A Union Pacific model train travels across a floating track carrying shining pieces of white marble, sandblasted and painted with the words of the United States Constitution. Constitution on Tour was Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler’s response to a nationwide tour of the Bill of Rights in 1991—the bicentennial of its ratification—sponsored by tobacco giant Philip Morris Co. Presenting the Constitution as a broken pile of marble—the same marble used to construct the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC—the artist duo emphasizes the hypocrisy of a tobacco company touring a document that defines basic human rights. Whose rights are honored when countless Africans were trafficked to the New World to serve the tobacco industry, or when a company’s products literally kill its customers?
Union Pacific was essential to building the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s—a rail that displaced countless Native Americans and resulted in fighting and deaths on both sides. Further, to connect the coasts over dangerous terrain, Chinese and European immigrants labored in unsafe conditions and received inadequate pay.
The United States was built on industries like tobacco and rail, but are they to be applauded for their roles in defining this nation, or scrutinized for controversial histories? To whom has the United States Constitution actually granted free, democratic rights? Whose identities have been, and are, ignored?
From the exhibition: Other Side:
Art, Object, Self (August 12, 2017 – January 3, 2018)
From the exhibition: America Starts Here:
Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler (October 1 – December 30, 2005)