Art exhibit keeps an eye on presidents’ speeches


Gil Stratton, of Livermore, Calif., gets a close look at the Hindsight is Always 20/20 art exhibit by R. Luke Dubois. The exhibit, which examines the frequency of words used from compilations of each president's State of the Union speeches, is presented in the form of eye charts.


Eye charts made from words used in State of the Union Addresses, such as this one taken from one of Barack Obama’s, by artist R. Luke Dubois are on display at the Hindsight is Always 20/20 exhibit at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

The media have changed the way politics work. People have continual access to information and data, and with the help of the Internet, they can learn anything they want to know about a presidential candidate from the policies they endorse to which flavor of chewing gum they prefer.

Artist R. Luke Dubois wants to get people to think more critically about politics, which is what he hopes happens when they see his exhibit Hindsight is Always 20/20, currently on display until Nov. 17 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

“He’s raising questions not providing answers,” says Susan Tate, executive director of the Lawrence Arts Center.

The exhibit is a portraiture of United States history, but it isn’t a typical painting or picture. Hindsight is a collection of printed eye charts, made of up the 66 most-used words during the current and former presidents’ State of the Union Addresses.

“Looking at the things (people) say and the data, that is kind of the paint of the 21st century,” Dubois says.

Dubois came up with the idea for Hindsight while watching “Crossfire,” a television show that used to air on CNN. One of the correspondents was on a rant about President George W. Bush and kept using the word “vision” over and over. Dubois connected the idea of a president’s vision with a person’s actual physical vision and decided eye charts were a great metaphor to use.

He then worked with the American Presidency Project to collect the transcripts of past State of the Union Addresses, analyze them and chart them.

“He’s really a scientist and an artist who is finding creative ways to process and present a very intense amount of information but in a way that’s visual,” Tate says.

Hindsight was originally commissioned for the 2008 Nationally Democratic Convention. Since the convention, the works have been exhibited across the country and Dubois has been asked to display his work and lecture. A little more than a year ago, Dubois was asked to speak at the Arts Center on behalf of Kansas University’s fine arts department. After Tate and Exhibition Program Director Ben Ahlvers saw Hindsight, they knew his work should be displayed during the 2012 presidential campaigns.

“We decided then that his exhibition and the new work would be perfect to show here during the election season,” Tate said.

Since the project was originally created in 2008, it has been updated to include President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address word chart as well as a video called “Acceptance.”

“Acceptance” is a continuous video of the acceptance speeches Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made at their respective national convention.

Dubois looked at the transcripts of the two speeches and realized about 85 percent of the words the two men used were the same. For the video, Dubois essentially made the two men read each other’s speech. When one candidate says a certain word, it will jump to the other candidate discussing the same topic and then go back to the previous candidate when another key word is said.

Dubois says the back-and-forth sounds like a never-ending debate.

“(The exhibit) is relevant in every election,” Dubois says. “We don’t pay enough attention to the words these guys use.”

Although “Acceptance” and the eye charts from the presidents’ speeches are available online, Dubois says it is more powerful to see the exhibit in person. To see all the eye charts at once, the viewer can get an idea of how the importance of certain topics have changed throughout presidencies.

“It’s a way to get a really nice snapshot of U.S. history,” Dubois says.


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