The neoliberal man is on the run. The neoliberal man jogs, does CrossFit, dresses clean and tidy, has studied in the best universities and was an intern in the best financial business centres of the world. With suit and tie, trendy lines, he is subservient to the big players, rude with the small ones. He learned in high finance to despise the weak and appreciate the untouchable apex predators. Cocaine lines, he sleeps while standing up, lives off of coffee, between airports, hotel sheets and ‘ringless’ vaginas. Absolute freedom for himself, absolute abnegation to all others.
The neoliberal man likes money and the ones who like money. Money unites the neoliberal men in an unbreakable brotherhood – women can only aspire to have one. The neoliberal man has a well-defined style. He could be spotted at a distance, amid the executive branches: folder in his left hand and the right holds a smartphone to check the stock market numbers. He knows how to manipulate. If the markets are susceptible to emotions, then those who make them must be carefully analysed for their own benefit. They know how to flatter just to catch the prey on the next move. They know how to cry just to achieve victory right after. Triumph, success. And the masses worship him. The middle and the low classes love the well-succeed man, hoping they can be as good.
The neoliberal man loves the planet. And loves women as well. He proclaims liberty, equality and fraternity (but not that much – and only for some). However, money says no the first, maybe to the second (always the second best – after all, capitalism is a male-exclusive system, with a male-oriented culture and jargon), and fallaciously blesses the third part in front of the media – corrupting them in private, while flying on a jet, ready to eat a nice dish, after having dripped sweat at a fine club or gym.
The man who brings money home is even more valuable. The more, the better. In every regard. The neoliberal man is like the capital: he either grows or perishes. And he always has to grow. Always and forever. On all sides, to all sides. Otherwise he goes into crisis, in depression.
He is geographically absolute, transnational, international, universal. He speaks several languages. In a sentence, three languages: the one of birth (if it is Portuguese: poor man), the English of the academic and professional jargon – the one of statu quo – and Chinese, since everything points in that direction.
Patronage and philanthropy are ways of masking a pretentious humility. He hands out money but requires something in exchange. Recognition, his name engraved on the metal plate, a building in his name. And the architecture follows his model: the light, the glory, the divine on earth which is him. Towers in his name, skyscrapers in his memory. Phallic models that follow this primeval desire of overcoming, of grandeur: the bigger, the better. The biggest skyscraper is not Chinese yet. Biology… That undisciplined and untameable bear – he roars louder to stun the Apollonian will of the contemporary global civilizations. Memento Mori.
Then, the neoliberal men become politicians.
Trudeau and Macron, two neoliberal men: beautiful, rich, educated and supporters of all freedoms; they weep the murdered homosexuals, the beaten women, the perished good men, the persecuted refugees, the shattered nature; they limit the entries of foreigners, the visa issuance and promote the exploitation and use of oil while ratifying the Paris Agreement. Not to mention the gradual degradation of labour rights that neither of them wants to stop. After all, one needs to run, to accelerate. When tired, replace him.
The neoliberal politics is the neoliberal man and his contradictions.
Bem-vindos à cidade do medo [Welcome to Fear City] (no exclamation point) is the title of the exhibition of João Fonte Santa, at MAAT, curated by Sandra Vieira Jürgens. In the beginning, the faces of the aforementioned politicians greet us with a determined but distant glance. Below, under the anthracite of graphite, two golden words: NeoLib Diet. Thus, two characters that match the diet of neoliberalism. A mild version of the implied neoliberal violence which prepares us for a reality that we acknowledge as present and ours, but that we are used to forgetting, in seconds, in a torrent of sequential images, facts and post-facts. A light, zero, soft soda which promises us to do no evil at all, just before poisoning us.
And they do promise. And they want to do so. Pro-active, they pretend they are stirring things but all remains the same. In 3ª aparição da Virgem a Friedrich von Hayek nas ruínas do Centro para Investigação do Desconhecido, they promise miracles over the ruins of that same centre; they fight “under the scope of the new anti-terrorism policy (…) [to stop] the first trade union leaders”; they heal the post-Brexit war and the devaluation of the Sterling Pound; they put an end to the “violating machines”, etc. Anecdotes of a possible frightening future.
And then the blue light comes. These politicians are not the only elements now. It is the entire system mounted on the back of the collective indifference and weariness. An uncritical and amoral system that we worship. The light of a media and much-publicized system that injects into us the dopamine of a click, of swiping the finger to right (accept), to the left (reject), of the like, of the adoration, of the immediate and knee-jerk response, of the perpetual registration, of the eternal glory. Action, vertigo, drama: flames consuming lanes and cars, cries of rebellion, throwing stones, bullets and cannons here, there, right beside us, in Germany, in the United States. Dopamine. The images of destruction are alluring. They hypnotize in their daunting spectacle and activate in us the vibrant Dionysian cell. Captivated by the bright pixels, in the paradoxical aesthesia of the moving images that lead us to anaesthesia, we let “the bankers choose who should live or die”.
João Fonte Santa creates an environment that is quite familiar, between grace and disgrace, between the humour and the apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic shambles. He plays with the similitude and the deviation, with text and image. As stressed by the curator, the artist “uses images that circulate in newspapers, on television and on the Internet, and establishes relations of association with other fields, notably the pop culture”. Dallas is a model of a capitalist city exported to other parts of the globe. But it is also an American series, hyper-dramatic, of the final stages of the 70s. Singapore is Dallas, Tokyo is Dallas, Shanghai is Dallas, Dubai is Dallas: economic hubs and stages of cheap melodramas and soap operas, in which the great policies are directly or indirectly concatenated. Reality and fiction are mixed together and the policy ceases to be about the fact, rather focusing on the fictional or the already mentioned post-fact.
But, keep in mind, this is an exhibition on fear, the booking of fear and how this plays to some’s advantage and disadvantage. And also an exhibition on the present and on previous eras, contemporary to ours.
In the 70s, the New York PD was spreading a creepy leaflet from which this exhibition borrows its title. In it, several rules for visitors and inhabitants of the metropolis were enlisted, so that they could withstand the wave of crime that spread itself in the neighbourhoods and streets of New York. But this survival was based on fear. An attack that the police forces used to strike hard blows to the austerity of that time, which forced them to do some colossal cuts(!).
Deep down, this is a cautionary exercise on how to interpret the images and perceive the insidious power that they carry. The curator’s words fundamentally translate the exhibition, placing this project in the “context of the use, the power and the effectiveness of the images and the critical and political ability of the visual representation” that show up to be “ever-present challenges in the inquiring and questioning of fear and the appeal to the resistance”. A resistance that arrives in an isolated and unexpected form, of individuals who try to instil light in fear, and that Fonte Santa gathers on posters, whether from a mourning or a fighting context, curiously on the walls of what was once a huge ashtray.
Bem-vindos à Cidade do Medo is on display at MAAT, until 30 April.