Installed on the occasion of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I want a president renders a poignant portrait of the cultural and political climate in the early 1990s in New York City with words that still resonate today.
Zoe Leonard, an artist primarily known for her photography, sculpture, and site-specific installations, is also an influential feminist and queer activist who started working in New York City in the 1980s, an era marked by overwhelming loss during the AIDS epidemic. Throughout her work from that time, Leonard references the enormous loss of close friends and fellow artists and activists whose absence still reverberates today.
Leonard wrote I want a president in 1992, the year that poet Eileen Myles ran for president as an independent candidate alongside George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot. The queer magazine for which the work was originally intended dissolved before its publication, but the text circulated organically – passed between friends, and posted on refrigerators. Over time, the text gained a life of its own. In 2006, on invitation from the feminist genderqueer journal LTTR, Leonard revived the text in the form of a postcard, and subsequently the work has been read, translated, and reimagined by various groups in the context of numerous political elections in the U.S. and abroad. While Leonard says that I want a president is not the text that she would write today, she is interested in the ways in which it asks: What is different today, and what remains the same? “I am interested in the space this text opens up for us to imagine and voice what we want in our leaders, and even beyond that, what we can envision for the future of our society,” says Leonard. “I still think that speaking up is itself a vital and powerful political act.”
Co-presented with The Standard, High Line.
Photos: Timothy Schenck