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The Voting Booth As Political Statement

In this year’s tight presidential election, 537 votes in, yes, Florida, once again may tip the election. As the specter of a Sunshine State rerun (and re-count) shapes up, Parsons School of Design, in New York, offers an exhibition, The Voting Booth Project, made up of 50 authentic voting booths from the 2000 election in Florida retouched by the likes of David Byrne, Christo, Maya Lin, Frank Gehry, Diane Von Furstenberg and Ed Schlossberg. The original Halliburton-like attaché cases that open to become cubicles on rickety stilts — which were purchased by hotelier Andre Balazs at a Miami flea market — are now bedecked in red plastic monkeys, chicken wire, gold leaf, golf balls, rear-view mirrors, lead, corduroy, felt, and wood splints. Surprisingly, no one thought to stencil “Banana Republic” onto one.

Graphic designer Tucker Viemeister sewed a corduroy slipcover, trimmed some foam rubber, stubbed the legs and printed on the seat, “DO NOT REST UNTIL YOUR VOTE IS COUNTED” — the “proverbial American La-Z- Boy comfy recliner, perfect for the citizen complacent with their freedom and democracy.” Theater designer David Rockwell stripped his booth to its elemental skeleton, then gave it a new skin of wood splints made to look like strike-anywhere stick matches. He calls it “Combustible, Playing with Fire.” Type A, the New York artist-duo of Adam Ames and Andrew Bordin, replaced the punch-card mechanism with a flat-screen monitor displaying the polling booth being wiped clean by what looks like a pair of experts sent out to sanitize a crime scene in The Bourne Identity. Robert A.M. Stern’s “Hindsight 20/20” is festooned with a welter of sideview and rearview mirrors — a meditation, perhaps, on the vanity and self-indulgence of voters, or a remonstrance to watch what you leave in your wake.

Besides Gehry, whose chicken-wire-and-plaster mushroom cloud appears to have been formed from something found in a toilet bowl, L.A. firms contributing redesigns include Imaginary Forces, Greg Lynn Forum, Peter Gerardi (the graffiti artist turned graphic designer behind Crank Yankers) and Hodgetts + Fung, the civic-minded architecture group. Craig Hodgetts and Ming Fung converted their booth into a slot machine whose spinning reels are embossed in value-neutral icons — Security, Environment, Military, Arts, Economy — along with three slogans from 1984, “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” “Ignorance is Strength.” The imagery looks like a fresh update of WPA-era poster art, with the same friendly, universal appeal, as if these are not issues to dispute but concepts to blithely regurgitate. Plated entirely in zinc, the contraption is oddly robotic, the way a saluting soldier looks both alive and bronzed. A nameplate reads C*H*A*D, which stands for “Crapshoot Harms American Democracy” and adds to the impression that this is a government-issue automaton that cannot possibly answer to the voter’s will. Go ahead, pull the lever.