Madeline Hodge

Holding: America’s Golden Boy  

This text is one of several commissioned responses to PAUSE & AFFECT; a series of curated artist-in-residency duos across 2018/19.

︎︎︎ about PAUSE & AFFECT

Emilio Rojas, PAUSE&AFFECT, Photo credit pending.

It is Trumps birthday, a fact that is hard to comprehend given who he has become in our planetary imaginary, he has a birthday, someone once held him as a baby.

In the gallery there are golden balloons, a golden birthday cake and people have arrived wearing golden outfits. On a small plinth are a set of Trump commemorative coins that have been carefully cut so that Trumps face and head are extracted. The performance is set against this backdrop, it is a party, but we are not celebrating, Emilio Rojas’ work is described as an anti celebration. In the gallery at the rear of ]performance s p a c e[ a video plays showing an interview with the jeweller as she cuts open the coins.  It shows her careful, beautiful work, as she talks about a moment when she was starting to transition and the conflict that this raised with her partner and children, at one point she says “I have never even worn a pair of heels” as her blade delicately cuts and files Trump’s nose.  Earlier in the day Rojas had a piercing, a second video shows this as it is happening, “Will I always have to pee sitting down?” Rojas asks, as the piercer prepares the needle. Their penis is pierced and adorned by one of Trumps tiny severed golden faces, cut from the golden coin, ready for the golden party.

When Rojas enters ]performance s p a c e[, they begin to gather up and pop the gold balloons, two giant balloons shaped as a seven and a three that have been bobbing around the space are slowly taken into their arms and brought to the centre of the space. Up on a ladder Rojas is pressing themselves into the golden number seven, they are holding the golden seven so tight that gold paint begins to rub off onto their skin. The seven shaped balloon does not break, the act of holding has no effect on its robust form and when the artist lets go it bounces lightly, rising towards the roof.

“Holding” developed as a term through the work of Donald Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst and paediatrician who is known for his way with words. His work introduced the idea that development of the self comes from the moments in which a baby is held by their mother, a process he calls integration. “With the care that it receives from its mother each infant is able to have a personal existence, and so begins to build up what might be called a continuity of being.”  Rojas’s performance is recalling Trumps birth and making us question the familial hold, who was his mother and what role did she play in who he has become?

Winnicott believes that when this hold (often maternal, though not exclusively) is felt as precarious or unstable it can lead to a disintegration of the self. “Holding” allows the baby to develop not only a capacity for self care but also the ability to widen their field of concern and develop empathy. “There is no such thing as a baby, there is a baby and someone.” For Winnicott failure on the part of the caregiver to provide a secure “holding environment” results in “false self disorder” or what we might more commonly refer to as narcissism.  I wonder fleetingly what Donald Winnicott would make of Donald Trump.

In the gallery Rojas’ performance centres on a golden shower, a performed act that we know Trump enjoys (, the artist takes out his newly pierced penis and pisses into a bucket containing images of Trumps face. A drag Marilyn Munroe lipsynchs “Happy Birthday Mr President” to the tiny Trump on Rojas’ body over a recording of the original performance at Kennedys birthday. This drag Marilyn is mocking the tiny replica of trump, she despises the president and how can she feel otherwise. Whether this is intended or not we can’t help feeling how far we must have come from this famous moment, many years before, when a movie star enshrined a president’s greatness with performance. Over the next few days Rojas will publically perform this pissing again and again, every hour on the hour and pissing on Trumps face with a golden shower will become a daily ritual.

For the few weeks of their residency Rojas has been carrying a replica of Columbus’s ship “Santa Maria” holding it as a ritual act as they travel around Folkestone, I have seen them carry it to the theatre, to the pub, to a workshop. In the gallery, there is a map of Columbus’s journey and a hazard suit that is inscribed with the words “Go back to where you came from.”  As an artist with family in Mexico the question they might be asking is; how can we go back to the beginning? Where does this trauma begin? In Rojas’s work they are recalling both the birth of the white America and the moment of Trumps birth, drawing a line between the two events as a reflection on rise of the Empire of the United States.

“Holding” has taken on a wider meaning in psychoanalysis; it is the action that the therapist carries out with the patient.  Holding is a process that allows us to encompass the difficult histories we carry as they come into play in the present. This form of diagnostic certainly figures in Rojas’ work, “Holding” might also be a tool for diagnosis, in attempting to gather what might be learnt from holding the ship that began it all, holding the seven that represents trumps birth and therefore his age, these performed actions are asking how our bodies can hold and then withstand the daily assaults that Trump is performing on our lives. How we bear the trauma and disruption as the rights of trans people, migrants, indigenous people and the environment come under daily attack as a result of Trumps refusal.  We are all engaged in daily diagnosis of the sickness that Trump represents, but what Rojas does here goes beyond diagnosis and lets the horror of all that Trump represents penetrate beneath our skin.