Commissioned as the first exhibition in the UAG’s Critical Aesthetics Program, Hayes’s After Before constructed a quasi-fictional, quasi-documentary multi-channel film, in which two figures interview people on the streets of New York City throughout the month of September 2004 – just two months before the 2004 US Presidential Elections – in an attempt to illuminate the state of the nation. Interrogating mythic and imagined constructions of “nation,” “people” and “choice,” the interviewers also interrogate their own desire for knowledge and communication. As an artwork, moreover, After Before engaged and disrupted the libidinal temporality intrinsic to that unique moment of all elections: a single day – much anticipated – that would shape the future of the nation. In this spirit, Hayes performatively filmed After Before in preparation for her UAG exhibition in the Summer of 2004 before the presidential election to re-elect President George W. Bush occurred that Fall and opened her installation in Spring 2005, after Bush’s inauguration.
Today, we are re-staging After Before along a similar time line, installing it on the eve of what activists and politicians predict will be “the most consequential presidential election in US history” without yet knowing what the outcome will be. In so doing, is to encounter what Craig Owens called the “allegorical impulse” in art. In this mise-en-scène, two moments in time, 2004 / 2016, are (re)staged and perceived neither as sequential nor as simultaneous. Rather, these moments are imbricated in an uncanny temporal duet, one in which two U.S. elections are seen – one depicted, the other evoked – alternately as a moment of truth, a moment of possibility and an already determined fate – a non-moment. In each instance, After Before continues to present a heterogeneous moment onto which we, as participants, may project contested ideas of what it means to be a U.S. citizen, in both historical and contemporary terms.