Pioneering feminist performance artist Martha Wilson has seen a lot. She endured the culture wars of the 1980s as a performance artist, after all, and moved to Canada during the Vietnam War so that her boyfriend wouldn’t be drafted. But the scariest thing she’s considered is getting inside Donald Trump’s head.
The artist has twice before performed as Donald Trump, and is planning to once more the day before the election. But as she developed her piece, the idea of a straight Donald, which would require a deep dive into the psyche of the Republican presidential candidate, was too much.
“The idea of out Donald-ing Donald was too daunting for me to confront,” Wilson, who founded the legendary art space and collective Franklin Furnace in 1976, told the Observer. “In all my previous characters I’ve tried to look into their brains and look around and see what makes them tick. But then I couldn’t bear to watch…I couldn’t go in there.”
Wilson’s performances have often looked closely at the idea of performing. She dresses up as people, yes, but impersonation would be the wrong word. She’s assumed many characters: Barbara Bush, Tipper Gore, even Michelle Obama, kind of, once (that was thorny, she admits). But as Donald Trump, she’s keeping herself in the mix—more like she’s being Martha Wilson in Trump’s clothing (and his self-tanner). For instance, if at some point during Monday’s piece she forgets where she is in her script, she’ll put on her glasses, which are definitely Martha’s glasses—”I would never let images of myself wearing glasses in the media because I don’t want to be seen as a four-eyed egghead LOSER,” she says, as Donald, before putting them on—and step out of character.
Sunday night’s event is a benefit for Moving Company, a performance ensemble, and will also feature food, drinks and other performances. But the highlight will surely be Martha/Donald’s catchy ditty, which has the following lyrics: “I will make America great again, I will make America hate again, I will make America white again, I will make performance and life one and the same.”
Having lived through culture wars, real wars, explicit lyrics warnings and pussy grabbing pronouncements, does Wilson see any hope? “I would not use that word, ‘hope,'” she said. “I would say ‘humor.’ You have to laugh or you’re gonna die.”
A highlight of the Trump performances for Wilson is getting on the subway in full makeup and wig. “I don’t look like Donald, but everyone on the subway knows who I am,” she said.
The point, of course, was never to actually appear or sound like the Republican nominee. Instead, Wilson explained, it’s to highlight the intersection of the awful and the hilarious, which is something this election season lends itself to quite easily. “This all started with reading William Faulkner, and in Absolom Absolom! a girl is raped with a corn cob,” she said. “You read this passage and you don’t know if you should laugh or cry; it’s so absurd and so horrible. That is the sweet spot I am aiming for: something that is laughable and horrible simultaneously.”