nothing more than the temporary flicker that has no regard for substance. The Trump Era has seen some tough times on the administration but more so in the electorate. “Double America 2” could sit as the reigning meme of our times. It is the reality of the state of affairs in current America. Those who understand this artwork and interpret it as it should be will relate to life as it is right now.
All images by Glenn Ligon/glennligonstudio.com unless otherwise noted.