The Naked Truth John Douglas’ art aims to expose “Homeland Security”
By Susan Moul

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John Douglas describes his profession as “truth activist.” The Charlotte multimedia artist creates animations, documentaries and photographs that question the heightened polarity in contemporary American politics and social attitudes. While other peace advocates might take a more distant and critical approach, Douglas does the opposite: using himself — posed and exposed — at the subject of his compositions.

In his current work, a series of photographs entitled “Homeland Security,” Douglas takes a literal approach to expressing the foolishness of the rubric “naked power” — he appears in the nude, holding an M16. The prosaic domestic settings for his tableaux — a shed, a swimming pool, a trailer home — offer a disturbing portrait of our acute national sense of isolation and vulnerability.

For Douglas, the M16 is “a symbol of Vietnam and the kind of awareness of American military activity the public began to have at that time,” he says. The metaphor suggests that an uneasy, “go it alone” foreign policy may be the result of delusional self-perception or the unexamined surrender of individual thought.

“I wanted to better understand what people felt when they hold this weapon,” he suggests. “I wouldn’t have gotten involved with any of this had Bush not raised the question for me: Why this continued violence, this extreme violence? There’s a great line in the Presidential debates where he talks about us as a peaceful country. But there’s been nothing but these guns since then. It’s the same with the Abu Ghraib torture. That’s who these people are.”

By casting himself a citizen-soldier, multiply exposed, Douglas suggests that the line between “these people” and the rest of us is a lot blurrier than we might want to think.

  • Trailer security:
    There’s nothing subtle about Douglas’ placement of the gun as phallus. He calls attention to the equally obvious question of whether the gun actually hides what is absent. In these photographs there are no women, and therefore, no possibility of procreation, of life.

  • Pool Edge Security:
    On his website, Douglas quotes John Fowles from The Magus, “The Americans call it ‘a man’s world.’ That is, a world governed by brute force, humorless arrogance, illusory prestige and primeval stupidity.”

  • Railroad Track Security:
    “I will tell you what war is. War is a psychosis caused by an inability to see relationships. Our relationship with our fellow men. Our relationship with our economic and historical situation. And above all our relationship to nothingness. To death.” — John Fowles

  • Casket #2: Douglas began a flag-wrapped-casket series after watching Reagan’s funeral. The work invokes the now infamous Tammy Silicio photographs of soldiers’ caskets being loaded into planes in the Middle East — defying a Pentagon policy barring the publication of dead American soldiers returning home. For Douglas, the flag-wrapped casket thus constitutes a “forbidden object.” He adds, “If you think it’s trippy going into a gun shop, try going into a flag store. They have a dimension of flag that is made for only one purpose: wrapping coffins.”

  • TV security: Douglas’ nudity suggests the underlying primitive nature of aggression. In spite of the grim theme, his willingness to expose his middle-aged body as an icon of Superpower gives his work a generous, even humorous mood. The lack of glamour is deliberate, intimating that the images of a potent American military presence are marketing gloss.

© Seven Days Newspaper, 2004